Monday, May 14, 2007
A HISTORY OF THE LODZ GHETTO - by Gal Wanda Adam (written January - June 1993)
A group of Nazis surrounded an elderly Berlin Jew and demanded of him,
"Tell us Jew, who caused the war?"
The little Jew was no fool.
"The Jews," he said, then added, "and the bicycle riders."
"Why the bicycle riders?" asked the Nazis.
"Why the Jews?" answered the old man.
My grandmother gave me a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank when I was eleven years old. When I chose it for a book report in the seventh grade, I wrote of the admiration I felt for the strength of this young woman throughout such a tragic experience. I noted her perseverance, her will to survive, her love of life despite its nature at the time, and her constant struggle to bring some sense of normality to such an abnormal situation.
As soon as my parents thought I was old enough to understand, I was told that I should never speak to my grandmother about the Holocaust, that stirring up the memories would be too traumatic for her. My parents told me a few things, and I learned others in school. Still, I felt the need to know my grandmother's story, and I longed to speak to her about it. I would look on her arms, wondering which numbers had distinguished her from the millions of other Jews who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis' "Final Solution." And yet I obeyed my parents and never asked my grandmother, "How had it been to live through the Holocaust?" I wondered if she wanted me to know.
I found my copy of Anne Frank's diary recently, and read the inscription my grandmother had written in French (she had escaped to France after the war and lived there until the late 1960's) on the inside cover: Pour ma chere poupée Galina, avec tout mon amour, Ala (For my dear little doll Galina, with all my love, Ala). My grandmother had given me this book with all her love - a book about the suffering of a young woman, the struggle for dignity when all forces pointed to disgrace, and the ties that bound a family together. Only recently did I realize that my grandmother had wanted me to know, to understand her own story. Without telling me, without digging up what she had tried so hard to bury, my grandmother was telling me, through Anne Frank, how she had felt and how she had endured the Nazi Holocaust of World War II.
I was thirteen when my grandmother died of pancreatic cancer. She weighed thirty-nine kilos (86 pounds) when she died - the same weight she had been when the Russians liberated the concentration camp at Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. The first thing the Russian soldiers did, she recalled once to my father, was to rape the women. Then, they proceeded with their "liberation."
Theresienstadt was an "exemplary" camp, originally established as a ghetto by the Nazis, to show international organizations such as the Red Cross that the Jews were being well treated by the Reich. Because of this status, Theresienstadt was not destroyed by Allied forces, and it was therefore the location for mass production of German weaponry. "In the wake of [an] ‘inspection’ [by the Red Cross] the Nazis made a propaganda film showing how the Jews were leading a new life under the benevolent protection of the Third Reich." My grandmother was transferred to this camp and put to work producing bombs. Because Theresienstadt was often visited by such organizations, the Jews there were not branded with identification numbers. My grandmother, I learned, was spared this reminder of her internment.
Before being transferred to Theresienstadt, she spent six months in Auschwitz, where she also worked in the manufacture of bombs. I remember being told that it was her job to polish the bombs.
My grandmother was a practical woman. She made clothing out of potato sacks she found in the camps, and bartered many of these "goods" in exchange for an egg. "How many articles of clothing were worth one egg?" is one of the many questions I longed to ask my grandmother. This story seemed absurd to me—and remarkable—that the warmth of “clothing” should be exchanged for the nourishment of a single egg. But food was a scarce and precious commodity in this strange "world," especially the protein in an egg.
It was not until 1944 that Aloisia Rosynez was deported to Auschwitz. She spent the first five years of World War II in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland, which was formed by Hitler's Third Reich within part of the city of Lodz. Unlike many Jews who were transferred to the Lodz Ghetto from elsewhere in Europe, my grandmother and her family had lived in the city of Lodz for many generations. Her father had been born there in 1863.
It is the story of the Lodz Ghetto, as well as the life that preceded it in the city of Lodz, that I am attempting to reconstruct. Although I know little about the particular experience of my grandmother, I have acquired first-hand information about life in Lodz from her nephew, Murray Rosynez, who today resides in Miami, Florida; as well as from a remarkable woman named Edzia Goldstein, who survived the Lodz Ghetto and the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Bergenbelsen. There is also a surprising amount of primary information specifically on life in the Lodz Ghetto, including The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, a day to day account of the events that took place in the Ghetto between 1941 and 1944. This compilation of the documents found in the Ghetto Archives after the end of the war makes up a 550-page volume of invaluable information. Several story-like but true accounts of individual experiences in Lodz before, during, and after the war, further supplement the information I have found in several secondary sources on Lodz, the Holocaust, and World War II.
The story of the Lodz Ghetto is the story of a people who were incarcerated within barbed wire and locked gates, a people who were confined from the rest of the world against their will. These were Jewish people who had been transferred to the Ghetto from the city of Lodz, and later from all over Europe. Lodz was not a ghetto that had been created by its community, however. The Webster Dictionary's definition of ghetto is "a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure." The city of Lodz before the war had had some Jewish neighborhoods that could be considered "ghetto communities," in that groups of Jewish people lived closely together within them. It seems that economic factors created these communities, as they were populated by the poorer members of the Jewish community who congregated together for financial, social, and cultural support (as is characteristic of most ghettos). The wealthier Jews, on the other hand, lived in predominantly non-Jewish neighborhoods, or more heterogeneous ones, inhabited by a mixture of peoples. Therefore, the poorer Jewish neighborhoods gained the status of “ghetto” because of the homogeneity of their populations.
Although the social, political, and economic situation for Jews in prewar Poland in many ways hindered a prosperous lifestyle and total freedom, the Jews in these communities were at least in theory free to engage in commerce, religion, social and cultural activities, and the common liberties of daily life. Perhaps most importantly, they knew that they could leave their neighborhoods if they needed or wanted to, and return to them through open doors. The second definition of ghetto in the dictionary is "a quarter of a city in which Jews were formerly required to live." This is the type of confined community that was created by the Ghetto Administration of the Third Reich. Like the numerous other ghettos established by this administration during World War II, the Lodz Ghetto had none of the characteristics of the previous Jewish neighborhoods that had existed in most European countries. The Lodz Ghetto ended free trade, no longer tolerated practice of the Jewish religion, eventually eliminated all public social and cultural activities, and took away the basic freedoms of its inhabitants. Despite the limitations imposed upon it by Hitler's regime, it nevertheless became an intricate community with a structured Jewish administration, which has been the subject of much controversy about its role toward the Jews of Lodz, a Jewish police, schools which lasted for at least half of the Ghetto's duration, and hospitals which often had to serve numbers of people that many times exceeded their capacities.
While it may seem absurd that such structure existed amid the turmoil of a war, it can be seen, as with Anne Frank, as an attempt to create normality in an abnormal situation. To a degree, this facade of a community was imposed by German forces, who established the ghetto administration in order to best profit from the exploitation of Jewish labor. However, to the extent that this administration was left in the hands of the Jews themselves, in the form of the Judenrat or Jewish Council of Elders, the community was maintained by a people seeking regular lives within the disorder of the Holocaust. What I find remarkable in the history of the Lodz Ghetto is its people's conscious sense not only of the necessity for survival, but also of a dignity that is never relinquished by its community. Although some individuals must have given up their will to live in Lodz, I was struck in my interviews and readings by the Jews' hope for a future after the war, and by their determination to survive the Nazi nightmare. The Jews of Lodz seemed determined to maintain at least a semi-normal existence within the confines of the Ghetto. In addition, a feeling of common experience existed between most Jews in Lodz, since most were placed within the same (low) social status when the Ghetto was established. There were those who deviated from this solidarity, - for example, a socio-economic hierarchy did arise in the Ghetto—but for the most part, a sense remained that all the Jews of Lodz were living through a common experience, and that they all must survive and maintain their dignity as a people.
INTRODUCTION: THE HISTORIOGRAPHY AND STUDY OF THE HOLOCAUST
"Something in our youth demands knowledge of what happened. We have not created that interest. We have not agitated at all to make it happen. History created this interest - this search for moral certainty, this quest for a definition of evil, this preoccupation with the ultimate truths of the behavior of men toward other men. That is what they want to know. The Holocaust is the same; it cannot change. But the world in which we live, whether we welcome or do not welcome the development that is before us, changes the meaning of the Holocaust as time passes before our eyes."
As I set out here to present a concise synthesis on the historiography of the Holocaust, I am overwhelmed by the endless rows of volumes on virtually every aspect of this entry into our collective memory. Finding its beginnings decades, perhaps even centuries before the tragic and horrifying events that took place between 1939 and 1945, and arriving today into its role as a sort of "academic discipline" of its own, the Holocaust has been perceived from every possible angle, by almost every major field, in almost every country of the world. The volumes overwhelm me for two reasons: because it seems that everything has already been said, so clearly and eloquently, that there is little room for any further explanation of the events that took place in those years; and because I realize how much more there is, and will always be, to read about, to analyze, and to know. At the same time, however, the abundance excites me - because I see that the Holocaust has not been ignored, that I am not the only one who craves a knowledge and understanding of it, and because I have a great deal ahead of me.
A large number of the works I found on the Holocaust in historical context were a collection of speeches given at conferences, such as those of Yivo or Yad Vashem, in which different aspects of the Holocaust were discussed. Others were compilations of essays by renowned scholars of the Holocaust. While they may have escaped my search through the university's computer catalog index, I found no volumes analyzing the Holocaust which were by a single author. This appears to reflect the complications which surround such an analysis. In other words, for every question answered by one Holocaust scholar, a conflicting opinion can bring up an entirely knew host of questions; the process of understanding, therefore, is complicated, and it is unlikely that all answers can be provided by one individual.
Similarly, all aspects of the Holocaust cannot be understood together - not in the same light, not in the same frame of mind, not as the result of one man's or one government's actions. Holocaust historians separate their writing into three sub-areas: study of the perpetrators, of the victims, and of the bystanders. In turn, each sub-area can be examined form diverse perspectives; for example, psychologically, politically, even theologically. Such a division not only reflects the "apartness" during the war of these three players, but also the evolutionary development of the study of the Holocaust into a science in which everything must be understood.
