74th anniversary of the final liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto

In late June 1944, the final liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto began. The first transport to Auschwitz left on 23rd June, the last on 29th August. In total, 70 000 people were transported from the Radegest station, Łódź’s Umschlagplatz.

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Rumkowski among a group of people on the street of the ghetto  /  Source: JHI Archive

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.

Central Judaistic Library: Our brochure Litzmannstadt Getto, 24.08.1940 r. made by children and educators from the Orphans’ Home in Marysin.

Documents from the Litzmannstadt Ghetto collected in the Central Judaistic Library:

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”.

Central Judaistic Library: Album of the resort of hats at the Łódź Ghetto

In late June 1944, the final liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto began. The first transport to Auschwitz left on 23rd June, the last on 29th August. In total, 70 000 people were transported from the Radegest station, Łódź’s Umschlagplatz.



Archive of the Łódź Ghetto

On 17 November 1940, as a part of the Jewish administration, an Archive Department was established in order to document the history of the Jews of Łódź during the war. As we can read in the introduction to „The Encyclopedia of the Ghetto”, its activity was intended primarily to serve the Chief Elder of the Jews Rumkowski, to collect materials documenting his activity and achievements [1]. Contributors to the Archive were describing everything which was happening in the ghetto, this preserving materials for future generations.

Between 12 January 1941 and 20 July 1944, the institution was publishing the Daily Chronicle Bulletin, censored by a special commission established by Rumkowski. The chronicle has about 2,000 pages.

In early 1944, the archive employees have began a parallel project – the Encyclopedia of the Ghetto, not subject to Rumkowski’s censorship. It was intended to be a summary, a recapitulation of the Jewish community imprisoned between the ghetto fence. [2] Prepared entries referred mostly to people, ghetto institutions, daily life (commonly used objects, food), definitions of words, sayings circulating among people in the ghetto. The authors included: Oskar Singer (head of the Archive Department, responsible for the entire project), Oskar Rosenfeld, Bernard Ostrowski, Józef Uryson, Jerechmil Bryman, Józef Zelkowicz and others. List of planned entries included 1347 positions, of which the authors managed to complete about 400, mainly in German (also in Polish and Yiddish).

Works on the Encyclopedia had lasted for about half a year and were stopped due to the liquidation of the ghetto. The Encyclopedia was written on 167x140mm pages, in several copies [3]. Materials from the Archive Department were hidden by Nachman Zonabend, and when they were discovered after the war, they were donated to the Central Jewish Historical Commission located in Łódź (later to become the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw). In 1968, part of the documents returned to Łódź, due to a decision issued by the Central Directorate of the State Archives. Another significant collection of documents from the Łódź Ghetto is being preserved at the Archive of the Ghetto Insurgents Kibbutz in Israel. Several pages with entries and introduction written by Oskar Rosenfeld are stored at the Archive of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem and at the YIVO Archive in New York. In 2014, thanks to the work of researchers from the University of Łódź, State Archive in Łódź, Jewish Historical Institute and the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Łódź, the first publication gathering the entirety of preserved resources was published.

We can learn more about daily life in the Łódź Ghetto from documents, notes or diaries found after the war in destroyed houses, attics or basements, such as Dawid Sierakowiak’s Diary or Rywka Lipszyc’s Diary from the Łódź Ghetto.

The Oneg Shabbat group was collecting materials related to the Łódź Ghetto as well. The 10th volume of the complete edition of the Ringelblum Archive, The fate of the Łódź Jews (1939–1942), comprised various materials from the Litzmannstadt Ghetto: accounts from defectors from Łódź to Warsaw, especially from early months of the occupation; letters from Łódź Jews to their families in Warsaw; official announcements signed by Chaim Rumkowski and transcripts of his speeches; official records of prices and lists of employers; food stamps and special money issued in the Łódź Ghetto, as well as anonymous poems satirizing the ghetto bureaucracy, officials and Rumkowski himself.

Bibliography:

The publication quotes fragments of dr Agnieszka Żółkiewska’s 73th anniversary of the final liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto.

[1] Krystyna Radziszewska, Przyczynek do historii kultury getta. O Encyklopedii getta, p.XIII [in:] Encyklopedia getta. Niedokończony projekt archiwistów z getta łódzkiego, Łódź University Press, Łódź 2014.

[2] Ibidem, p. XIV.

[3] Ewa Wiatr, Jacek Walicki, Adam Sitarek, Encyklopedia getta. Nota edytorska, p.XXX [in:] Encyklopedia getta. Niedokończony projekt archiwistów z getta łódzkiego, Łódź University Press, Łódź 2014.








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