The study below was written in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. It illustrates the condition perfectly. These are small fragments from a much larger text.
Source: The Ringelblum Archive. Warsaw Ghetto, Everyday life. The Street, July 1942.
The moral decay, the amorality, and the radical blunting of people's moral sense are - aside from hunger, poverty, and death - the most elemental plagues in the ghetto. [...]
This total disregard for moral principles, even the most basic ones, manifests itself in both private and public life, in family and professional life, as well as among one's friends and people in general.
From a stall, from a basket, from a suitcase, from a shop window, from a cart, from a wagon, or from a box whose contents are the merchant's entire property. Those careless enough not to hold on tightly to their briefcases, bags, or baskets full of food products are bound to lose them -an adolescent beggar will rush past them, snatch the handle out of their grip using a practiced "method," and run away. If he fails he does not run away, unless the owner is an overzealous advocate of lynching. Clearly unashamed, the attacker stops and looks into the eyes of his [would-be] victim without any embarrassment, as if there were nothing out of the ordinary.
Even before the war in Jewish Warsaw there were too many, far too many, swindlers, frauds, quacks, con-men, and crooks. But nowadays having such a flair is an asset that generates a fixed income. Frauds cheat in various ways. They double-deal, take advantage of people's ignorance, spread panic.
For when panic spreads among merchants they often abandon their merchandise or do not notice an act of theft. And it's a piece of pie to steal a wallet or to empty a [merchant's] pocket in the press of a crowd. Organized gangs prowl mostly near the corner of Lesson and Solna streets, near the corner of Smocza, Paula, and Dzielna streets, and on Leszno and Okopowa streets. These thieves have no qualms. The Jewish Police are no saints either, and even though the thieves steal everything from paupers, dooming them to beggary and death by starvation. [T]heir acts of fraud deprive Jews of the rest of the moral credit they still enjoy outside the ghetto [they remain unpunished]. To the outside world these louses are clear proof that Jews are thieves and frauds. Making matters worse, their number is increasing wherever people are at a work detail, nor is there any shortage of them in public institutions. Yet some cheats are more original and ingenious than others. They falsify [well-known] companies on the market, selling trash under recognized brand names. There are thousands of such cheats in every sphere, [...] they falsify coupons. Judenrat vouchers, orders.
3. Denouncing and spying
There are legions of professional snoops in every milieu. Among the young and women. [...] Among intellectuals and the proletariat. Among German, Polish, Warsaw, Łódź, and provincial Jews. Among religious Jews and the meches. This plague has penetrated all milieux. They became engaged in this disgraceful service not only for money [...], but also because of their desire for profits and their being used to light work [...] this plague is so widespread that people distrust these poorest [...] there are also amateur denunciators who denounce out of [...] out of envy, of rivalry, of anger, or out of zealousness.
Blackmailers roam about along the ghetto walls and blackmail policemen, [...]. The latter offer them bribes without a word because they know that it is better not to mess with professional blackmailers, for they never fail to carry out their threats.
Blackmailers blackmail corrupted clerks, speculators, former officers, repatriates from Russia, and anybody whom the authorities could detain for any reason whatsoever. Many of them are members of the Order Service, operating in cooperation with the Polish police. "You've come from Lvov or Vilna? Pay up, or I'll denounce you." "You haven't registered as an officer? Pay up!" "You've entered the ghetto without a pass. Pay up!" "You've listened to the bulletin."" Pay up!" And they pay, often more than once for the same offense.
Corruption is equally commonplace in the ghetto and unbelievably widespread, simply ubiquitous in all spheres of public life. Cash will buy you a Kennkarte, a Meldekarte, and an Arbeitskarte. You can buy a job and a "badge" in the police force, a position in the Judenrat, a work record, an assignment of housing, an allotment of wood, of food, along with an exemption from a camp list. A bribe will reduce your fee, tribute, or contribution. It will get you released from prison or jail. It will discontinue an investigation. It will guarantee that you do not end up in a camp as a result of a round-up. It will guarantee that they neither requisition your flat, nor delouse it, nor close the gate, nor detain you due to an unpaid contribution, tribute, or fee. This plague has mostly hit the poor - just like everything in the ghetto, for that matter. Those without money end up in camps or have to perform forced labor, leave their flat, pay.