Early studies on the Holocaust were aimed at understanding the phenomenon of the Nazi war against the Jews. "Holocaust historiography began in earnest after the Allied victors had captured the German record." Difficulties arose, however, due to the massive quantity of materials, which were scattered in archives all over Europe, and because so much important paperwork was destroyed. "Sensitive materials, including all those that dealt with Jews, were to be burned as a matter of priority during the twilight hours of the Nazi regime in 1945." In addition, a great deal was not recorded, in particular Hitler's oral instructions for the annihilation of the Jews. "The lack of writing applies, however, also to more mundane subjects: black market operators made no reports, and neither did bystanders who helped themselves to the property of the dead." It is because of this lack that Raul Hilberg, in his introduction to Comprehending the Holocaust, recognizes the importance of testimony to even a scholar's understanding of the Holocaust. I have found such testimony, in the form of written, but especially oral accounts of personal experiences, invaluable in my research on the Lodz Ghetto. Such testimony added life to my research, provided the element of humanity to the players of my drama, and, I hope, proves the dignity of the people who share their stories.
Interpretation of the Holocaust over the last forty years has resulted in the birth of three main issues: drawing a psychological profile, an underlying pattern of Jewish reactions (including debates on compliance vs. resistance, which are among the most sensitive discussions on the Holocaust); examining Jewish communities' structure, referring especially to its leadership by the Judenrate or Jewish Councils (also the focus of much debate); and responding to the challenging question, "How many victims were there?"
Recently, Holocaust historiography, while still considering the scope of its study as worthy of recognition as its own field, has understood the importance of "an expansion of research beyond [its] traditional boundaries." This broadening of focus has led to comparative genocide, a study of immediate antecedents to the Holocaust, and recognition of "concurrent happenings within the Nazi framework." As Hilberg explains, however, "so far... not many historians have stepped outside the ghetto fence... The new generation will have the task of integration. The Holocaust has to be brought back to be woven into the seamless web of history." Recent response to Holocaust studies has led some anti-Semitic forces to create what most Holocaust scholars refer to as the "so- called historical revisionism of the Holocaust." These forces, in their "revisionist" view of the events of World War II, deny that the Holocaust ever occurred, as well as work to delegitimize the State of Israel. In his contribution to Comprehending the Holocaust, Randolph L. Braham explains,
"The most pernicious and intellectually dishonest drive to whitewash the Nazi past, absolve the Third Reich, and deny the Holocaust is spearheaded by representatives of the neo-Nazi school of "historical revisionism". Similar positions are advanced by a great variety of Aryan supremacist and Arab-Islamic groups dedicated to the suppression of the Jews and the destruction of the state of Israel."
This school of thought began during the war, and afterwards was taken over by fascist intellectuals. "By the early 1960's, the neo-Nazi historical revisionists had a well-established network in many parts of the free world, especially in the United States and Western Europe. The following is a short list of typical revisionist claims:
• The Holocaust was an invention of the Allies for use in their wartime anti-German propaganda and, above all, of the Jews, who exploited the myth to get reparation funds from West Germany, and to establish the State of Israel.
• There were no extermination camps or gas chambers, but only labor camps and crematoria for those who died of natural causes and for the prevention of contagious diseases.
• The Jews were merely relocated during the war to provide, instead of military service, useful labor in agricultural and industrial enterprises; in addition, those from Western Europe were only returned to their lands of origin in Eastern Europe.
• The losses claimed by the Jews are a myth, for most of the Jews survived the war and found haven in the countries of the Grand Alliance. Their casualties did not exceed 200,000, far fewer than those suffered by most European nations, and these, too, were due exclusively to disease and other natural causes.
The historical revisionists are considered charlatans by Holocaust scholars, who understand the anti-Semitic feelings that have created such a movement, and the difficulty with which people are willing to recognize the horrors of their peoples' pasts. In an almost humorous hierarchy, Braham explains that everyone who played a part in the Holocaust had someone else to blame:
"Among those who admit to particular crimes committed against the Jews, the tendency is to place exclusive blame on the Nazis. The surviving Nazis and their sympathizers, in turn, claim that they merely obeyed orders, and shift the blame on the leaders of the Reich, above all Hitler. The Fuehrer has acquired his own defense - historians. Some now claim that he was not even aware of the Final Solution."
It seems to me, however, that the object of Holocaust studies should not be to determine onto whom the blame should be placed. Such a question, it seems, should be left to a higher authority. Similarly, the question, "How could such a thing as the Holocaust happen?" is also as perplexing, even to the religious leaders of the Jewish community who have tried to explain this in relation to God. In his opening remarks to Lessons and Legacies: The Meaning of the Holocaust in a Changing World, Hilberg addresses the complexity of confronting the Holocaust:
"The Holocaust is a fundamental event in history—not only because one third of the Jewish people in the world died in the space of four years, not only because of the manner in which they were killed, but because, in the last analysis, it is inexplicable. All our assumptions about the world and its progress prior to the years when this event burst forth have been upset. The certainties of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries vanished in its face. What we once understood, we no longer comprehend."
Similarly, Saul Friedlander questions whether we will ever be able to reconcile with the Holocaust, whether "any historical approach [can] suffice to redeem, that is convincingly interpret the past." His response, like most aspects of Holocaust study, is unsure, almost vague. It seems, however, that the nature of such a shocking event as the Holocaust leaves room only for such a conclusion:
"Paradoxically, the "Final Solution," as a result of its apparent historical exceptionality, could well be inaccessible to all attempts at a significant representation and interpretation. Thus, notwithstanding all efforts at the creation of meaning, it could remain fundamentally irrelevant for the history of humanity and the understanding of the "human condition."
In Walter Benjamin's terms, we may possibly be facing an unredeemable past."
As I now set forth to unearth, understand, and compile a history of a small part of the Holocaust—the Lodz Ghetto—Friedlander's words do not appear too encouraging. Perhaps the Holocaust is a contradiction to all that is human as we have known it throughout time. Perhaps it was just a fluke. Fortunately, I am not the first one who has felt it is nevertheless a vital area of research and analysis. The great number of volumes on the Holocaust in the UCLA Research Library alone attests that others before me have made their attempts at redeeming the unredeemable. While many will agree that a complete understanding will never be achieved, most will also agree that knowledge is important. Jews and non-Jews, historians and "lay-people" usually understand the importance of knowing, of feeling, and of sharing about the Holocaust. Ideally, the hope is that such an event will never be allowed to take place again - it is the idea of learning from history, one that unfortunately many have not yet picked up on, and events similar to the Nazi Holocaust of World War II happen daily all over the world.
My search for knowledge proceeds, within the context of Holocaust historiography, as I compile a short history of the Lodz Ghetto, which existed in Poland between 1940 and 1944. In order to understand the organization of the Ghetto, and the events and personages that arose within it, one must be provided with a short background on Jewish life in Poland preceding the war, as well as within the city of Lodz before the establishment of the Ghetto. The sections on the Ghetto itself will conclude with one entitled "Deportation Into and From the Lodz Ghetto", and the following will briefly address the events following the closing of the Ghetto and the end of World War II. The object of these supplementary sections is to place the Lodz Ghetto within a context, as a part of the greater field of Holocaust studies, and also as representative of the larger theme of the Holocaust, which has been the focus of a great many scholars for over forty years. As I completed my research for this paper, I realized how incomplete it actually was—I realized that such research will never be complete. There is always more to know about the Holocaust, always more to read, and to write. I reminded myself repeatedly that the scope of this paper did not entail recounting every piece of analysis on every aspect of the Holocaust. For this reason, scholars of the Holocaust share their study with many colleagues. And so I set forth to recount the very real, very complicated, and very intriguing story of the Lodz Ghetto: the shape it took in those four years, the controversies that surround its leadership, and the remarkable strength and dignity of its people.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF JEWS IN POLAND
"The history of the Jews in Poland is the story of a people invited to live in Poland and then, for the greater part of their 900 year residence, subjected to second-class citizenship, economic boycotts, harassment and pogroms."
The Jews of Poland throughout history have found themselves within a country that constantly had to fight for, assert and reassert its independence. During the eighteenth century, Poland was divided three times between Russia, Prussia and Austria; in 1772, 1793 and 1795. It was not until the close of World War I that Poland regained the independence she had lost 125 years earlier.
When Catholicism was officially declared the national religion, "the Polish government planned to establish an independent state for Polish Catholics governed by Polish Catholics. They ignored the rights of minorities." At this time (1918), the Jewish minority made up ten percent of the population (3,500,000 people) against a 63.3% majority of Catholic Poles. "While not the largest [minority, it] was still the most visible due to its compactness and separatism."
The three elements of Polish life that most affected the Jewish population throughout their 900-year Polish citizenship - Polish nationalism, the influence of the Catholic Church, and Jewish Separatism - continued to exert influence during the years between World Wars I and II. Political and economic decisions made by Poland at this time, pertaining to both the general Polish populations and Jews themselves, as well as continuing anti- Semitism, were also powerful forces affecting Jews of the period.
Polish nationalism arose as a response to the country's constant fight for independent nationhood, and left little room for the Jews. "Far from being regarded as potential allies, as they were in Lithuania and Bohemia, Jews were generally regarded as enemies of the Polish [nationalist] cause." As Polish nationalism increased between the wars, it left no room for a people who had for so long existed outside of both the noble and peasant communities. "In most of the new states [that arose after World War I], relations between Jews and gentiles were bad from the very beginning, and in all of them these relations deteriorated sharply during the 1930's... Almost everywhere the ‘Jewish-question’ became a matter of paramount concern, and anti-Semitism a major political force." Throughout the Jews’ history in Poland they were, under several decrees, forbidden from owning land. These decrees and other statutes which regulated Jews' roles in Poland's occupational structure, such as the Kalisz Statute in 1264 which made them subjects only to the princely courts and granted them the right to free trade and money-lending, led the majority of Jews to become tradesmen, artisans and money lenders. In these positions, they found themselves caught between noblemen and their serfs.
"The very nature of the occupations to which they were restricted during the 1000 years in which they have dwelt in Poland placed them in the position, where they could not avoid arousing the hostility of the Gentile population. At first, under kings Boleslav and Casimir during the early centuries, they constituted the first and only privileged bourgeois class... They were, at that time, the unpopular instruments in the hands of the nobles for the exploitation of the people, - their stewards and tax collectors."
In the interwar years, between 1918 and 1939, the Polish government decided that the nationalization of its industrial sector would better be able to respond to its domestic market demands than had the industries under private ownership and operation. Working also to establish export markets for its industries, the newly formed independent Poland set out to increase opportunities for its Catholic Polish majority. Such opportunities led to the migration of what had been the Polish peasantry into the cities, where 75% of Polish Jews had traditionally resided. "The economic structure of the Jewish population [of Poland] naturally reflected the urban character of the community." While the great majority of Poles were involved in agriculture, Jews were found primarily in commerce, industry, and the professions. Of these three sectors, the majority of Jews were engaged in commercial activities.
