Lodz Ghetto


1. Introduction
The dream of the inhabitants of the Lodz Ghetto was to be
sure that the generations of the future wouldn't forget,
disbelieve or deny the destruction and pain suffered in the
ghetto. Many of the ghettoized Jews wrote diaries and
journals of what they had endured in the ghetto as they
realized the threat of death before them. As Oskar
Rosenfeld, a Jew of the Lodz Ghetto, wrote in his journal,
"We will hold out, we will outlive you, you cannot destroy
us." 1 As long as we never forget the attrocities that took
place during World War II, his prediction will come true.
The Lodz Ghetto was the second largest ghetto in the
occupied territories of Europe and was called Gaugetto. It
was considered the central ghetto in the Wartheland, Poland
area. 2
The history of the Lodz Ghetto is an unusual one. The
ghetto was the last one to be liquidated and was the most
benificial for the Germans. It is a story of perseverence
and the will to live. It is the story of a dictator who
made the ghetto into his own little country. 

The history is a familiar one. Most of the Jews of the
ghettos of Poland lived under the same awful conditions,
saw their families die during the raging epidemics, but
Lodz was unique in one aspect. The Jews of the 
Lodz Ghetto

were "privilaged" to see the Jewish nation crumble before them. Through the hidden few radios and rare articles of mail, they learned of the liquidation of other ghettos and of the gas chambers and crematoriums that were built for their people's extermination. All alone, with no one to help them, the Lodz Ghetto stood isolated. Through their sorrow, they worked diligently at their occupations, never knowing if they were to live or if they were to die. Their leaders tried to instill hope and prove that rumors were false even when deportations began. They were convinced that they would live and that at the end of the long train journey was the better life promised to them. 2. Life Before the Ghetto Before German invasion, the Jewish population of Lodz numbered at least a quarter of a million. 3 The population of Lodz included ninety thousand Germans. This was the largest condensation of Germans outside of Germany. The Jews of Lodz were the ones who were responsible for the city's development. It became a very prominent and prosperous community. Lodz was second in population and size only to Warsaw, the capital of Poland. Jew-owned textile factories employed thousands of workers and clothed much of Eastern Europe. Lodz contained over twelve hundred businesses. 4 This is why the ghetto lasted for four years. The Germans needed the Jews' productivity and therefore didn't destroy the Jews in it for awhile. In Lodz there were three large and famous synagogues. There was the Old Town Synagogue, the Temple, and the Vikur shul. The oldest of the three was the Old Town Synagogue, which was erected in the 1860's. It was very beatiful and very elaborate. All official public ceremonies took place there. 5 The Temple, known as the "German synagogue", was built in 1888 by the "enlightened Jews" who desired a modern synagogue similar to those in Western Europe. The Vikur shul was attached to a beit midrash which held a huge treasury of valuable Hebrew books. It was the largest place of Torah study in the city. 6 The Kehillah of Lodz was controlled by the Bund. It was responsible for the maintenance of synagogues, butcher shops, and the Jewish cemeteries. The Zionists represented the Jewish community in the parliament. Most of the wealthier, more prominent Jews escaped before the Nazis invaded the city. Many middle class Jews also fled. They went either east, into Russia, or west, into free Europe. Still, more than two hundred thousand Jews remained in Lodz. They had no where to go, but kept on hoping for the best. 3. German Invasion On Friday, September 8th, 1939, the Polish city, Lodz, surrendered and was occupied by the Nazis. Lodz was renamed after the German invasion. It became Litzmannstadt, after a World War I German general who died trying to conquer the city. By September 10th, Jews were being seized to do degrading, useless work. On Rosh Hashana, September 14, all synagogues were to be closed and all stores were ordered to remain open. On November 7th, Lodz was annexed to Germany and all of the German laws against the German Jews were established in Lodz also. By November, 1939, vehicles were forbidden to Jews. Jews were not permitted to drive any form of vehicle on the open roads. Jewish store windows had to have Jewish stars painted at eye level. As soon as the Nazis invaded they took the keys to all the synagogues from the Kehillah organization. On November 14th, 1939, the Temple was set on fire and burned to the ground. The next night, the Old Town Synagogue was completely consumed by fire. That day, the Jews of Lodz were ordered to wear an armband of "Jewish-yellow color" on their right arm. 7 Jews were also ordered to observe a curfew from 5 pm to 8 am. A notice three days later was put out saying that the Poles had destroyed the synogogues as an act of revenge. In the summer of 1940 the Germans destroyed the Vikur shul along with all of the irreplacable Hebrew books. 8 On February 8th, 1940, the leader of the SS brigade in Lodz issued an order establishing the Ghetto. At that time, there were about two hundred thousand Jews in Lodz. Between February 8th and April 30th all non-Jews living in Baluty, the area were the ghetto was to be established, were ordered to move out while the Jews from other parts of Lodz were ordered to move in. The Jews were not allowed to take anything in with them to the slums which were to become their home. April 30th, 1940 was the last day that Jews could enter the ghetto. On May 1st, the ghetto was closed and surrounded by a wall that was six feet high and over ten miles long. 9 The only outsiders who were permitted to enter and exit the ghetto were German guards and officials. 