6. Moral shamelessness
Moral shamelessness is visible and reigning supreme on the street. Beggars and paupers relieve themselves on the street: if not on Leszno Street, then on Orla Street, if not on Karmelicka Street, then in the alleys. You often see women, young or old, spread their legs, lift their skirt, and relieve themselves, shamelessly looking into the eyes of embarrassed pedestrians. Children do it very often and in a cynical way, provided that children can be cynical at all. The sight of the naked intimate body parts of beggars is commonplace too. And this exhibitionism is not accidental, because they take delight in displaying all their wounds, ulcerations, and swollen body parts.
There is no chance either that denunciators, cheats, frauds, blackmailers, traitors, speculators, spies, and profiteers'. will be embarrassed about their stench. Nowadays, nobody bothers with such luxuries as conscience, qualms, compassion, helpfulness, or kindness. You will not see any of these on the street, [...] absolutely nowhere. The war, hunger, poverty, captivity, and the ghetto have completely eradicated any customary morality.
7. Taking the law into one's own hands
Admittedly, this form of punishment is commonplace, yet at the same time it is very fluid and elusive. The police cannot and will not eradicate the common plagues, for they would have to turn half of the buildings into jails and prisons.
8. Extreme social or caste conceit
The thing is, above all, that society has split into a few dozen castes, and that if people do help one another then they do so only within the same caste. Hence, the name of the plague: caste conceit. You ignore the fact that others die of starvation, suffer from edema, or rot in prison. They are not "from your caste." Solidarity - if it still exists, then is only within your caste.
You take pity only on those closest to you - people from your family, world, or milieu. The attitude towards more distant people, strangers is usually indifferent, contemptuous, and numb. Solidarity, altruism, humanitarism, and philanthropy are obsolete terms, anachronisms, for the inhabitant of the ghetto. l am talking about the masses, because individuals do not set the tone of the street. And the street does not show such feelings at all. The phenomenon is completely plain, explicit, and striking.
You walk indifferently past the corpse of a baby, of an old man, or of a youth because it is none of your business. But when "one of your people" is caught in a round-up and is about to be sent to a camp, then "your people" immediately do everything to get him out. But nobody cares about strangers.
When the terror [...] led to the execution of one hundred Jews in the prison on Gesia Street, at the very last moment the Judenrat and the police got "their people" out - the "superior" from a more prosperous "caste."
They are ready to sell their soul for the tiniest piece of bread because they have nothing to lose anyway. [...] These former human beings cannot be treated as normal social entities of whom you would expect a certain responsibility towards other people. Others have no responsibilities towards them. They separate themselves from beggars. They reject and scorn them. Consequently, the only human element left in the beggar is a simple animal craving for food. Everything else has died in him. He is "beyond good and evil." He is morally, emotionally, culturally, and socially blind. He cannot even afford a gesture of gratefulness towards the occasional hand that feeds him.
10. The complete disappearance of good manners
The street displays this the most vividly in every minor, trivial incident in our everyday co-existence and our mutual relations when we face the bleak, dismal horror of everyday life. [...]
And even if you break free from these problems and you can chase away these macabre spectres for a moment, you still have to contend with the unruliness, numbness, brutality, egoism, unkindness, dis-obligingness, hooliganism, and ruthlessness - all the time, every minute, and at every step.
Even if you avoid theft and other plagues on the street, you will not be able to walk the street in peace. Virtually anything can trigger an argument, cursing, abuse, insults, or violence. If you accidentally bump into somebody, and that often happens in a crowd, the person will immediately hurl threatening insults, affronts, and curses at you.