"In general, the Jewish population in interwar Poland may be termed lower middle class and proletarian, with a numerically small but important intelligentsia and wealthy bourgeoisies... The Jewish proletariat... was not a proletariat of the great factories and mines, it was, rather, a proletariat consisting almost entirely of craftsmen employed in light industry [such as] shoemaking, baking, or tailoring... in a small shop." Members of this group, the halupniks, often worked at home and sometimes employed a few workers in their workshops. Jews did not make up a large number of workers in the great factories and mines of Poland, due mostly to the fact that firms owned by gentiles rarely employed Jews, and few Jews themselves owned large factories. This population was mostly unassimilated and unacculturated to Polish society, although the 1930's saw some movement toward increased acculturation of Jews.
The period between 1921 and 1931 saw Jews earning more in this light industry than in commerce (42.2% to 36.6%), where the opposite had previously been the case. "In the 1930's there were some signs in Poland that the situation was changing, as more and more Jews, driven by economic necessity, sought work in factories." These Jews, however, did not become a significant working class group for the large factories. The 1930's in Poland also saw an increase in urban taxes, which strongly affected the Jewish population that resided predominantly in the cities.
"The Jewish economic condition in Poland at the outset of the interwar period, as in other economically backward regions of Eastern Europe, was undeniably gloomy. On the one hand, it could be asserted, and often was, that Jews “dominated” the economy; on the other, the community itself was poor, existing to a dangerous extent on foreign relief funds and cursed with an unhealthy economic structure."
The large majority of Jews who were not assimilationists supported Jewish national autonomy within Poland. They demanded Jewish schools taught in Jewish languages (Hebrew and Yiddish), yet financially supported by the state. Similarly, they also called for state support of Jewish cultural, social, and economic institutions. Finally, they asked that the state recognize a Jewish democratic body that would officially represent Poland's Jewish community in government. The Minorities' Treaty of 1919, established at the Peace Conference in Paris following World War I, was a response to these requests, and intended to protect the freedoms of all Polish inhabitants, regardless of birth, nationality, language, race or religion. The treaty contended for state-funded Jewish schools controlled by Jews, and forbade the Polish government from disallowing Jews to obey the Sabbath on Saturdays. The terms of the Minorities' Treaty, however, were not fulfilled by Poland, among other countries. "The Poles bitterly resented having been coerced into signing the Minorities' Treaty. They regarded it as an intolerable act of interference on the part of the great powers and blamed the Jews for having engineered its acceptance."
The legal status of Jews in Poland was also influenced by the Polish Constitution of 1921. This constitution made no special mention of Jews, and the freedoms it outlined, like those in the Minorities' Treaty, were often ignored in practice. Most Polish political leaders denounced the concept of Jewish national autonomy. While Jews were permitted to establish their own Jewish-language schools, they had to do so at the expense of their own community, rather than of the state. Essentially, "promises of equality [for the Jews] before the law were not fulfilled, [and] systematic discrimination and anti-Semitic violence [persisted]... [A] decline in the number of anti-Semitic excesses from 1921 on brought relief to the Jewish community, but it did not lead to a new era of peace and understanding between Poles and Jews. It soon became clear that the Polish state [was]... committed to the mission to weaken the Jewish population."
Jews were excluded from holding government jobs, and certain types of credit were withheld from Jewish businesses. "The Polish bureaucracy was to all intents and purposes Judenrein" (clean of Jews). Further, "the depression afforded the government a valid reason to inflict more injustices upon the Jews since the Polish masses had to be diverted from the errors of government. One of the cities most directly affected by the adversity was the industrial center of Lodz, the Polish Manchester."
The central position of Catholicism further prevented the Jews of Poland from attaining full citizen status. There was a degree of religious pluralism in Poland which could be seen in the Catholic, Uniate, Orthodox and Protestant churches that formed between the two world wars. These "did not, however, as the Jewish experience demonstrates, necessarily result in an atmosphere of religious tolerance." Jewish separatism from the greater Polish community was another factor leading to their second-class positions within that community. As Lillian Kranitz-Sanders explains,
"[The Jews] refused to assimilate, to relinquish identity as a separate people. A rigidly orthodox community, they isolated themselves from general Polish society. A highly visible entity, they fiercely clung to religious and cultural
differences. This, after all, was the reason they had immigrated to Poland: to be free religiously, culturally and socially."
Unlike the Polish majority, the Jews communicated with each other in Yiddish. Debates about the positive and negative effects of acculturation and assimilation gave rise to different groups of Jews with different ideas of Jewish identity. According to Ezra Mendelsohn, acculturation means the "Jews’ adoption of the external characteristics of the majority culture, above all its language," while assimilation represents "Jews’ efforts to adopt the national identity of the majority, to become Poles... or even to abandon their Jewish identity altogether." As a response to questions of identity, several Jewish political parties developed. "The Jewish political system was both complex and splintered. Unlike the Germans and other national minorities, the Jews were unable to use political relationships with their ‘homeland’ for leverage in a political fight..." The debate over Zionism (the belief in a Jewish homeland) was only one of the factors that divided Jewish political parties. Other conflicts arose between secular and religious forces, between groups with different social ideologies (not unlike political party differences in any context), and over debates on what language should be spoken by Jews in Eastern Europe. The most important parties by 1918 were the Workers Union in Poland (the Bund) and the Workers of Zion (Poale Zion). The Orthodox Aguda Israel, a moderate group, was the most supportive of the actions of the Polish government. In return for its support, the Aguda received government aid for the funding of its schools. All other groups independently funded their institutions. Another significant group, the Bund, existed as the predominant socialist Jewish political faction.
"In some countries [during the 1920's and 1930's], most notably Poland, secular Jewish nationalism and Jewish socialism were transformed almost overnight into mass movements which were to wrest control of the Jewish community from its more traditional leaders." Amid these movements, Zionism, the belief in a Jewish homeland, became strongly associated with Jewish identity. This faith in Zionism inspired a great deal of strength in many Jews during World War II—people who maintained hope that one day they would be free in Israel.
Despite conflicts of Jewish and Polish identity, anti-Semitism, economic and political alienation, and right-wing fascist groups that were acquiring power in the 1930's, the Jewish communities in Poland continued to survive. These communities were predominantly Yiddish- speaking, lower middle class, orthodox in religion, and in most cases embraced Jewish nationalism. Both urban and rural Jewish communities remained close knit and segregated, with a high birth rate and little intermarriage. As World War II drew near, Poland's nationhood was again threatened, by the power of the German Third Reich. "The principle internal threat to the stability of such countries as Poland, Hungary, and Romania in the 1930's emanated from the so-called native fascist movements... This struggle in which the Jewish question played a great role, [would have] fateful consequences for the local Jewish community." As fascism came to threaten the independence of Poland, the anti-Semitic nature of this movement thrived among the prejudices of the times in East Central Europe. Hitler's fascist regime would soon be working toward the extermination of all European Jews.
THE CITY OF LODZ
Between 200,000 and 250,000 Jews lived in Lodz before World War II began, making up over a third of the total population of 700,000. While Jews constituted 34% of Lodz's total inhabitants, Poles made up 55%, and 10% of the remaining 11% was German. The Jews of Lodz comprised the second-largest Jewish community in Poland, next to Warsaw. Lodz had grown around the manufacture of textiles, and this industrial center was significant to the economic structure of Poland. Many enterprises within this industry had originally been founded by Jews, although Jews were more often involved as merchants of these textiles, rather than as producers. Markets for Lodz's textiles could be found from Russia to China to the Balkans, as well as within Poland itself. The domestic market, however, suffered along with the Polish economy following the First World War, as government cartels and monopolies brought about an imbalanced economy and a lack of raw materials. According to Lodz Ghetto survivor Edzia Goldstein, who allowed me to interview her for this project, there were many German-owned factories in Lodz, the most famous being the textile factory of Schiedler and Groman, which employed 15,000 workers, none of whom were Jewish. Some wealthy Jews owned businesses in Lodz, as well as homes in the suburbs where they lived within the city. Fifty-three percent of Lodzian Jews were employed in manufacturing according to a 1931 census. This percentage was made up primarily of the previously mentioned halupniks, who comprised the proletariat of pre-war Poland. Edzia's father ran a cork factory, in which he worked with his older sons. The corks were bought primarily by gentile businesses, and her mother, who spoke some German, participated in sales to German businesses. Another 30.3% of Jews worked in trade, 4.8% in transportation and communications, 5.5% in the government (until the years between the two World Wars, when measures were initiated to keep Jews out of Polish bureaucracy) and the professions, and the remaining 6.6% comprised the proletariat.
In the Rosynez family—that of my grandmother—her brother Tomek (Tobias) was the primary financial supporter. Involved in different kinds of work, he had one business buying, transporting and selling coal, and another buying and selling mortgages. "In contrast [to Jews, however,] Polish workers fared much better. They were assured a full year's work, had union benefits, filled the majority of factory and government jobs in Lodz and worked six days a week, from Monday to Saturday. They also could apply to their unions for unemployment relief when laid off."38 Whereas economic studies in employment generally associate the artisan's profession with a higher standard of employment and benefits, because of the increased degree of independence and freedom, the lifestyles of Polish workers at this time demonstrate that non-Jewish factory workers in fact fared better than Jewish independent artisans. When the 1930's saw the increase of urban taxes in Poland, the Jews of Lodz, a large community in this urban center, found themselves especially burdened, as they made up a larger sector of the urban population of Poland than that of its rural areas.
Jews of the upper middle class sometimes lived in gentile neighborhoods, what Edzia referred to as "the nice neighborhoods." According to another of Kranitz-Sanders' interviewees, a peculiar attitude existed toward Jews living within gentile neighborhoods: "Although prejudiced towards Jews as an ethnic and religious entity, the Gentiles were tolerant of `their Jews,' Jews living in their neighborhoods."39 Jews of the lower middle class lived among other Jews, often in ghetto communities. This group made up 80% of the Jews of Lodz. (Edzia) Self-containment within Jewish neighborhoods was, in one respect, a form of protection from acts of anti- Semitism. According to one survivor who spoke of his father, "although he was able to live in a relatively good relationship with the non-Jewish world, he could still see the disadvantages of being a Jew in Poland." The Jewish ghetto also provided Jews with a sense of community and belonging, within a country where they had for 900 years felt like guests. As one survivor explained, "I thought of myself as a Jewish person living in Poland. "Within these ghettos, as within the family, Jews spoke Yiddish, while Polish was utilized in transactions, often for business, with the outside communities.
