[German, "Jewish Council"] - A form of
administration for Jewish communities in the ghettos that was introduced
by the Nazis in 1939. In practice, the power of the Judenrats was
limited to carrying out the occupiers' orders. Germans usually appointed
prewar community leaders to head the Judenrats. They chose the
remaining members of the councils, whom the occupiers then confirmed.
The German administration oversaw the Judenrats; in larger cities,
special offices were created. In Warsaw, for example, there was the
Office of the Commissar of the Jewish Quarter, which was subordinate to
the governor of the Warsaw district. In Lodz and in some other cities,
similar offices, called the Gettoverwaltung [German, "ghetto board"],
were subordinate to the mayors. The Judenrats also received orders
directly from the SS and the Gestapo.
The basic decisions regulating ghetto life were made by the German
authorities, and the Judenrats' jurisdiction was limited to executive
and administrative matters. These included keeping a record of the
residents; managing food, coal and other supplies; taxes; education;
religious life; and funerals. In addition, they were responsible for
social and health services. Moreover, the Judenrats were required to
supply workers, organize contingents of people for labor camps, collect
and submit contributions, and requisition valuables, furniture, and
furs, for example. Later, they were forced to cooperate with the Nazis
in organizing deportations to the death camps.
The "order service" (Ordnungsdienst) was in
part subordinate to the Judenrats. These were the police units within
the ghetto, but lacking the right to possess and use weapons. They were
used during requisitions and round-ups, and to escort those being
resettled, as well as during deportation actions. Most of the Judenrat
boards tried to maneuver between the need to meet the Germans' demands
and defend the Jews imprisoned in the ghettos, in the belief that
further compromises would enable them to save at least some of the
The attitudes of specific members of the Judenrats varied. The
chairman of the Warsaw Judenrat, A. Czerniakow, maintained contacts with
the underground, organized aid, and supported civil resistance. He was
nevertheless opposed to the idea of an armed uprising, and when faced
with preparing deportations to the death camps, he committed suicide. C.
Rumkowski, who headed the Lodz Judenrat, organized deportations almost
until the very end in an attempt to protect selected groups from being
sent away. Some Judenrat members used their positions to enrich
themselves, or to protect their own families.