Healthcare in the Gorlice Ghetto

By Connor Lieser

The living conditions in the Gorlice ghetto between 1940 and 1942 were similar to those of other ghettos in German-occupied Poland, dismal. Healthcare in Gorlice for Jewish residents was characterized by minimalistic facilities with few professionals, scarce funding from a Jewish social organization, and a lack of access to supplies/medicines similar to other ghettos.[1] Starting in 1940 the local Judenrat, headed by local lawyer Dr. Henryk Arnold, organized a small infirmary for residents to seek treatment.[2][3] The infirmary was primitive.1 It was headed by one Polish doctor, Dr. Otański who “put aside his antisemitic convictions” to consult and treat patients throughout 1940.2 During 1940 two dentists worked in the infirmary as well.

No Jewish doctors were available in Gorlice until  1941 when a Jewish physician from Krakow, Dr. Feldmas, moved to the Gorlice ghetto and began treating patients.2 According to an article written in “Encyclopedia Judaica” on Gorlice, Poland, it was during this period that disease spread throughout the Ghetto neighborhoods.1 It was not until late in 1941, after these epidemics had begun, that a small hospital was opened for the Jews.3 Funding for the hospital likely came from the Krakow branch of the JSS, short for the Jewish Social Self-Help organization (translated from ZSS, short for Zydowska Samapomoc Spolczna), whom the Gorlice Judenrat had contacted at some point during 1940 for aid.[4] The JSS was a welfare committee established in parts of Poland after German occupation to aid Jewish citizens.4 The JSS itself was in turn funded by an American organization called The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.4 The funding of various JSS committees throughout Poland was permitted, for the initial years of the war, because the Joint Distribution was an American organization.4 The Jewish citizens of Gorlice established their own branch of the JSS later in 1941 which likely enabled the Judenrat and the residents of the ghetto to establish the Hospital later that year.4 Supplies and medicines were likely hard to acquire even with some funding. The relative difficulty obtaining the necessary materials to run a healthcare facility can be speculated based on the conditions and circumstances faced in similar ghettos within German-occupied Poland. In the Płońsk ghetto in northern Poland, circumstances were similar.[5] Although the original doctor died in late 1941, Dr. Arthur Ber was recruited from Warsaw to run the minimalistic clinic and pharmacy in Płońsk.5 Dr. Ber, in discussing conditions in the ghetto as well as the clinic and the pharmacy, was quoted in saying “We covered the costs [of medicines] of those who could not pay by those who could… this was an important achievement, for in other ghettos there were real problems acquiring medicines, so we supplied medicines to other ghettos in the area”.5 Although the Płońsk pharmacy likely did not supply the Gorlice ghetto, being that it was over 260 miles from Gorlice, Dr. Ber’s comments provide evidence that the physicians of Gorlice had very minimal medicine/supplies to treat the sick.

[1] Danuta Dombrowska, “Encyclopedia Judaica:Gorlice, Poland”, American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2008. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

[2] Geoffrey Megargee, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, (Bloomington : [Washington, D.C.] :Indiana University Press 2009), 507.

[3] Zvi Avital, “Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Vol. 3”, Yad Vashem 1984, 93-97, Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

[4] “The Albums of the Self-Help Organization (ZSS)”,, Yad Vashem, 2016. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

[5] “The Community of Płońsk During the Holocaust: Health Institutions in the Płońsk Ghetto”, Yad Vashem, 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.


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