During a video interview for the Simon Wiesenthal Center's new Museum of Tolerance, Edzia was asked when she had first recognized anti-Semitism. She proceeded to recount the story of the non-Jewish caretaker of her predominantly Jewish apartment building. Edzia's family had always gotten along with this man who, on the Sabbath, would come to each family's apartment and light their stoves so they might be able to warm up food without breaking the Sabbath. When Edzia discovered that the man's children did not go to school, she told her family, and one day her father brought up the subject with the caretaker. His unprecedented reaction was the first encounter Edzia had with the kind of anti-Semitism that pervaded Poland before World War II. At the top of his lungs, he declared, "Wait a minute, Yamnik (Edzia's family name). When ‘they’ come, ‘they're’ going to kill you all. I'm going to be Mr. Yamnik, and you're going to clean the toilets. Wait until they come. I can't wait for the day they come!" Edzia did not know who `they' were, but the caretaker was representative of the jealous attitudes and social class conflict that took shape within a context of anti-Semitism in prewar Poland.
Edzia remembered times when she had used her knowledge of Polish to translate for her mother, who was more familiar with Yiddish, since the younger generation learned Polish in the schools. While the older generation had attended religious Jewish schools, or yeshivas, where they had been taught in Yiddish and Hebrew, the younger members of Jewish society attended schools that were primarily taught in Polish and government operated. This is not to say, however that their student population was not predominantly Jewish. Edzia remembered attending a school with only Jewish students, but taught by a gentile teacher. Whether or not they received government funding, public schools, vocational training centers which often centered around the textile industry, libraries, theaters and social institutions within these Jewish quarters were directed and sometimes sponsored by their Jewish communities. According to Edzia, culture in Lodz flourished before World War II. Most of the children in her family, except the older sons who worked with their father, went to school. One of her sisters was enrolled in religious school, which was paid for by one of her brothers, who had become more religious than his father. "Jewish families are very much for learning," Edzia explained, "Oh God, since [they're] babies!" By the time the war began, Murray Rosynez had completed primary school, high school and trade school. "School was strict, not like in the States, and we wore uniforms." With the outbreak of war, Murray was unable to utilize his learned trade.
Lodz's Jewish community was predominantly Orthodox in religion. This Orthodox community observed the laws of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses that make up the Jewish bible) and the Talmud (interpretation of the Torah), the dietary laws of kashruth, and the Sabbath on Saturday. Clearly, as in all other Jewish communities, individual Jews observed various degrees of Orthodoxy. Edzia's father and brothers went to the synagogue beneath their apartment every Friday and Saturday, while her mother, sisters and she went only on holidays. According to a survivor of the Ghetto who was interviewed by Kranitz-Sanders for her book, Twelve Who Survived, "Jewish Lodz was a patriarchal society where `the father was everything.' Even if the father did not earn a living for the family, he still functioned as `head of the home.'" Many women, especially among the extremely Orthodox Hassidim, didn't work outside the home. Edzia elaborated on this point, "My father was like the king. He didn't want anybody to work. He said, `I'm the provider.' You see, European men, they feel belittled if the women work."
According to the Jewish tradition, it is a mitzvah (commandment) to have children. Many of Lodz's middle class families had many children: twelve in Edzia's and fourteen in the Rosynez family. Murray Rosynez, my grandmother's nephew exclaimed in amazement, "Somehow, I don't know how, but somehow they managed to have fourteen children." Four of my grandmother's siblings died shortly after birth, however, as did two of the children in Edzia's family. "We weren't rich," Edzia explained, "but the food was fine. Sometimes there was no food. But come Saturday, there was always food, even fish. Some times were tough, especially when it was time to marry off one of the daughters," for which a dowry and gown were needed. "All twelve children were born in the same building, in the same apartment. As more children were born, the single large room and kitchen got smaller, but I never noticed it was crowded, and I was the youngest. I thought all families lived like that; it wasn't bad, it was a way of life." Edzia remembered the way her father had made partitions in the apartment to accommodate a family of twelve. "He made the apartment livable."
In early 1939, Edzia got a job in a fabric store. Working the cash register, she began to notice that fewer big bills were being used in the payment of goods. "People would pay for $150 worth of merchandise with ones, fives and tens." For the first time, even at age thirteen, Edzia began to feel something was wrong, that forces far beyond Poland were beginning to affect her life. As it turned out, people all over Europe had begun hoarding their money in anticipation of a war. Fear eventually began to pervade the city of Lodz. German forces invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. They entered Lodz on September 8, 1939. After Poland was divided between Germany and Russia (then allies) on September 28, 1939, the Western part that included Lodz went to the Germans, and the city of Lodz became a part of the Greater Reich. The events that followed, the steps taken by the Germans in Lodz, as in all other parts of Europe under Nazi control, would lead to the destruction of a community. A new artificial community, if it can be called that at all, would be created within the confines of the barbed wire that encircled a fraction of what had once been a bustling center of industry, and the home of 250,000 Jews.
September 1, 1939: Germany invades Poland
September 8, 1939: German army enters Lodz city
September 18, 1939: Nazis issue ordinance banning all High Holy Day services in city synagogues
September 21, 1939: Two orders aimed at the Jews: (1) that Jews from the annexed territories
were to be confined to Jewish ghettos and (2) that these ghettos were to be directed by councils
of elder Jews who would carry out German orders
October 13, 1939: Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski appointed Eldest of the Jews (Chairman) and
selects Council of Elders
November 7, 1939: Lodz becomes part of the Third Reich
November 11, 1939: All synagogues destroyed except one in Jewish area
November 15, 1939 – February 28, 1940: 30,000 Jews deported from Lodz City and resettled
into the Ghetto
February 8, 1940: Lodz ghetto established by order of German chief of police
March 7, 1940: "Bloody Thursday," senseless killings of about 400 Jews
April 11, 1940: Lodz renamed Litzmannstadt by the Reich
May 1, 1940: Lodz Ghetto sealed within 1/4 of what had been Lodz City
May 1, 1940 – January 5, 1942: Rumkowski's authority over Ghetto affirmed, Ghetto administration
May 12, 1940: Ordinances passed: blocking Jewish bank accounts, banning travel, requiring the
wearing of yellow Star of David and the displaying of the word JUDE in store windows, initiating
forced labor, banning all pre-war Jewish organizations, confiscating Jewish property, prohibiting
contact with gentiles, and forcing the resettlement of the Jewish population into the Ghetto
June 2, 1940: Rationing established, acquiring food and goods now only with ration cards
1940 & 1941: Social and cultural organizations in Ghetto still functioning (ie. schools, child
care, religion, social programs, theater, cultural events)
Fall of 1941: 20,000 Jews relocated to Lodz Ghetto from Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, Germany and
December 7, 1941: Nazi death camp at Chelmno began functioning
January 16, 1942: First transport to leave Lodz for Chelmno, including criminals, welfare recipients, and
black marketeers, and the Jews who had come in during the fall of 1941
January – May, 1942: 1/3 of Ghetto population (54,990 people deported)
September 5, 1942: General curfew announced to facilitate deportations
September 12, 1942: Curfew lifted
September 13, 1942 – June 14, 1944: Lodz Ghetto remains long after others as giant labor camp for
June 15, 1944 – January 19, 1945: Use of Jewish labor debated
July 1944: Russian Red Army advances into Warsaw, Poland
July – August 1944: Deportations redirected to Auschwitz
August 28, 1944: Rumkowski sent to Auschwitz with his family
January 19, 1945: Soviet and Polish army enters Lodz, only 877 Jews remained to clean up the Ghetto
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
by Edzia Y. Goldstein
"They" are coming,
And are on their way.
Suddenly everything changed
Happy sounds- all gone
Children playing- not anymore
Nothing is the same...
The people- where are the people?
They are running away as far
As they can,
But where to?
Where are my parents?
And our neighbors,
What about me...
Don't wait- the message said
Time to run is now!
Run for your life!
Fast, faster, but where?
Black clouds a black night.
Cries and sobbings
What's going on?
I see people with bundles,
Dragging chairs and sofas
Is everyone gone mad!
Where are the children-
Are they hiding
Maybe gone- where is everyone...
I hear the sound of boots
Clicking against the cobblestones
Too late to escape
They are here...
Eight months transpired between the German invasion of Poland and the sealing off of the Lodz Ghetto. During this time, Jewish businesses were closed, properties taken away from businessmen and shop owners, and the valuable belongings of Jewish individuals confiscated. These properties and possessions would eventually be taken over by the Germans for the distribution of goods to Jews in the Ghetto. "Nobody knew where these goods were being taken to," Edzia explained, "but they even came into my employer's store and took all the material away in trucks, early on, around September 6, 1939." The few Jewish-owned businesses that remained open for a while before the Ghetto was sealed were required to display JUDE signs in their windows, and Jewish individuals wore yellow Stars of David on their right sleeves. Eventually, they would wear these on the fronts and backs of their right shoulders. "Jews were forbidden to employ non-Jewish females in their households; they were forbidden to use the railways, barred from parks, beaches, swimming baths and the like." Jews were seized at random to perform trivial, disgraceful tasks such as digging holes and filling them up again. They were kept out of bread lines, synagogues were destroyed, and curfews were imposed.
Edzia remembered the day when the Germans had decided that the Ghetto would be sealed off, when Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski, who had been appointed Chairman of the Lodz Jewish community by German authorities, rode around the city on the back of a truck warning Jews that if they did not "run" immediately, they would be taken to the Ghetto. "We all ran," she remembered, "but then we turned back, because we had nowhere to run to. My father, my mother, my sister Lola and I turned back, but my brother Moshe and his family kept running. One friend who was running with Moshe gave me a key to a library he owned [in what soon became part of the Ghetto] and that is where we lived in the Ghetto." Their new home was a single small room. "My father [slept on] a couch, my mother on a narrow bed that we had ‘shlepped’ from our other apartment, and my sister and I took turns sleeping on a table."
My cousin similarly recounted the events that brought the Jews of Lodz into the Ghetto: "Everything happened very fast. I was sixteen, and I left our apartment with my mother and a cousin, and a few possessions. The Germans had taken our apartment, and everything of value, even my mom's nice coat. The civilian Gestapo gave us a little food on the way to the Ghetto, they weren't beating people yet at that time. We moved into a lousy apartment, very low class. I don't remember if we paid for it or not." Murray Rosynez remembered the formation of the Lodz Ghetto, and the rows upon rows of Jews who marched into the confines of what had once been the slums of the city of Lodz. He recalled people carrying as many possessions as they could on their backs, even sofas, on the long walk into the Ghetto.
