September 1939-February 1940- Initial Actions against the Jews

Jewish Council Member in Lodz- USHMM

Soon after the Germans conquered Poland they forced the Jewish communities to establish communal councils. Those councils were forced to take a census of the Jews in the community. In December the Jews were forced to wear Jewish stars.


On September 8th Lodz, the second largest city in Poland fell to the Germans. Before long the rest of Poland was under German rule.

The largest concentration of Jews in Europe fell under German control. Initially the Germans did not have a clear policy of what to do with the Jews other than to harass and exploit them as much as possible. In addition, Poland was seen as a place where Jews from Germany could be moved to Arayanize German districts .

On September 21 Reinhard Heydrich tasked with dealing with the “Jewish problem” for SS issued an order for the establishment of Jewish councils:
“In each Jewish community a Council of Jewish Elders is to be set up which as far as possible is to be composed of the remaining influential personalities and Rabbis. The council is to be made up of 24 male Jews. It is to be made fully responsible for the exact execution according to the terms of instruction released or yet to be released . In case of sabotage of such instructions the Councils are to warned of the severest measures. The Jewish Councils are to take an improvised census of the Jews of their area possibly divided into generations and also according to principle vocation and they are to report the results at the shortest possible time.”

In retrospect the call for the census was the most ominous. At the time it was considered just another administrative detail, something that the Jewish council needed in any case to do its job.

That same day Heydrich had given orders to his Einsatzgruppen (the special German forces who dealt with the Jews) telling them that their task was to round up Jews and concentrate them in large communities in cities close to the railroad lines and to establish the above Jewish Councils.

The Einsatzgruppen had wide latitude in dealing with Jews and often as they occupied small towns just took a few Jews out and shot them in retaliation for some action perceived or real taken against the Germans.

As of December 1, 1939 all Jews above the age of ten were required to wear an arm band with the star of David on it. Soon Jews were forbidden to change residence, and were quickly excluded from most professions. At this stage Jews were concentrating in parts of the city, but no order had yet been given to establish the closed ghettos that were to come.