The term “ghettos” was first used in relation to Jews in the year 1516 when the Venetian government designated a specified living area for its Jewish population. During World War II, they were established by the Nazis to isolate and control the Jews as a first step in their eventual annihilation ("Ghettos"). Throughout the War, the Nazis established over 400 ghettos in Eastern Europe and Russia for this purpose. The Nazi ghetto overseers appointed Jewish councils, called the Judenrat, to maintain order in the ghettos, distribute food rations and to assist the Nazis with deportations to the concentration and death camps (Glazer). Daily life in the ghettos was very challenging for the Jews, and they endured extreme physical hardships from their lack of basic necessities and from the sadism of the Nazi overseers. Ghettos were enclosed either with tall brick walls or with wooden planks topped with coiled barbed wire, making it difficult for Jews to escape (Dawidowicz 206). Jews who attempted to leave the ghetto without permission were immediately shot by Nazi guards. However, despite all their suffering, the Jews still attempted to keep some level of normalcy in their lives in the ghetto.
The physical affliction the Jews experienced was unimaginable. The unsanitary and crowded living conditions, the extreme weather, rampant disease, and chronic hunger were some of the primary difficulties they encountered, and thousands of Jews perished as a result of these conditions. When Hitler invaded Poland, his army bombed out large sections of Warsaw, and approximately forty percent of the Jewish homes were destroyed. When Poland officially came under German rule, the Germans forced Jews into this heavily damaged area, thereby establishing the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest ghetto in Poland. A typical apartment in this area usually had one bedroom, a small living room and a kitchen. Only a fraction of these apartments had running water, and bathhouses were located near the garbage dumps (Roland 27). The ghettos in which Jews were confined were extremely cramped. Tremendous amounts of Jews were forced to crowd into very small areas. In the Warsaw ghetto, thirty percent of Warsaw's population was crowded into 2.4 percent of the city's living area. (Roland 25-26). A local doctor calculated that in the Vilna Ghetto, there was one and a half to two meters of space per person, which was, he noted, “as narrow as the grave.” (Dawidowicz 208)
In some ghettos, Jews did not even have a roof over their heads. Magda Herzberger, a young Romanian girl during the war, described her family's unpleasant living situation in the Cluj ghetto. She described that the ghetto was situated around an old factory where there was limited space indoors, and that her family was forced to stay out in the open (“Living Conditions").
Zelda Moyal, a Vilna ghetto resident, also remembered the extreme overcrowding. She, her sister and both her parents were allotted only one bed, and others,...