Murray is the son of my grandmother's eldest brother, Pinkas, who died in Lodz before World War II. He is my only direct link to the Lodz Ghetto, and to a family that had for so long been left a mystery. Although Murray was nine years younger than his aunt, and his views of Lodz must have differed from hers in many ways, his experiences are those of any human being under the control of the Nazi regime. Life for all people in the Lodz Ghetto was Nazi-controlled. In the same light, although Edzia Goldstein is not a relative of mine, in interviewing her I felt as though I was speaking to my grandmother. She even asked me at one point if we could be related.
The photographs of Mendel Grossman, another Jew confined in Lodz, have been published in several books on the Holocaust. They include pictures of the trails of people and possessions my cousin spoke of, as they filed into the Ghetto. There are pictures of the “people bridges” that were constructed over streets to keep the Jews away from the Germans—the bridges Edzia feared would explode beneath her feet as she walked daily to and from work. Some people dare to suggest the Holocaust never happened. Unfortunately for such people, these photographs remain, poems remain, accounts remain, chronicles remain, songs remain; and most importantly, the Survivors remain. It is difficult to prove the Lodz Ghetto never existed, that my grandmother and her family didn't spend five years there. All of these sources contribute to my grandmother's story. This is the story of the Lodz Ghetto.
THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE LODZ GHETTO
"You do not forget about the Nazis, although the masters appear only occasionally in these accounts. The whole
ghetto serves them. In life under enslavement, the masters are presupposed."
The barbed wire encircling the Lodz Ghetto surrounded 4.3 square kilometers of space, which was reduced to 3.8 square kilometers after February of 1941. Lodz was the second largest of the occupied communities, the first being the Warsaw Ghetto. The Lodz Ghetto was formed within the poorest slums of prewar Lodz, the Baluty area and the Old town. Many Jews who had lived in these areas before the war were "fortunate" to have avoided the long trek into the Ghetto from other parts of the city of Lodz. My cousin Murray, for example, who appears to have been better off financially than Edzia and her family, remembers a longer, more strenuous walk into the Ghetto, as he arrived there from a wealthier area of prewar Lodz. When all other ghettos belonging to the Reich's General Government had been emptied of their Jewish populations and closed down, "the Lodz ghetto continued to exist as a giant labor camp... where nothing mattered but work." Many Jews from the ghettos that had been liquidated came into Lodz, the central ghetto which quickly became a "clearinghouse" of Jews for control by German authority. "Except for the death camps themselves, it was the most hermetically sealed [and longest-lasting] concentration of Jews in Europe."
The Nazi administration that regulated life in Lodz and the other ghettos was headed by Hans Biebow. Biebow established factories in Lodz which, "provided with very cheap labor [ie. the Jews of Lodz]... were to serve the Nazis as a source of easy profits and exploitation [which yielded] a profit to the ghetto administration estimated at 350 million reichsmarks ($14,000,000)." The Nazi administration established the Judenrat, or Jewish Council of Elders (called Altestenrat in Lodz), to organize life in the Ghetto, primarily the efficient operation of its 120 factories. "It regarded the establishment of factories as the only possible means of saving the ghetto population from unemployment and starvation, imprisoned and isolated as it was from the rest of the world, and the Altestenrat approached the task with great energy." These factories were established within the Ghetto, in the buildings and businesses that had previously been confiscated from the Jews of Lodz. Although some of the more fortunate Ghetto Jews were assigned positions regulating their production, the factories and their goods belonged to the Reich, and their output was bound for both the Nazi war effort and the German people. Ideally, everyone in the Lodz Ghetto was to be employed in one or another aspect of this type of manufacture, or in the distribution centers for food and other goods. Other employment positions were to include teachers, doctors, police, and the exclusive membership of the Judenrat.
Since the close of World War II, there has been a controversial debate, which has resulted in numerous conferences and volumes on Jewish leadership within the rule of the Third Reich, about the role of the Judenrat and whether or not it benefited the Jews of the Ghettos, among them Lodz. (This virtually unsolvable debate, in itself, could easily encompass a research paper of its own.) While some argue that the Jewish Council worked for the betterment of the lives of its own people, others believe that it worked too closely with and too loyally for the benefit of German power. The members of the Judenrat found themselves in a difficult position, for while they worked to improve and even save the lives of the Ghetto Jews, their existence as a council, with at least some authority and autonomy in the eyes of Biebow's administration, depended on a relationship of obedience toward this administration. Because the Judenrat was imposed by Biebow, however, "the Jewish community had forced on it a body whose function was to receive German orders and decrees and be responsible for carrying them out. The inclusion of prominent personalities in the Judenrat had a dual purpose: to ensure that German orders were implemented to the fullest possible extent, and to discredit Jewish leadership in the eyes of the Jewish population."
While it complied with the demands of the Nazi administration, the Judenrat was also in charge of providing for the basic needs of the Lodz Ghetto community. In order to efficiently carry out this task, the Judenrat established administrative branches such as the general administration, the labor assignments department, provisioning, finances and economics, requisitions, ghetto industry, health care, and education and welfare. These administrative units, which had initially been created by Chairman Rumkowski under his authority, became decentralized and autonomous when the Ghetto was sealed on May 1, 1940. When the Judenrat took over the task of assigning individuals to particular labor tasks, it "sought to prevent a recurrence of [the] brutal daily roundups of Jews in the streets" that had been characteristic since the Germans entered Lodz in late 1939. In 1940 and 1941, the numerous departments of the Judenrat managed to provide communal services such as schools, orphanages, summer camps, hospitals and old age homes, despite the lack of support it received from the Nazi administration for the maintenance of such programs. These programs gradually disappeared, however, as the Nazi's Final Solution began to deport the Jews of Lodz to the concentration camp at Chelmno, and Lodz existed more and more for labor and concentration of Jews from all over Europe.
The elaborate Ghetto administration consisted of a welfare system, a police force (both Jewish and German), a court system, a rabbinical unit, a post office (until mail was forbidden), and Ghetto currency. The Branch for Population Records, which included the Department of Statistics, collected data on Ghetto welfare and prepared reports for use by the Nazi administration. Essentially, although each department existed to organize the lives of the Lodz Jews, they functioned primarily under the authority of the Reich. "Internal autonomy never really existed in the Lodz ghetto. On the contrary, the ghetto was relentlessly watched by various Nazi agencies, and the Jewish administration was obliged to report to these agencies on ghetto affairs at frequent intervals." Nazi control was enforced by the Gestapo, by the mayor (OBM) of the German municipality, by Biebow's ghetto administration, and by the Gettoverwaltung, which regulated the flow of food and supplies for the ghetto and raw materials for its factories. This body also collected all of the goods that were confiscated from Jews as they entered the Lodz Ghetto, as well as profits from the Ghetto's factories.
LODZ GHETTO ADMINISTRATIVE DEPARTMENTS
1. Grocery and Bread Departments
2. Ration Cards Department
3. Department of Bakeries
4. Department of Kitchens
5. Department of Dairy Products
Labor Departments and Divisions
1. Labor Assignments Department
2. Labor Divisions and Workshops
Various Other Departments
1. Department of Agriculture
2. Welfare Department
3. Health and Sanitation Department
4. Performing Arts and Sports
5. Department of Schools
On October 13, 1939, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, himself a Jew, was appointed Chairman of the Lodz Jewish Community. After selecting the Council of Elders, which comprised the Altestenrat of Lodz, he became known as the Eldest of the Jews, heading this body and the entire administration of the Lodz Ghetto. Although the Ghetto departments had some independence, they reported to Rumkowski, who in turn reported to Biebow's ghetto administration and the greater Reich. Having settled in Lodz from Russia years before World War II, Rumkowski had for many years directed the Helenowek Jewish Orphanage. Similar to the debate on the Judenrat, questions have arisen relating to whether or not Rumkowski helped or hurt the Jews. As Chairman of the Ghetto, he was highly privileged, and certainly better fed and housed than the majority of the Ghetto population. He made all final decisions on the organization of the Ghetto, and passed endless decrees governing the actions of its population. He was responsible for sending Jewish deportees from Lodz to their deaths in Chelmno and Auschwitz.
The authority Rumkowski had was given to him and regulated by the Germans, who essentially had the final word on his decisions. When Rumkowski took over from Biebow's Ghetto Administration the choosing of names of Jews to be taken for deportation by German forces, he hoped to alleviate the previous system under which people were taken at random from the streets for deportation to labor camps. He was among the Jewish leaders "who proposed for the sake of peace to deliver daily quotas of Jews to the Nazis." German authority, however, dictated the numbers of workers they required, and the Lodz Jewish community would be threatened if he did not come up with the desired quotas. In the same light, Rumkowski was placed in charge of selecting people for deportation to the extermination camp at Chelmno after 1941. "While nobody in the ghetto... was aware of the existence of the extermination camp, (and this itself is debatable) the danger inherent in the expulsion operation was felt by one and all... The Germans left to Rumkowski and his Altestenrat staff the task of deciding who was to be included in the deportations, thus giving him an authority that earned him the hatred of most of the ghetto population." "Remember that when there is a demand for more deportees," he announced in a manner that strengthened his authority, "I will put all the parasites on the lists." These “parasites” included not only the unemployed and those on welfare, but the resistance leaders who were suspected of being responsible for the unrest among the Ghetto's labor force. With the deportations in his control, Rumkowski was able to consolidate his power beyond question.
The question remains how much Rumkowski knew of the fates to which he sent his people, and whether or not he could have refused to provide the German authorities with the “quotas” of Jews they requested from him throughout the history of the Ghetto. Without the cooperation of Rumkowski and his administration, the roundup of Jews by the Germans would surely have been less successful in numerical terms. Under Rumkowski's system, lists of names were issued to the Jewish Police for roundup, and later, directors of factories were asked to provide numbers of people from their workforces. Under such rigid control, it was certainly more difficult for a Jew to hide from deportation than it would have been to hide from random roundups imposed by German forces. When I asked Edzia what she thought of Rumkowski, she responded, "They said he gave away a lot of names [supposedly for labor outside the Ghetto], that he was not a nice person. I don't like to accuse someone if I don't know for sure about them. He had run an orphanage before the war, so I thought he must be a nice person. The Germans talked to him, and he talked to the Jews." I asked my cousin Murray the same question: "Rumkowski - he was a misery! He played ball too much with the Germans. I don't know if he helped or hurt the Jews. Lodz lasted longer than any other ghetto, which was good. Rumkowski was taken from Lodz the day before I was (August 30, 1944). He went to the train with his bodyguards and all his gold, he even had a reception. But like every other Jew, he was taken straight to the oven."
