Jewish Ghetto Police

Jewish police giving orders to fellow Jews in Będzin.
Jewish police giving orders to fellow Jews in Będzin.

Jewish ghetto police forces were created by the Nazi administration to help manage life inside the ghettos.

After the forced ghettoization of Jews, the Judenrat (Jewish Councils) was responsible for recruiting the personnel for the police squad and overseeing their responsibilities. The Jewish ghetto police often lived in tension with the ghetto residents because the police needed to implement the Nazi orders. The ghetto police was often in tension also with the Judenrat and the German overseers.

The Jewish ghetto police had three functions: carry out the demands of the Nazis, perform duties as assigned by the Judenrat, and respond to the needs of the community. As time went on, the Jewish police were less involved in assisting with the needs of their fellow prisoners and more with the implementation of Nazi orders. They participated in roundups of Jews for mass deportations to death camps and helped conduct searches and seizures.

As the ghettos became more restricted and corruption spread, the police were often met with hostility and fear. In Będzin, the head of the Jewish police was Hirsch Barenblat. He survived, moved to Israel, and eventually stood trial in Israel in 1963 for assisting the German murderous policy. Most witnesses testified against him, some defended him. His second wife Miriam ‘Kasia’ Szancer defended him. Barenblat had met Kasia at one of his visits of gatherings of young people in Kamionka (Będzin’s ghetto). The young Kasia belonged to the underground resistance. When she was caught by Germans, Barenblat rescued her, and they escaped together at the end of 1943 to Slovakia. Separating from his first wife, they later got married.

Będzin Jews are forced to move out of their homes. Note the Jewish ghetto policeman in white coat.
Będzin Jews are forced to move out of their homes. Note the Jewish ghetto policeman in white coat.

Many Judenrat leaders were afraid that the Jewish police would fall under the control of the Germans. Hence, they took efforts to find their own means of control over the police force. The Judenrat attempted to recruit Jews whom they trusted for this position. Yet, despite their efforts the Nazis often succeeded in recruiting those who would blindly follow their orders. Many Jews simply signed up because being a part of the police force meant an escape from hard labor. It also alleviated immediate threat to their lives and they could gain better access to food.

In the end, the Jewish ghetto police met the same fates as their fellow Jews. Once they accomplished their tasks and liquidations were completed, the Nazis did not hesitate to kill Jewish policemen. When final deportations to death camps began, individual Jewish police members quit the force and joined their families and communities.

For more information on the Jewish ghetto police:

This Month in Holocaust History: Judischer Ordnungsdienst

On Hirsch Barenblat:

Dan Porat, Bitter Reckoning: Israel Tries Holocaust Survivors as Nazi Collaborators (The Belknap Press, 2019)

Read the memoir of a Jewish ghetto police member:

Calel Perechodnik, Am I a Murderer? Testament of a Jewish Ghetto Policeman (Westview Press, 1966)