Lodz Ghetto

On September 8, 1939, the German army entered Lodz, and the anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws of 1935 immediately applied to the city’s approximately 230,000 Jews. Lodz was located in the Warthegau district and was incorporated into the German empire. The city also changed its name to Litzmannstadt after the German general Karl Litzmann who conquered the city during the first world war. The anti-Jewish laws imposed against Polish Jews were more restrictive than those applied in Germany. Already in October 1939, the chief of police in Lodz announced that all Jewish affairs would clearly mark that the owner was a Jew. This meant that the aryanisation of Jewish affairs was accelerated if they could be more easily identified. Aryanisation was a 1938 law that allowed Jewish business to be taken over by non-Jews.

In november 1939 it became law that Lodz Jews, regardless of age, should wear a yellow bracelet on their right arm as identification when they were outdoors. In December of that year, Warthegaus guleiter Arthur Greiser introduced a law that the Jews in the district should wear a visible yellow star of david on their chest and on their backs instead of a bracelet. The Jews were also not allowed to stay outdoors between 17:00 and 08:00. This was the first time that the Jews were ordered to carry a form of identification and had really no legal basis. It was not until October 1, 1941 that RSHA’s head Heydrich introduced a law that all Jews from the age of six in the German empire should carry a form of identification.

Shortly after the occupation, the Nazis began with spontaneous pogroms and persecuting influential Jews. They were beaten, murdered, imprisoned or deported to concentration camps. The Nazis also began random arrests of Jews on the street, forcing them to work in German industries. Therefore, the Jews began to hide in order to escape spontaneous arrests. In order to protect the Jews from arrests, the jewish self-government offered a cooperation with the german occupying power to provide labor. The Germans accepted this, and on October 7 a Jewish labour recruitment office was set up. Already in September 1939, Heydrich had written in a memorandum that special areas would be built in the occupied cities where the Jewish population would be housed and separated from the rest of the population.

In Lodz, such an area (getto) was established in February 1940 in the northern part of the city. Lodz’s Jewish population then amounted to about 165,000 and they were immediately ordered to move there and the population living there was ordered to move out. Thousands of Jews had fled Lodz. At the end of April 1940, this area was isolated from the rest of the city. It was forbidden to leave or visit the ghetto without special permission. Nearby houses were demolished to make it easier to guard the ghetto and since the ghetto lacked sewage, it was quite easy for the Germans to guard the ghetto. The absence of sewage was not only of sanitary significance, but it also made it difficult to smuggle goods between the ghetto and the outside world. The ghetto in Lodz was the first ”official” ghetto that the Nazis established in occupied Eastern Europe. Beginning in the fall of 1941, not only Polish jews were deported to the lodz ghetto. Inside the ghetto there was also a camp for gypsies (Zigeunerlager) and for Polish children (Polenjugendverwahrlager).

In 1939, Morderchaj Rumkowski was appointed chief of Jewish self-government. Rumkowski was given some freedom in exchange for his cooperation with the Germans and he remained in the post of head of the ghetto until the decommissioning in the summer of 1944. Rumkowski gladly kept up with mistresses and lived in comparison with other inhabitants a pleasant life in the ghetto. Rumkowski fully cooperated with the Germans and his role has been criticized. The Nazis had no plans to spare Rumkowski. When the ghetto was finally dismantled in August 1944, his family, like others, was sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The lack of food and medicine caused diseases such as typhus, spot fever, tuberculosis, etc., to spread unhindered and thousands of inhabitants of the ghetto died. Those who died in the ghetto were buried in the Jewish cemetery in the ghetto.

In mid-January 1942, the Nazis began deporting Jews who did not work in the war industry to the newly established extermination camp Chelmno, about 10 miles west of Lodz. Those who were to be deported to Chelmno or other camps were forced to march to the nearby Radegast station just outside the ghetto. The first major murder took place until May 1942. During this period, almost 60,000 Jews were murdered in Chelmno, of which about 11,000 came from western European countries. When the Nazis finished this first murder, the ghetto more or less turned into a labor camp.

This is why, unlike many other ghettos, the ghetto was not dismantled in 1943. Deportations to Chelmno resumed in June 1944 after Himmler ordered the Lodz ghetto to finally cease. During this second murder, Jews from Lodz were also deported not only to Chelmno but also to Auschwitz. During a month in June and July, more than 7,000 Jews were deported to Chelmno and murdered. The deportations ended a short period after the minister of armaments Albert Speer appealed to Hitler that the Jews were needed in the war industry. In August 1944, the ghetto ceased to exist and hundreds of prisoners were forced to work on dismantling the ghetto.

Current status: Partly preserved/demolished with monument (2011).

Address: Aleja Chryzantem, 91-001 Lódz (Jewish Burial Site).

Get there: Car.

My comment:

There are surprisingly many houses left from the time of the ghetto. The Jewish cemetery is also left with ”ghetto field” where the people who died or were murdered in the ghetto are buried. Several monuments are erected around the ghetto.

Follow up in books: Gilbert, Martin: The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War (1987).