Five to seven thousand people survived the Lodz Ghetto, the largest numbers in Poland for groups of Holocaust survivors. Perhaps because of Rumkowski, the Lodz Ghetto remained in existence longer than all the others. The duration of the Ghetto, however must not diminish the fact that massive numbers of Jews were sent to labor and extermination camps by Rumkowski, and that the majority of those who remained in the Ghetto survived only on the brink of death. It is likely that Rumkowski could have done less to strengthen his own authority and more to press German authorities for leniency toward the Jews of Lodz. There is some evidence that he did try to bargain with the Germans to minimize the numbers for deportation. But his fate in the end, as the Jews of Lodz were hastily sent to Auschwitz, demonstrates the limited power given to any Jew during the Holocaust: Rumkowski died the same death as the people he had governed for five years.
THE ECONOMIC LIFE OF THE LODZ GHETTO
With the establishment of the Lodz Ghetto, the Germans set up factories for the production of goods for their war effort and the German people. The Jews of Lodz worked in these factories in order to receive a daily serving of soup to supplement their scant bi-weekly ration of bread. The Reich and its Ghetto Administration exploited the labor potential of the Lodz Ghetto to its maximum capacity. The directors of the factories, themselves Jews, demanded long hours and hard labor from their workers, so that they could turn out the product quotas required by Rumkowski and the Judenrat. As the weakest and most sickly Jews were deported from the Ghetto, the factory directors being asked to provide lists of the workers they could afford to let go of, others who were deported into Lodz took over in the factories until they, too, were too weak to work efficiently.
Besides work in factories specifically geared toward products of war, Jews worked producing numerous items for the German population, particularly the families of German military officers. "My first job in the Ghetto was in the hottsgalantary, you know what that is? Where they made lampshades of Jews' skins. You've heard of that, right? I didn't do this, I made pencil cases for German schoolchildren. This production didn't last long, though. The factory was burned down." Edzia's next job was in the production of `’house shoes’ for German officers and their children. These were made by mass production in a factory that existed until the very end of the Ghetto. "The Germans never came into the factory. The director put the slippers in sacks and the Germans care outside in their trucks to pick them up and drop off [the raw materials] for us to make more."
When I somewhat naively asked Edzia why she worked in the Ghetto, she explained, "That was how we ate. We got soup and ehrzatz (imitation) coffee once a day for our work. The rations we received every two weeks were not enough alone, so we had to work." The bi-weekly rations Edzia remembers receiving consisted of a small loaf of dark rye bread, twenty saccharins (there was no sugar), a kind of round yellow vegetable like cabbage or squash ("that we learned to cook with"), and a little margarine. "There were sensible people who could resist hunger and would divide the bread to last many days. Others didn't do this, and ate it all right away. These were the ones who died of hunger."
"Food and survival were our main concerns. We spent five years in the Ghetto with NO FOOD! Everybody had rations, regardless of money or work. We could get some other things on the black market. At work they gave us a kind of vegetable `coffee', and with ration coupons we got strange food that tasted like meat, but it wasn't. Basically, we ate whatever was growing." Murray Rosynez had about ten jobs in the Ghetto. He acquired one position making carpets, which was considered a better job than others for a young teenager, because the boss' son was a friend from his days in school. While on another job outside in the cold, he was chosen to work in an employment office, rationing food and money. As it turned out, he was actually doing the work of his boss, Mr. Ostrovsky, who was sick with angina. If Mr. Ostrovsky had let the German authorities know he was ill, he would quickly have been deported to an extermination camp. So Murray secretly did his job for him, which was unusual work for a young man in the Ghetto. He eventually lost this job and returned to outdoor work. Always a resourceful man, Murray got another job in a bakery through an acquaintance who had become the leader of the Jewish Police. Such jobs were especially desired in the Ghetto, because those who held them could bring extra bread home to their families. "I was able to bring some bread home to my mother. But then I was too young for this job, too, and I lost it." Murray's last job was demolishing buildings. "They made Jews demolish their own buildings, and they had to clean up and recycle every brick for the Germans. In the place of these buildings, they made `parks'," of the vacant lots that remained. While this sort of work was performed to accumulate goods that were needed in Germany, it seems that in some cases the Germans were creating works projects that would simply keep the Ghetto Jews busy.
The provisioning level established by the Nazis for the Ghetto was half that allotted to people in German prisons. In order to receive food daily, the Jews had to work in one of the many factories formed by the Reich, which manufactured products for the Nazi war effort and for the Germans themselves. All Jews received ration tickets, which they could redeem weekly or bi-weekly for bread, sometimes coal, and whatever goods were being sent into the Ghetto at a given time. As the years proceeded, the food given to the Jews became more and more haphazard and insubstantial; the Jews learned to cook with potato peels instead of potatoes. An entry made by the Department of Archives into The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto expresses the sad absurdity surrounding this lack of food: "It was recently discovered in the ghetto that the leaves of radishes and young carrots are edible if cooked. Trade in these items [on the black market?] has assumed considerable proportions." This same entry continued, "The goods supplied to the ghetto are, as a rule, of the lowest quality - discards, shopworn, and so forth... In the opinion of experts, [the] flour is from the cleanups done in the mills in the last weeks before a new harvest, or it is of such defective quality that it found no buyer elsewhere." Survivor Sara Zyskind recalled in her book Stolen Years, "The list of the monthly ratzia (ration) for ghetto residents, pasted periodically on grocery windows, kept shrinking visibly... We called people suffering from... symptoms of starvation musulmen and knew that their days were numbered." By the end of 1941, the Jews of Lodz were consuming no more than 900 calories per day, if they ate at all. In 1942, 161 of every 1000 people died of hunger, cold, or related diseases. Most of the women in the Ghetto (ninety percent, according to Edzia) had stopped menstruating by that time, as iron was severely lacking from their diets. Dr. Dobroszycki, a survivor of the Ghetto, wrote, "We were pressed to the limit of human endurance, and beyond, and the society did not break down." This remarkable perseverance to survive, as well as the scarcity of goods in Lodz, was again expressed by another doctor in the Ghetto: "The many things which we cannot give you patients you replace with strength of character, a capacity to bear misery, daily pride, and consciousness of your innocence." Oscar Rosenfeld, who came to Lodz in October 1941 with the Jews from Prague, remarked in his notebooks on the degrading work performed by Jews - he noticed carts pulled by people, rather than animals, hauling feces to the outskirts of the Ghetto.
Besides Rumkowski, the members of the Judenrat, and in some cases the managers of factories, every “common” worker or unemployed Jew in the ghetto belonged to the same economic strata. A sort of social pyramid was created, "where the few at the top had enough to eat while the overwhelming mass of ghetto inmates starved." Zyskind's aunt Genia, for example, received an increased food ration when she was placed in charge of a metal production workshop. Zyskind explained, "She had been elevated into the sphere of the ghetto elite—the ‘millionaires’ who were able to acquire whatever they needed by trading their surplus food [on the black market]." In other words, in the Ghetto, food meant wealth. Those who had somehow managed to keep some of their valuables out of the hands of the Germans earlier on, eventually exchanged all of these goods for food. Murray remembered a group of Czech deportees who entered Lodz: "They had a good build, they were handsome and strong. But they died easily because they'd been used to the good life. They came into the Ghetto with nice things, but they lost everything when they used them as payment for food." Unlike Murray and Edzia, who had lived in Lodz before the war and managed to find rooms in buildings within the Ghetto, the new deportees lived in bunker-like lodgings, stacked one on top of the other. Even the apartments became crowded, however, as more and more people were gathered in Lodz. "There were no homeless in the Ghetto," Edzia explained. "If you didn't have a place to stay, they pushed you and you stayed with other people, even if it's twenty in one room. If you slept on the street, you were killed."
Not surprisingly, thefts began occurring in the Ghetto as situations worsened. In February of 1941, for example, 243 people were arrested for theft. Concurrently, police forces in the Ghetto strengthened in response to increased criminal activity. Likewise, Rumkowski's announcements to the Ghetto population took a firmer tone towards the criminal element, whose rebellious action he saw as impeding him in his work. Street demonstrations and labor strikes protested the lack of food and dissatisfactory working conditions. Rumkowski also saw these revolts as working against him. Rumkowski could have certainly been more understanding of the conditions that caused dissatisfaction among his people. He seems to have been excessively preoccupied by performing his work in an orderly fashion, often, as Murray said, "playing ball too much with the Germans."
The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, which was kept almost daily from 1941 to 1944 by the Department of Archives, noted, "It has been determined beyond question that [rebellious] action was organized by irresponsible individuals intent on disturbing the peace and public order created by the authorities who watch over the law, safety, and food supplies of the ghetto dwellers."62 The black market expanded, and more ridiculous exchanges took place: "Today, at the provisions [black] market, two almost new tablecloths and a sheet were swapped for a loaf of bread. This unusual transaction is tellingly characteristic of life conditions in the ghetto."63 In Stolen Years, Zyskind recalls exchanging a pair of diamond earrings on the black market for a bowl of soup for her sick father.64
POLITICS AND SOCIETY IN THE LODZ GHETTO
"I had a German friend from before the war named Harry who became Gestapo. He was one of the young men who
guarded the Ghetto. I went once to ask him for help, because I was hungry. Harry said he couldn't help me. I think he was
later sent to the Russian front." (Murray)
World War II dictated a new relationship between Murray and Harry. Because Hitler was working towards the total annihilation of Europe's Jewish population, the two young men could no longer be friends. Murray would probably have been killed if the two had been caught speaking, or if Harry had given Murray food.
Contact with Poles also ceased with the formation of the Ghetto. Polish non-Jews did were not a part of the Lodz Ghetto population, as Jews were completely segregated from gentiles. "The Poles didn't see the problems of the Jews, they had their own problems," Murray explained. Similar to prewar attitudes toward Jews -that Poles did not need the help of Jews in their fight for independence - Polish attitudes toward Jews during the war took an indifferent light. The non-Jewish Polish citizens were themselves fighting for freedom from German aggression, and they did not see Jews as an important force to possibly ally themselves with in their fight. "Poland wanted its own freedom, and it just didn't want to have to play ball with the Russians to get it," Murray explained. Incidentally, Russian forces did eventually enter Poland to fight against Germany. Jacques Faitlowicz, my grandmother's second husband and my grandfather, himself a Jewish man, had been an officer and attorney in the Polish army. During the first few years of the war, when Poland was fighting for autonomy from Russia, he was captured and sent to Siberia as a prisoner. When Russia turned to fighting against Germany, and because of his high military status, he was brought back to health and joined the Russian forces. It is interesting to me that a Jewish soldier was elevated to high ranking in the Polish army.
