Notes from the Ghetto in Łódź

The Ghetto in Łódź was established on the 8th of February 1940 as the Jewish district of the town. On the 30th of April it was isolated form the rest of the city.

Wide wide lodz getto
Footbridge in the Ghetto in Łódź. Year 1940./ Bundesarchiv, R 49 Bild-1733 / Holtfreter, Wilhelm / CC-BY-SA 3.0

In June 1940, there were around 200 000 people imprisoned in the ghetto. From the 17th of November until the 4th of December 1941, multiple transports carrying Jews from Germany, Austria, the Check Republic, the Netherlands and Luxembourg arrived there, as well as transports carrying 15 thousand skilled workers from  Reichsgau Wartheland. The head of the Łódź Judenrat — Chaim Rumkowski, called “the king of the ghetto” — introduced authoritarian rule, in time dismantling most of the organisations which were not directly under his control (including house committees and landsmanshafts created by the resettled population).


 Between the 5th and the 12th of September 1942, 15 681 people were resettled from the Łódź ghetto- children under 10, elderly and sick people. 600 people were murdered on the spot. Th ghetto, with its remaining 70 000 residents, became a huge labour camp. Schools and hospitals were closed. The process of permanently shutting down down the ghetto began on the 23rd of June 1944. The final transport to Auschwitz lest on the 29th of August 1944.

 

We can learn about the everyday life in the Łódź ghetto from surviving documents, notes or journals. After the war, they were discovered in the rubble, in attics or basements. In the introduction to the “Encyclopaedia of the Ghetto” Krystyna Radziszewska writes: “Today they are the evidence of life and death in the Łódź ghetto.”[1]

Nachman Zonabed, postman, saved a few thousand pages from the ghetto Archive. These included typewritten texts in Polish, German and Yiddish. They were created by the chroniclers who worked in the Archive which was established on the 17th of November 1940. Krystyna Radziszewska writes: “(…)their activities were primarily intended to serve the Head of the Jewish Council of Elders Rumkowski, they were to gather materials documenting his efforts and achievements. However, the Archive’s employees decided to describe everything taking place in the ghetto, and collect evidence for future generations.[2]

 

Every day a report was created containing information about the important events in the life of the ghetto. The Chronicle’s texts were at first written in Polish, then, between September and December 1942, both in Polish and in German, until finally, starting from January 1943, they were written solely in German.

The archival team included: Klementynowski Józef (Kl), Ostrowski Bernard (signed his texts as BO), Rosenfeld Oskar (OR), Singer Oskar (OS) and Wertheimer Peter (PW). The Chronicle covers the period from the 12th of January 1941 until the 30th of July 1944, meaning it ends when the final destruction of the Łódź ghetto began. In 2009, a full, Polish language, printed version of the Chronicle was published, edited by the employees of the University of Łódź and the State Archive in Łódź.

 

Near the end of 1943, the Archive’s employees decided to not only keep a Chronicle but to create an Encyclopaedia of the Łódź ghetto. Work on the encyclopaedia begun in 1944. Its authors included Jews from Łódź as well as those who had been deported from Western Europe. In the introduction to the encyclopaedia, Oskar Rosenfeld wrote: “In a later period, when research on the ghetto is being conducted, such a collection, such an encyclopaedia, will provide information where a mere description of the conditions would not suffice. Words, language in the history of humanity- science has one since confirmed this theory- is a more reliable witness and source of truth than other material remembrances.[3]

 

The authors planned to create over 1300 entries. They had time to finish only around 400. After the war, the Encyclopaedia’s pages were dispersed between several archives in Poland and abroad. In 2014, thanks to the efforts of the University of Łódź, the State Archive in Łódź, the Jewish Historical Institute and the Jewish Research Centre of the University of Łódź, the entirety of the surviving material was published in one collection for the first time.

 

 Bibliography:

Rafał Żebrowski, Łódź Ghetto, in: Polish Dictionary of Judaism.

Praca zbiorowa, „The Encyclopaedia of the Ghetto. The Unfinished project of the Łódź Ghetto Archive..”, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, Łódź 2014.


[1] Krystyna Radziszewska (collective work), „The Encyclopaedia of the Ghetto. The Unfinished project of the Łódź Ghetto Archive.”, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, Łódź 2014, p. XIII

[2] Ibidem, p. XIV

[3] Ibidem, s. XIX

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