Jewish Ghetto Police (Jüdische Ghetto-Polizei) or the Jewish Police Service (Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst), referred to by Jews as the Jewish police, was established on the orders of the Nazis in specific areas under German occupation. The Judenräte (Jewish councils) in Eastern Europe were instructed to form these police units, usually prior to the establishment of ghettos.
Whereas the Judenrat (Jewish council), also created on German orders, often contained elements of a voluntary association and included people who had been legitimate Jewish communal leaders before the war, the Jewish police came into being only on German orders. There was no precedent in the life of the Jewish community for the existence of a Jewish police force.
Formally, the Jewish police constituted one of the Judenrat departments and from its inception, many Judenräte were apprehensive about the police department’s public character and the way it would function. They suspected the Germans would have direct supervision of the police and use it for the implementation of their murderous policies. Aware of this danger, many Judenräte sought to establish their own means of controlling the police and their behaviour; and, therefore, tried to attract to the police young Jews who would be trustworthy. At first, some of the recruits did indeed believe that joining the police gave them an opportunity to serve the community. But there were other reasons for joining. Belonging to a protected organisation usually saved members of the Jewish police from being seized for forced labour. The police service offered greater freedom of movement and also the possibility of obtaining food.
Naturally, German authorities appointed Jewish police heads who would follow orders without question. Thus, the majority of the Jews in the ghetto considered the Jewish police to be a danger to the rest of the ghetto population. Generally, youth movements and Jewish political parties would forbid their members to join the police forces.
The size of the Jewish police force was not fixed but depended on the size of the Jewish community; therefore, in Warsaw the Jewish police numbered 2,500; in Lvov 500; and in the Lódź ghetto 800.
Although members of the Jewish police did not have official uniforms, they did wear different caps and had identifying armbands. They, like all other Jews, had to wear the yellow star.
Their duties consisted of:
i. public welfare duties such as, distributing food rations and aid to the poor;
ii. collecting ransom payments, personal belongings and valuables, as well as taxes;
iii. gathering Jews for forced labour quotas;
iv. guarding the ghetto wall and gates;
v. accompanying labour battalions that worked outside the ghetto;
vi. and, with time, participating in the brutal round-up of Jews for mass deportations.
Like many protected groups, there were instances of extortion, corruption and misconduct. In due course, the Jewish police became increasingly troubled by their role in helping to arrange the mass deportations to extermination camps, which began in 1942. Members of the families, friends and acquaintances of the men serving in the police were devastated by the deportations. Many in the Jewish police therefore decided to quit the force rather than continue to participate in rounding up their fellow Jews. Most of these were themselves deported. Others stayed in their posts and carried out German orders to the very end. Eventually, the Jewish police suffered the same fate as all other Jews. Upon the liquidation of the ghettos (1942-1943) they were either murdered on site or sent to the extermination camps.