4. Our New Home The Jews of the ghetto knew little of the Nazis' plan for them. They struggled to hold on to their normal lives. They tried to hold on to family, art, education, religion, and the most difficult of all, hope. The Germans realized that it was impossible to evacuate so many Jews at once and so, they established the ghetto for the Jews of Lodz. In relationship to the Final Solution, the establishment of the ghetto was only a transitional measure: "The final aim must be to burn out entirely this pestilent abscess." The ghetto turned out to be the best temporary solution of the Jewish problem. The Germans quickly realized their mistake of banning the Jews from work. They then forced the Jews to work for the German war industry. The only way that the ghetto could obtain food and fuel was by paying for the Nazis with goods. The Judenrat collected the manufactured goods and traded them for the food for the ghetto. Lodz's Gettoverwaltung ( German administration ) acted as the supreme boss of all of the ghetto's industrial export. It gave orders for work and was the only group permitted to accept the finished products of the ghetto. It charged a fee of 0.70 Reichsmarks per day for each Jewish laborer. 10 A section of Lodz inhabited by poor Jews was declared a "region of epidemic danger". The Baluty area already contained sixty-two thousand Jews, but more than one hundred thousand Jews, who lived in the suburbs and other parts of the city, still had to move in. 11 Germans and Poles were forbidden to go near that area. Poles and ethnic Germans had to leave the ghetto site by February 29th. 12 In the ghetto, there was an average of four to eight people to a room. 13 The ghetto was a tightly packed slum area without parks, empty lots, or open spaces. The close quarters and improper sanitation caused many epidemics. In the year 1941 alone, seventeen-hundred Jews in Lodz died of typhus. In the ghetto, there was a special police force and a separate post-office. Rumkowski recruited twelve hundred policemen, a department of private investigators and a private guard. 14 He also issued stamps with his picture on them. His picture was also portrayed on the ghetto's own currency. The ghetto printed its own newspaper which contained all of the local news. The eighteen issues of the Ghetto Zeitung appeared between June and September of 1941. 15 All Jews that were arrested by the Gestapo or the criminal police ( Kripo ) in the other ghettos, were sent to the Lodz Ghetto jail. The provisions for the Jews of the ghetto was one half of what inmates of German prisons were given. Hans Biebow was the German overseer of the Lodz Ghetto. He knew that the Jews would hand over their valuable possessions in exchange for food. Later, they would have to earn their food through slave labor. Even within the ghetto itself, the Jews were not allowed to be on the ghetto streets from seven at night until seven in the morning. 16 The Lodz Ghetto was the last major ghetto in Poland to be liquidated by the Nazis. It was also the ghetto that was most valuable to them. Starting with one tailorshop in May 1940, the number of factories, shops and other work places steadily increased. By August of 1943, one hundred and seventeenfactories, workshops and warehouses were in operation. They provided employment for eighty-five percent of the ghetto population. In 1944, ninety-three percent of the ghetto was employed - a staggering change from the forty-seven percent employed before the war. 17 5. Our Leader ~ Rumkowski Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski portrays the perplexity of Jewish leadership during the Holocaust. Historians assume that he was chosen by the Nazis because of his energy and his ability to speak German. He was appointed Eldest of the Jews on October 14th, 1939. Rumkowski was a Zionist and felt that the ghetto was a parcial fulfillment of the Zionist goals he believed in. Rumkowski pleaded with the Germans to allow him to deliver the number of Jews required for work, for the sake of peace, as the Germans had been grabbing Jews off the streets. The Nazis agreed to this and then went right back to pulling Jews off the streets and then, pulled them from their homes. Rumkowski's goal was to save a majority, to at least a portion of the ghetto, to what few he could rescue. He bargained with the Germans to minimize the deportations and accepted the full responsibility of delivering the inhabitants of the ghetto for the deportations. Rumkowski formed the Beirat, Advisory Council, made up of thirty-one people whom he assigned specific duties. It began during the autumn of 1939, but this organization was still very weak and far from perfect. Nevertheless, after its formation, the Germans left the Jews to handle their problems on their own and announced that Jews could not address the German authorities directly. Rumkowski was responsible for carrying out all of the Germans' orders. For this, the Germans gave him the right to: move freely through the streets at all times, choose a Council of Elders and meet with them, use posters to announce his orders, and have access to German administration offices. All Jews had to obey his orders. Any opposition against him would be punished by the Nazis. Taxes were payed by the Jews of the Lodz Ghetto to finance his activities. Rumkowski acted as dictator of the Lodz ghetto. He