The Jews of the Ghetto had no access to newspapers from the outside. Mail was eventually forbidden, radios confiscated, and sources that had previously existed pertaining to the status of the war were eliminated. The Jews of Lodz, as well as the Jews of other Ghettos under the Reich, were to have no knowledge of the successes or the failures of German forces. They were to know nothing of the Hitler's intent to wipe out their population, for fear that such knowledge would prevent the Ghetto from functioning properly for the manufacture of goods for these very efforts (and they were probably right). Jews were kept blind to the true destinations of deportees from the Ghetto-the extermination camps at Chelmno, and later at Auschwitz and other camps. "The Germans are good at keeping secrets," Murray declared, "and even important Jews didn't know." German efforts to withhold such information from the Lodz community were exercised to ensure continued cooperation by Jews in the factories, and to facilitate their efforts to "roundup" Jews for deportation—telling them they were being taken to a better place.
Despite German efforts to isolate the Jews of Lodz from the external affairs that so drastically affected their lives, there is great evidence that the Jews had ideas about where they were to go from the Ghetto. Throughout The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, and increasingly so over time, an awareness is conveyed also of where they were and what they were experiencing. Not surprisingly, the Lodz Jews did not go a day without questioning their fates, although such questioning was often secondary to primary concerns about obtaining enough food to remain alive. Zyskind remarked, "In the ghetto we had no need of a calendar. Our lives were divided into periods based on the distribution of food: bread every eighth day, the ratzia once a month. Each day fell into two parts: before and after we received our soup. In this way, the time passed." "I could read some German," Murray remembered, "and I would read the ones I could find in the garbage, that the Gestapo had left behind thinking no one could read them. I wanted to see where the armies were, and eventually I saw that the Germans were backing down, that they were losing. This gave me hope, and I shared the news with my friends. You see, we survived on the hope of liberation. Such news gave us more hope than the announcements posted on the wall that would state what the Germans and Rumkowski wanted us to do."
"We did a lot of writing in the Ghetto, we wrote poetry, stories, songs, many songs. These were all secret, of course, we could be killed if someone heard our songs or our jokes. I've always written poetry, from when I was a little girl. But when you're little, you write love stories, you don't worry about a war. This changed in the Ghetto." Even as a young teenager, Edzia could not ignore where she was. She lived in constant fear, from day to day, "from hour to hour."
Zionist movements existed in the Lodz Ghetto, although they were kept fiercely secret. Murray recalls participating in Zionist youth meetings, "where we would talk of Palestine and discuss what to do after the war. We were called the `Sons of Zionism.' We never spoke of fighting the Germans, however, of starting an uprising. We only talked about when the war was over, about going to Palestine." When I asked Edzia about Zionism, she responded in the same fearful tone with which she had spoken of the songs of the Ghetto, "Open Zionism was dangerous, it had to be kept secret. You certainly couldn't talk [openly] about Palestine... or hope."
Getosaytung, the weekly Yiddish-language newspaper established in 1941 for the Ghetto, was more a mechanism used by Rumkowski and the Judenrat to control its population than an instrument for relaying information useful to the Jews. "The newspaper's principal objectives are to shed light on all aspects of life and to inform the public about the Eldest of the Jews' intentions, as well as to indicate what is proper behavior. The newspaper will publish articles on all instances of criminal behavior and corruption." Different groups of people were addressed throughout the Chronicle. References were made about the creation of a women's police unit, which was put in charge of childcare for minors whose parents were employed in factories. Not surprisingly, the women's police was headed by a man, and took the shape more of a group of babysitters than a police force.
An article entitled Ghetto High-Life Spends Weekend in Marysin spoke of the “people with pull” who would travel to the suburb on Saturdays in order to be considered part of the Ghetto elite. The Ghetto's hierarchy, not unlike most hierarchical societies, worked to the benefit of people with the right connections; they were the ones to receive the best medical attention, while most people received none at all. The chroniclers were not ignorant of the tragic fate of children in the Ghetto. Those who succeeded in not being deported—children were among the first to be taken from the Ghetto, along with criminals, the elderly, and the physically and mentally ill, considered useless to the Nazi war machine—“spend much of their time indoors, not getting out into the open air; their games, even their songs, are, accordingly, sad and serious. Their songs are less like children's songs than they are like plaints and lamentations over rations, resettlement, and the hard life in the ghetto, of which even the youngest among them are already aware... It is not unusual to hear them say: ‘If we are still alive, then...’ words such as those have a particularly tragic ring when spoken by a child.” A poignant joke overheard by one Chronicler expressed what he called “typical Jewish humor—sarcastic and critical: ‘Before the war we ate ducks and walked like horses, now we eat horses and waddle like ducks...”
FAMILY, RELIGION AND CULTURE IN THE LODZ GHETTO
"Parental respect, filial obedience, obligations of kinship, sanctity of the home - these were the elements in family life that gave security and stability to the individual. In times of stress, the family became the Jewish stronghold, the source of comfort and moral strength. In the ghetto, family relationships deepened and broadened... The stabilizing effect of the family showed up in statistics. Divorce ceased, but all ghettos recorded a rash of marriages."
My grandmother lost her husband in the Lodz Ghetto, because, she had said, he was not strong enough. Her brother Tomek lost his wife and son. Edzia lost her father, because he gave away his food to the children who lived next door. Murray's father, Pinkas, perhaps the most fortunate, had passed away before the war. He had been the oldest son of Abraham Hersz Loch Rosynez, a modern Hassidic Jew, a nice, quiet, skinny man, and Rebecca Dudelcik Rosynez, a heavyset woman. Not unlike most Jews in Lodz, the couple kept a kosher house for their large family. "We couldn't keep kosher anymore in the Ghetto. We ate whatever we got, there was nothing else," Murray recalled. Eventually, all religious holidays were stopped, and work in the factories did not pause for the Saturday Sabbath. "Religion was out of the question," exclaimed Edzia, "it was too dangerous. Some religion happened in hiding, people prayed together, but this was very dangerous." At one point during the Ghetto's existence, Jewish men were forbidden from wearing beards, and those found still donning these symbols of their Yiddishkeit (Jewishness) were either beaten and shaven, or the hairs of their beards were plucked one by one by German soldiers. Jews were prevented from obeying the Jewish commandment that forbade the use of razors for shaving. The only religious symbols the Jews were allowed (or rather forced) to wear were the yellow Stars of David that “adorned” their clothing.
Jews were not allowed to gather together, and any culture was secret, like the songs and poems Edzia wrote. The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto makes some mention of cultural events offered for the Ghetto population, although it is difficult to imagine any hungry and weary individual finding the time or energy for such "events." These events included poetry readings, concerts and recitals, and plays. Mention in The Chronicle of such events, however, became increasingly scarce as the years progressed, as the Ghetto became solely a place for work, and the Germans became more decided on the ultimate fates they would inflict on the Jews. For a people who existed only to work, and were to be exterminated, culture must no longer have been considered important by the Ghetto Administration. With the establishment of the Ghetto, the father could no longer remain the sole provider for his family. Everyone who was of age worked for his or her food. Edzia remembers manufacturing false identification cards for her family and friends, changing their ages so they might be allowed a job and the bowl of soup one received each day. At other times, she would make a child older, so that s/he could avoid the deportations of young children that occurred throughout the Ghetto's existence. Families were repeatedly separated, as successive deportations took away not only the youngest members of society, but the aged and the sick. It only took lack of food to bring illness to what had been a perfectly healthy individual, and this "disease" escaped no one. Those who did not manage to find a job received, for a while, some aid from the Ghetto administration. These individuals, however, were among the first to die of starvation, when their rations ran out and they had no daily soup to look forward to. The unemployed who managed to survive were among the first to be deported from Lodz.
Normal family life ceased in the Ghetto. Relations between husbands and wives became secondary concerns to those of daily survival. "Nobody thought of being pregnant in the Ghetto, if any girl still menstruated regularly. The last thing on their minds was sex, only because you lived from minute to minute for survival," Edzia explained candidly. The records in The Chronicle do record some births within the Ghetto, but these figures were quickly surpassed by the numbers of deaths as time progressed. This is not to say that concerns for one's family and friends became secondary to concerns for oneself. On the contrary, individuals often sacrificed their own food rations for others, as did Zyskind in Stolen Years, and Edzia's father for two children who lived next door to his family. One cannot help but be struck by the willingness of these individuals to relinquish their own needs for those of others. Next to personal perseverance and an unbeatable desire to overcome their nightmare, solidarity among family and friends contributed to the survival of the Jews of Lodz. The Germans must have been aware of the inspiring effects of group solidarity, as they made every effort to separate Jews from their family and friends, especially once they deported them to concentration camps. As can be expected, however, even strangers became friends - my grandmother bonded with two women at Auschwitz, and the three survivors eventually all ended up in Israel with their new families. They probably never spoke of their common experience as they played bridge each week, but their connection was unbreakable.
DEPORTATION INTO AND FROM THE LODZ GHETTO
Oscar Rosenfeld, one of the chroniclers of the Lodz Ghetto's Department of Archives, came to Lodz in October of 1941 from Prague. He was among the thousands of Jews from all over Europe who were gathered in Lodz before being taken to various extermination camps. "Lodz was the main `scooping' place for Jews," Murray explained. Edzia also remembered these new members of the Lodz Ghetto community: "People from all over came to Lodz; from Luxembourg, Germany, Hungary, even some Gypsies." A separate Gypsy camp was temporarily established on the borders of the Lodz Ghetto. In May of 1942, groups of Jews from the ghettos that had been liquidated throughout Poland were relocated to Lodz, which became the Ghetto in which Jews from all over Europe were gathered before being sent to work camps, other areas of concentration, or extermination camps. With these people, as with all of the deportees into the Ghetto, came stories "from the outside" of the atrocities that were being inflicted by the Nazis in response to the “Jewish Question.”
