The outbreak of war in September 1939 forced the Nazis to reassess their anti-Jewish policy. While war removed the need to worry about international opinion, it diminished the opportunities for Jewish emigration – just when the conquest of Poland added 1.5 million Jews to those already under German rule.

‘The Polish Jews were soon afflicted by mass starvation and disease.’

Occupied Poland, though, did offer a radical alternative. In late 1939, the Nazi leadership considered using the area around Lublin as a ‘Jewish reservation’. Adolf Eichmann, an SS officer running emigration offices in Vienna, Prague and Berlin, was tasked with organising the first deportation of Jews from Austria and the Czech lands to Poland.

Eichmann later described the ‘Nisko project’ as the first of several attempts to find a ‘territorial solution’ to the ‘Jewish question’. It failed, however, because the Nazis had other priorities. In the meantime, Heydrich decreed that Polish Jews should be concentrated in towns and cities prior to being removed. They were stripped of their rights and property, denied work (except forced labour for the Germans), and crammed into the worst slum districts.

The Polish Jews were soon afflicted by mass starvation and disease. To prevent the spread of epidemics the Nazi authorities built walls around the Jewish districts – and thus the ghettos were created. But this was a temporary measure and more a case of desperation than design.


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