Litzmannstadt Ghetto, because it was the official name of the Łódź Ghetto, was the second in size ghetto on the occupied Polish territories. Since its creation in February 1940, 200 000 people came through it. This number includes Jewish citizens of Łódź and neighboring cities, and also Jews deported from Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Czech. For a short time, 5000 Romani from Germany also lived in the ghetto.
The Łódź Ghetto was hermetically closed, separated from the rest of the city with fences and barbed wires. It was surrounded with a circle of guard posts. This specific isolation had an impact on the conditions in the ghetto, which were particularly difficult.
Disease, murderous work, and particularly chronic hunger took a heavy toll among the inhabitants. Food rations were catastrophically small. It is estimated that 45 000 people lost their lives in the ghetto, 40 000 of them dying of hunger.
The Łódź Ghetto very quickly turned into a gigantic slave labour camp. It was not only men who worked, but also women and children. In July 1942, 69 000 out of 102 000 people were employed in 74 workshops. This number increased rapidly after the first great deportation action, called the ’wielka szpera’, which took place in September 1942. At that time, 15 685 Jews were sent to the death camp in Chełmno. They were mainly children under the age of ten and adults over 65.
The German chief of the Łódź Ghetto was Hans Biebow. Connections opened him the door to the Third Reich. Before that, he was a coffee importer in Bremen. Biebow ruled the ghetto through Head of Council of Elders Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski. This known-before-the-war zionist and community worker is regarded as the „darkest figure of the Holocaust period”. He became famous for his exceptional cruelty — he personally beat and tortured the inhabitants of the ghetto. Furthermore, he used his position to molest women and children. Contemporary historians dispute over Rumkowski’s politics regarding governing the ghetto. Some consider him to be a brilliant tactician of the fight for survival. The others criticize for „aggressive and uncontrollable ruling in dictatorial style”.
In late June 1944, the final liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto began. The first transport to Auschwitz left on 23rd June, the last on 30th August. In total, 70 000 people were transported from the Radegest station, Łódź’s Umschlagplatz.
The Last Journey
Seeing a long snake of freight wagons, German uniforms, his heart trembled for a moment. With his head low, he entered a huge barrack, where on the floor there were people sitting, stunned: men, women, children. He was following them with his eyes full of tears. He knew them all. The ones from the Łódź Ghetto and those from neighboring ghettos... „How many Jews were left at the cemetery!” he sighed quietly. Before his eyes appeared a huge cemetery of the ghetto, thick with graves. The ones who stayed there were the Jews from Germany and Czechoslovakia, Holland and Austria, Zgierze and Ozorków. Big tears started running down Rabbi Boruch’s face. They fell on his beard hidden in a thick scarf. He took Psalms out of his pocket and in a voice full of heat started praying „Out of depths, I cry to you, Lord”...
Two women next to him were weeping loudly.
„Give my children back to me. I am not going anywhere without my children. When they come back, I won’t be here — I won’t,” one of them was crying. The younger one, wife of Eleg, a shochet, stood up suddenly. She tore the wig off her head and started treading on it. Foam appeared on her mouth. She raised her fists cursing „May plague destroy everyone! May the great fire spread all over the world! May the Earth fall! There is no God...no God is there.”
The people around her were terrified.
„Quiet, quiet,” women were calming her down.
„The whole wagon is full of the Ukrainians, ’Schupo’, ’the Gestapo’, „they added whispering.
„Let them come, let them shoot, I want my children,” the young woman was thrashing about in pain like a wounded animal.
In a corner of a huge barrack, carpenters, shoemakers, coppersmiths were sharing the latest war news. Eyes were burning, hearts were pounding, words were being whispered:
„The Red Army is near Warsaw! When can they be in Łódź? In a week! Only in front of us are the Germans pretending to be heroes! After Stalingrad and Leningrad only one step to capitulation... Do they really believe that we will still be working for them in the Reich! Ha, ha, ha... They will get „production’, all right!”
Two policemen from the ghetto sitting near the men engaged in the conversation moved closer to them. They did not want to miss a word. They left their batons and caps at home. On the new path they wanted to start new life. „Yes, everything is still possible,” they were apathetically talking to each other. „still possible...”
„Hinaus! Hinaus!,” an order was given and like a thunderbolt made everyone jump. The women picked up the bags and bundles. The men stood next to them and together like one big family they walked to the railway line.
The Germans, gently, politely led the women and children on a narrow plank to the wagons. With care, they made sure that coffee was in the wagons that everyone had a seat. Everyone was given a sack with sugar and a loaf of bread...
Suddenly, to everybody’s horror friction by the door could be heard. Before anyone was able to understand what had just happened, the wagons had been barred. The train shook and set off.
You could hear laughter and a low male voice from the platform:
„Weg mit dieser Scheiße…”