By the end of 1941, the Nazis had arrived at a "solution" to the "Jewish Question:" the extermination of Jews was to occur in death camps, after their capacity for labor had been completely exhausted. Gradually at first, the original Jews of Lodz were deported, supposedly to work camps, as had their counterparts from other parts of Nazi-controlled Europe. As the Lodz Jews left the Ghetto, people from such regions as Czechoslovakia and Germany repopulated its workforce. "The Germans seemed to know what they were doing. Their goal was to replace those who were too weak to turn out the production quotas [in the factories] with others, still healthy and strong and unaffected [as of yet] by the diseases of malnutrition. [However,] unlike the original ghetto inhabitants, who had been exposed to malnutrition over a period of several years, these newcomers had no time to develop a defense against the disease. The death toll among them soon reached inordinate proportions." Apparently, Rumkowski's administration had some troubles controlling members of these new populations. In a long speech delivered on January 3, 1942, he pleaded, "Representatives of the new population, I appeal to you again to finally adapt to the conditions of life in the ghetto. Aren't you ashamed that I have had to use policemen to force you to work?" Here, Rumkowski appears as anything but sympathetic to the plight of the people he claimed he was making every effort to protect.
Although certain groups of Jews had been removed from similar ghettos to be brought to Lodz, others had been taken from their everyday lives, as normal as those could have been for Jews during World War II, and placed in barracks not unlike those in the concentration camps. They were forced to work like the original Lodz Jews, and obtained nowhere near the amount of food they had previously been accustomed to consuming.
The first "resettlement" of Jews out of the Lodz Ghetto occurred in January of 1942, when 10,000 people were forcibly taken from the Ghetto and brought to the death camp at Chelmno. Between January and May of that year, the Ghetto was emptied of one third of its population through deportations. In order to further facilitate these deportations, a curfew was announced on September 5, 1942; both the Jewish and German police could now easily locate the Jews on their deportee lists after five o'clock in the evening. Zyskind remembers when the Jewish Police was ordered to take all young children away from their families for deportation: "The Jewish policemen conducting the search were in a terrible predicament. Failing to produce a child on his list might mean [his] instant death... But the very moment that he was ferreting a child out of its hiding place, another policeman was conducting a search for his own children! Changing their tactics, the Germans eventually sent their own soldiers to carry out the task... All the sick, the emaciated, and the aged were picked out of the group one by one and forced, with kicks and blows of rifle butts, onto... wagons."
The waves of deportations took Jews from Lodz away in order of "unimportance" to the functioning of the Ghetto's factories: first the mentally ill were deported, injected with drugs to ensure their passivity, and often killed in "killing vans" where they were suffocated by exhaust fumes even before arriving at a death camp; next went the aged and the young children, followed by criminals, welfare recipients, the unemployed, and finally the sick. In a decree regarding the first wave of deportations, "it was decided that the undesirable elements would be used to fill the deportee quota, beginning with people under judicial or administrative sentence." Eventually, all members of the Lodz Ghetto population were deported to concentration camps, first at Chelmno, then at Auschwitz. Although the deportees were told they could bring a few possessions with them, these were eventually taken away, as they would not need them in the concentration camps.
Individuals requested to report for deportation were lured with the promise of a loaf of bread at the beginning of their travels. "Many of those served with orders of deportation (called ‘wedding certificates’ in ghetto slang) were already employed in the ghetto, but they easily found `volunteers' to take their places. These volunteers were usually the half-starved, who jumped at the chance of getting a whole loaf of bread on the spot." According to Murray and Edzia, as well as the numerous stories about individual experiences in the Lodz Ghetto, few people knew exactly where the deportations were taking them. Clearly, however, Jews were both anxious to leave the Ghetto and hesitant to jump into an unknown fate. "Many widely varied stories appeared in the ghetto concerning the fate of the deportees... The mystery is depriving all the ghetto dwellers of sleep."
While the pace of deportations decreased in 1943, it quickly resumed speed early in 1944. This new wave of deportation, however, brought the Jews of Lodz to Auschwitz rather than Chelmno. This time "the tactics had changed. Now the managers of all the workshops were required to supply lists of people whose works could be dispensed with... Those who had no special family ties were [also] picked out for deportation." By August of 1944, news had reached the Ghetto that plans had been made by the Reich to transfer the entire population to labor camps. Zyskind recalled the deportees who left in cattle train cars: "The freight cars were filled up with exemplary order. Exactly thirty two persons to each car, regardless of whether a child, father, or mother were left stranded outside." Lodz Ghetto, a compilation of surviving documents from Lodz, summarizes simply the deportation process:
"The strategies of enslavement and genocide merged conveniently. The Nazis worked [the Jews of Lodz] so hard and fed them so little, [they] willingly boarded the trains, "if only to get out of this ghetto."
By the end of August, 1944, more than 68,000 Lodz Jews had been sent to Auschwitz.
Murray remembered going into hiding to avoid deportation to Auschwitz: "We hid on the second or third story of a factory with many others. The Germans came in with dogs and loudspeakers, promising that if we came out, we'd get work in a better place. But we didn't leave for many days. They even said we could take out possessions with us. BALONEY! Finally, we came out, my mother, her cousin, and me. That was a mistake! If we had stayed in that factory one more week, we would have been rescued by the Russians. (Actually, Russian forces didn't enter Lodz until January 19, 1945, about for months later.) We wouldn't have had to live through or die in the camps." Regardless of the intense suffering Murray repeatedly spoke of throughout our conversation on life in the Lodz Ghetto, the experience he had in Auschwitz seems to have been the "most" traumatic for him, if tragedy can be measured quantitatively. Similarly for Edzia, nothing seemed worse than the atrocities that she experienced at Auschwitz and Bergenbelsen. Perhaps the idea of death in a gas chamber at Auschwitz left a more terrifying mark than that of death by starvation in the confines of the Ghetto. Nevertheless, Edzia wept no less for the death of her father, who died in the Ghetto, than for the death of her mother, who was taken at Auschwitz. Like Edzia, Murray and I mourn no less for the family we lost in Lodz, than for those we said goodbye to inside the gates of Auschwitz, the gates adorned with a sign that read:
Auschwitz: Work Will Make You Free
A LETTER TO MY MOTHER
I am writing this letter to you, will you read it?
I don't know, will you get it, I'll never know.
I like to ask the daisies lined up in a row,
But they all died under the heavy snow,
The fate of this letter,
Will never be known...
I think of the day "they" took you away-
It's so vivid in my mind
Your face so sweet and kind.
You looked at me-
As if to say, you'll be o.k.
As I lie in the night,
Reminisce the early years,
I see you in the dimmed light, crying with bitter tears.
Did you have a premonition in your heart,
That the war will tear us apart?
That we'll never see each other
The story of my grandmother, my cousin Murray, Edzia, and the other Jews of the Lodz Ghetto does not end here. Some of the Jews of Lodz did not survive life in the Ghetto. Others met their deaths in the gas chambers of Auschwitz or other concentration camps. Still others survived until the Allies liberated the camps and Nazi- occupied territories in 1945. Aloisia, her brother Tomek, and Murray Rosynez, as well as Edzia Goldstein, were among these survivors. My grandmother returned to Lodz in search of her family, finding the home of her cousin Guta, where she met her second husband. With the help of her brother Nuka, who had escaped to France at the onset of the war, Aloisia and Jacques Faitlowicz were "smuggled" into France via the international city of Vienna. They were married in 1947, and a year later, they had a baby girl named Henriette, my mother. Murray went to Dachau from Auschwitz, where he worked digging for bombs that had been planted against the German forces. After the Liberation, he wandered for several days in search of help, finding it in the American GI's who immediately fed and clothed him. Unaccustomed to eating so much, he fell ill, and recovered his health only a few weeks later. Arriving in the city of Lansberg, the city in which Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, he met his future wife, Milly. Milly had an uncle in New York, and the two married so that they could travel together the home of this uncle, who had become their sponsor. They had two sons in New York, and their daughter was born after they moved to Miami, where they still live today.
Edzia was sent from Auschwitz to a labor camp at Milhausen, and then to the concentration camp at Bergenbelsen. After being liberated by the British, she met a man who had once been her neighbor in the city of Lodz. This man also had a sponsor in New York, and his was among the first names on the passenger lists bound for America, because he had worked in the Allied army's kitchen in Stuttgard. The two married so that Edzia might be allowed to travel with him. Only recently did Edzia's daughter learn her mother's story, as she watched a two and a half hour interview of Edzia, prepared for the new Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
The story of the Lodz Ghetto is a story of endurance. Like Anne Frank, the Jews of Lodz never stopped believing that they did not deserve what was happening to them. They maintained hope of survival, turning both inward and to each other for inspiration and support. Within the Ghetto, they lived day to day, making every effort to preserve any remnant of normal life they could. They sang songs and wrote poems about their experiences, and their emotions. When writing about the Holocaust, it is difficult not to become caught up in this "history of oppression." Most of the sources on the Holocaust that I encountered in writing this paper focus on this oppression, and on the atrocities that were inflicted on the Jews. It is hard not to. My challenge was in maintaining the "professional distance and objectivity" required of a historian. I kept reminding myself that I had to understand under what circumstances many of my sources were written. But as I realized these circumstances, I could not help but become more aware of how atrocious they really were. In many cases, the history of Lodz is a history of victimization. The Jews were victims of the Nazi's Final Solution to the Jewish Question. But it is not this victimization that I set out to focus on. I wanted, rather, to point out the incredible strength and dignity of the Jews of Lodz, and the others who experienced the Holocaust. The Nazis did not succeed in making their solution final. Millions of Jews and non-Jews will not forget those millions that died in World War II, and they will not let their children forget. However indirectly, my grandmother did not want me to never know what she had lived through, what she and so many others had survived.
I hope I am doing my grandmother the honor she deserves. I hope, also, that I can provide the Jews of the Lodz Ghetto with some of the dignity that must have been so crucial to their survival. The story of Lodz is a story of remarkable strength as much as it is one of victimization. I will forever remain in awe of this strength. I am proud to be the granddaughter of Aloisia Rosynez Faitlowicz.
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Dobroszycki, Lucjan, ed. The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 1941-1944. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.
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Gutman, Israel, ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1990.
Kranitz-Sanders, Lillian. Twelve Who Survived: An Oral_History of the Jews of Lodz, Poland, 1930-1954. New York: Irvington Publishers, Inc., 1984.
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Rosynez, Murray. Telephone Interview. Miami, Florida, February 21, 1993.
Selver-Urbach, Sara. Through the Window of My Home: Memories from Ghetto Lodz. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1964.
Vinocur, Ana. A Book Without a Title. New York: Vantage Press, 1972.
Web, Marek. The Documents of the Lodz Ghetto: An Inventory of the Nachman Zonabend Collection. New York: Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, 1988.
Zyskind, Sara. Stolen Years. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 1981.
Special thanks to the staff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Library