made sure that he had total control. He developed Lodz into a giant production area, thinking that the Germans would allow them to live as long as they were productive. He assumed that the Jews were being destroyed because they were "useless eaters". Rumkowski was a leader who was willing to sacrifice the children in order to save the rest. He told the inhabtants of the ghetto that he would, after the war was over, stand before a Jewish court to prove that is actions were just. He was more powerful than the Gestapo or Jewish police only because he controlled food and job distribution solitarily. He also controlled a colony of gypsies who were to be exterminated by the Germans shortly. Rumkowski had the difficult job of satisfying the Polish-Jewish community and fulfilling the Nazi order. For police matters he was responsible to the Gestapo and for economic and administration matters he was responsible to Hans Biebow, who would later be executed by an Allied court in 1947 for his crimes during World War II. Rumkowski appointed selfish and unskilled officials and therefore deprived the community of competent and responsible public services. His Chief of Police was known for his extreme cruelty. Rumkowski was in his late fifties when appointed to his job. Before his appiontment, he had sold insurance and managed an orphanage. He was a widower with no children of his own but had much affection for the children of the orphanage. Nevertheless, he was not a man who would have, under normal circumstances, gone very far in Lodz. He was not very learned, was known to be annoying, and had extremely rude manners. Some of the Jews who survived the ghetto consider Rumkowski a tyrant, while others believed he saved their lives. 6. Deportations The Nazis knew that no Jew would walk knowingly and willingly to their death, so they invented lies to convince the Jews to volunteer for the deportations. They offered a better life outside of the ghetto, on Polish farms or at work camps in Germany. They cut off the ghetto from the rest of the world. The Jews were separated, under threat of death, from contact with the Poles. The Nazis worked the Jews so hard and fed them so little that they would willingly board the trains, if only to get out of the ghetto. The Jews of Lodz were being exterminated at Chelmno. When deportations could not be avoided, Rumkowski selected those Jews who posed as threats to his power to be deported. With these deportations, he ensured his power beyond any further challenge. Even before the ghetto was set up, the Nazis made a demand for twenty-five thousand people. Rumkowski convinced them otherwise and only five to six thousand economically dependent Jews were sent off. About a year after the ghetto was sealed, the deportations really began. Volunteering was tried, but failed. The Nazis then seized the fifty-seven mentally ill people of the ghetto. 18 Rumkowski used them as an example. Anyone who became a threat to the community or an " unnecessary burden " would be the next one to be deported. When Jews began to be trasported into Lodz, the Germans demanded one thousand Jews to be deported everyday to keep the ghetto from becoming too "overcrowded". 7. Education Since the first days of German occupation, Jewish children were forbidden to attend "Aryan" schools. In the ghetto, Jewish schools were not allowed to remain open. Rumkowski pleaded with the Nazis to be permitted to open Jewish public schools. His arguments were very persuasive and the Nazis granted him permission. Rumkowski believed that he would help save Polish Jewry because he not only organized workshops, but hospitals and schools as well. The Jewish school buildings that were located in the ghetto were currently used by the Gestapo and the military and civil authorities. Thus, Jewish children from all different schools were placed in one building. Eight thousand children were registered in the first school. The curriculum reflected the new conditions of the ghetto. Religious instruction was strengthened, German could not be taught to the "inferior race", and Yiddish replaced Polish in the younger grades. Rumkowski gave the children extra rations, sweets, and holiday gifts. His devotion to the children was authentic, even if he had none of his own. He protected the children and all of them adored him. 8. Resistance Rumkowski did all that he could to prevent resistance. He "did everything he could to break the writer's pen and the painter's palette ". 19 He censored plays and mail, controlled the printing press, and denied writers their precious paper and ink. He took away the rations of some and spied on others. He did not hesitate to call the German officials to send in troops and ask them to shoot down demonstrators, protestors, and strikers. All of the above mentioned that were not killed were the first to be deported. Rumkowski wished to prevent Lodz from repeating the rebellions in Warsaw and Vilna. Thus, resistance in Lodz was limited mainly to strikes and sabotage by the workers in the factories. 20 These strikes were led mainly by the Bund, Poalei Zion, and the Communist Party. The only form of resistance possible was passive resistance, but the resistance wasn't carried out by organized political groups. Some resistance was organized by Zionist youth groups. Several dozen Nazis were killed by small groups whose main purpose was to retaliate against the Germans' cruelty. 21 The ghetto was also totally isolated from the rest of the world. It was very tightly sealed and it was impossible to get the necessary weapons for a rebellion into the ghetto. The Jews were surrounded by Germans as well as Poles and this made communication with the outside world extremely difficult. The two messengers that were sent to Warsaw for help in the winter of 1942-1943 never returned. 