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Section: Life in Nazi-controlled Europe

Lodz ghetto

A charcoal drawing entitled 'The Lodz Ghetto 1941 - 1944', depicting the harshness of life in the Lodz ghetto. The artist is David Friedman, a survivor of the Lodz Ghetto. He wrote: “The hunger was so great that one searched in trashcans for whatever was edible, although this was prohibited.”
A charcoal drawing entitled 'The Lodz Ghetto 1941 - 1944', depicting the harshness of life in the Lodz ghetto. The artist is David Friedman, a survivor of the Lodz Ghetto. He wrote: “The hunger was so great that one searched in trashcans for whatever was edible, although this was prohibited.” Copyright © 1989 Miriam Friedman Morris, 
All Rights Reserved

The Polish city of Lodz is 75 miles south west of Warsaw, and was an important industrial city prior to the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. On the eve of war it was home to 223,000 Jews, one third of the city’s total population. The persecution of these Jews began as soon as the Germans took Lodz on 6 September 1939.

By October the Germans had established a Judenrat (Jewish council) under the leadership of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski.

Between 15 and 17 November they organised the destruction of the city’s synagogues. From that time onwards Jews within the Lodz district had to wear an armband showing the Star of David.

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Establishing the Lodz Ghetto

Establishing the Ghetto

Established in February 1940, the Lodz Ghetto was the first closed ghetto in Poland. It was also the last to be completely destroyed.

The ghetto had three distinct areas, each marked out and separated by a main road. Wooden bridges, which became main thoroughfares, connected each of the sections.

Tram cars containing non-Jewish Poles from the ‘outside world’ travelled through the ghetto, but were not allowed to stop.

Guards

For the first years of the ghetto’s existence it was surrounded by barbed wire, which was later replaced by a wooden fence with several layers of barbed wire. The Lodz ghetto was guarded on the outside by a special police unit, whilst the Jewish Order Police, under Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, kept control inside.

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Deportations to and from the Lodz Ghetto

Group of children with carers on arrival at the ghetto's orphanage, early 1940s
Group of children with carers on arrival at the ghetto's orphanage, early 1940s Courtesy of The Wiener Library
Deportations to the ghetto

Wholesale deportations to Lodz began from the rest of Europe in 1941. Jews were taken from Austria, Germany, Bohemia and Moravia, Luxembourg and Warthegau. During 1942, 5,000 Roma from Austria were sent to the ghetto, where they were kept segregated in a small prison block. By the end of 1942, more than 200,000 people had passed through the ghetto, over 43,000 of whom died of cold, disease or starvation.

Deportations from the ghetto

Deportations from Lodz began as early as December 1940, mainly to forced labour camps. Initially the SS used Rumkowski to select and provide Jews for deportations. He would efficiently and effectively administer the selection with lists and instructions being posted for those selected. Later, in order to speed up deportations, the SS used the police to round people up. These round-ups were were often carried out with extreme brutality.

In January 1942 the Nazis began deporting Jews from Lodz to the Chelmno death camp. By September of that year the Nazis using gas vans had murdered about 70,000 and 5,000 Roma. There were no major round-ups or deportations from Lodz between September 1942 to May 1944, as the Nazis then concentrated their energies elsewhere.

Liquidation of the ghetto

The destruction of the Lodz ghetto began in May 1944. By August, nearly 75,000 Jews had been sent to their deaths. Only 7,000 people who had passed through the Lodz Ghetto survived. The remainder had perished at the hands of the Nazis and their accomplices.

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Conditions within the ghetto

Living conditions in the Lodz ghetto were extremely harsh. Very few people had access to running water, and there was no sewage system. The German authorities controlled the supply of food. Anyone found trying to supplement their rations by smuggling was in danger of death. However, in order to stay alive, the inmates of the ghetto would often try to obtain extra food to support themselves and their family at any cost.

A report made by the Judenrat, written whilst carrying out an investigation into whether people were cheating in order to get more food rations than they were due, found 17 people sleeping in one room with just three small beds. Four people were sleeping in each bed, with the remainder having to find comfort on the floor. Overcrowding led to diseases such as typhus, which spread very quickly throughout the ghetto. Death was commonplace. Throughout the life of the ghetto more than 20 percent of the population died due to hard labour, overcrowding, starvation and disease.

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Resistance within the Lodz Ghetto

Despite the poor conditions and tight control by the Judenraat, inhabitants managed to develop a number of ‘underground’ organisations. There was a wide range of political parties and many active youth groups. These organisations ran cultural, educational and religious events within the ghetto. In spite of the horrors surrounding them, the Jews tried to live a normal life with theatre groups, concerts and a lending library.

Many illegal political meetings were held and publications produced. The ‘Chronicle of the Lodz ghetto’ was one such underground publication that today provides evidence of life within the ghetto.Quite often the children took on the responsibility of smuggling in extra food to supplement the meagre rations of the families, despite the danger of death if they were caught outside of the ghetto.

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Work within the Lodz Ghetto

The German administrator Hans Biebow established factories and workshops, using the ghetto inmates as forced labourers to produce goods for the German war effort and make money for the SS.

Rumkowski, the chairman of the Judenrat, believed that he could save lives if the ghetto of Lodz produced huge resources for the German war effort. He very efficiently set up a system of workshops in which thousands of Jews were employed, even young children. Workers were given meagre rations in return for very long days of work. Anyone found to be working against the system was punished. Rumkowski ran the ghetto very harshly.

Because of the appalling working conditions many strikes took place. The Jewish police were responsible for breaking these up; usually the ringleaders were deported. Lodz became a major place of production for the Germans, with more than 100 factories producing all manner of goods. Workshops were set up, including tailors’ shops producing everything from hats to army uniforms; tanners and cobblers, quilt cover-makers, a marmalade factory, carpet weavers, a sausage factory and workshops making rubber products.

Carpentry workshops would produce new furniture from new timber or often from the furniture that had been taken from Jewish homes. Workers in a fur workshop made new fur coats from the garments taken from Jews. In fact, it was because of this productivity that some of the able-bodied men and women of the Lodz ghetto managed to survive long after all the other ghettos in occupied Poland had been liquidated and their inhabitants sent to their deaths.

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Jewish communities in Nazi Germany

Jewish communities in Nazi Germany

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