9. The Jewish Response The Jews of the ghetto displayed the highest act of faith. They tried to remain human. There were Orthodox Jews who would not eat non-kosher food. Hundreds of people kept hidden radios and passed news along even if it was usually met with death. It was through these radios that they heard of the mass executions of the Jews of Cracow, Lublin and Warsaw. They heard of the deportations of their families who lived in other cities and who were killed in Kolo, Chelmno and other places. With these radio reports they were informed of the world situation, the progress of the war, and the increasingly desperate conditions of the Jews in Europe. In 1941, twelve men were arrested for keeping radios but the reports continued to be spread. 22 Right before the ghetto was to be liquidated, a traitor led the Gestapo to the secret radios. One of the owners of a radio, Nathan Widavsky, who was part of the Zionist underground, committed suicide by painful poisoning. He was fearful that he might break down under torture and reveal the identities of the members of the underground. The Jews were civilized people and did not believe the horror stories that they were told. They believed that the Germans would spare Lodz and its inhabitants-otherwise why would the Germans be pouring Jews into Lodz ? In the fall of 1941, about eighteen thousand Jews arrived in Lodz from nearby towns. 23 10. All That Is Left In April 1942, the final deportations began. First the unemployed and poor were ordered to sign up for "work". Then the children from five to twelve, the aged and the ill were called for. Rumkowski used his own police force to gather the deportees. Finally, in the last week of August 1944, the Germans enterd the ghetto and grabbed all of the elderly, young and weak who hadn't complied with the order. That week, some fifteen thousand people were deported. The population of the ghetto had dropped to about seventy thousand. The schools, orphanages, hospitals and convalescent homes were all closed, one by one. In August of 1944, the war was not going well for the Germans. They were being beaten by the Allies and the Russians on both fronts. The order then came to liquidate the remainder of the Jews and destroy the ghetto. Hans Biebow told them that they were to be taken to Germany where they would find work and good treatment. Rumkowski helped to gather all of the Jews and section after section of the ghetto was blocked off and cleared. In the final deportations of August 1944 out of the Lodz Ghetto, seven people, managers of the ghetto's shops, prepared the lists of people to be deported. 24 During the months of August and September 1944, long trains left the Lodz railroad station with the remaining 76, 701 Jews of the Lodz ghetto headed for extermination camps, mostly for Auschwitz as the Russian troops advanced. 25 Upon arrival at Auschwitz, the magority of the Lodz Jews were immediately sent to the gas chambers. A few hundred men were left to burn the ghetto and gather the remaining valuables for the Germans. Another few hundred people managed to hide themselves underground. Rumkowski's brother was summoned to be deported. The Jewish leader asked for permission for him to remain behind. The Germans refused but allowed Rumkowski to join him. Rumkowski agreed and was promised " special treatment ". When the transport arrived at the death camp, he and his brother were the first to be thrown into the gas chamber. The Russian army marched in as the Germans fled. Eight hundred half-starved people, the remnant of nearly a quarter-million Jews of Lodz,left their hiding places and greeted the Russians. 26 11. Conclusion About ten thousand Jews survived the Lodz Ghetto. 27 Some had the good fortune to be sent to work camps. The rest were sent to Auschwitz. More Jews survived from the Lodz Ghetto than from any other ghetto. The number of people that were lost, though, is staggering. Sixty thousand Jews died in the ghetto. They died from starvation, freezing, disease, hanging or suicide. From the ghetto, one hundred thirty thousand who were deported died either in the exhaust vans at Chelmno or the gas chambers of Auschwitz. 28 The Nazis killed these Jews. The questions that bother all historians involve Rumkowski. Had he forewarned the Jews and told them of their destinations, would they have boarded the trains so willingly ? Could there have been more survivors ? Was Rumkowski guilty of leading sheep to their slaughter ? Did he know what was at the end of the train tracks ? Could he have helped the community more ? Why did he help the Nazis so willingly ? None of these questions can be answered. All of the documents containing some of the answers were destroyed by the Nazis. I feel that in some way, Rumkowski believed in his mind that by complying with the German orders, he thought that he was salvaging a remnant of the Jewish people. He thought that by sacrificing some, he could save the others. Thus, he continued to deport family after family until he himsef was thrust into a train. He prevented any possible resistance or chance of contacting outside help. Leaders of other ghettos assisted attempted escapes. Rumkowski wouldn't even hear of it. So sure was he of his power that he never even thought of his own survival. He thought that no one, not even the Nazis, would challenge his authority and importance. Rumkowski was the Lodz Ghetto. He was also the key to its destruction.


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