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In Memoriam of Victims of the Łódź Ghetto

The Łódź Ghetto was established on February 8, 1940 by the ordinance of Johannes Schafer, the president of the German police. It was the first ghetto created on the territory incorporated into the Reich, and the last one to be liquidated. The ghetto comprised the poorest and most dilapidated, northern part of the city of Łódź -Bałuty and Stare Miasto (Old Town). At the beginning it covered an area of 4.13 square kilometres, which was reduced to 3.8 square kilometres in May 1941. The traffic arteries running along Nowomiejska Street, Zgierska Street and Bolesława Limanowskiego Street were excluded from the ghetto area, thus dividing it into three sections. To allow people to move between the areas, three wooden footbridges were built over the streets.

On February 12,1940, the operation of forced relocation of the Jewish citizens to the ghetto commenced. It was accompanied by terror and pillage. The relocated people were allowed to take only one suitcase with clothes and underwear and small family heirlooms with them. The ghetto was finally locked down and isolated from the rest of the city on April 30, 1940. Bars and barbed wire fences were placed around the ghetto and along the traffic arteries running through the area. Stations of the German order police (Schupo) guarding the borders of the closed district were deployed every 50-100 metres. The ghetto in Łódź was very hermetic and better guarded than other ghettos created by the Third Reich. The area had no network of underground channels, which made it impossible for its inhabitants to contact the outside world. The contacts were made even more difficult by the fact that Łódź was inhabited by a German minority of more than 120,000 people, whose indoctrination deeply affected the community of Łódź. All these factors contributed to the total isolation of the Łódź Ghetto, which was tragic in consequences for the lives of its residents.

According to the official data from June 12,1940,160,320 Jews were locked up in the Łódź Ghetto. A year and a half later, i.e. in the period from October 16 to November 4, 1941, Heinrich Himmler ordered deportation of 19,945 Jews from Germany,Austria,the Czech Republic, and Luxembourg to Łódź. From December 7,1941 to August 28,192, also 17,826 Jews from the closed down provincial ghettos in the Warta County, including Włocławek, Brzeziny, Łask, Ozorków, Pabianice, Sieradz, Wieluń and Zduńska Wola were placed in the ghetto. In total, over 200,000 Jews passed through the Łódź Ghetto.

Administratively, the ghetto was governed by the Oberburgermeister (mayor) of the city of Łódź. The direct control over the Jewish district remained in the hands of Hans Biebow (a merchant from Bremen), the manager of the autonomous Ghetto Department (Gettoverwaltung). Biebow turned the ghetto into a highly efficient enterprise, based on the exploitation of its inhabitants. 80 percent of ghetto's production were aimed at satisfying the needs of the Third Reich's military economy (uniforms, coats, jackets, boots, straw boots, backpacks, etc.) Biebow supervised the so-called Jewish local government, led by Chaim Mordechaj Rumkowski, the Head of the Council of Jewish Elders (Der Aelteste der Juden in Litzmannstadt Getto). He had significant power and autonomy in settling the ghetto internal affairs. Rumkowski turned the subordinated district into a puppet state with a highly developed, obedient and efficient administration machine (ca. 13,000 clerks and officials). The ghetto had its own judicial system, a prison, healthcare, social services, education system, money, police and post office. Despite his incredible energy and unquestionable achievements in organizing the everyday life in the ghetto, Rumkowski could not prevent the holocaust of its inhabitants. It depended on the decision of the Third Reich central authorities.

The moment the ghetto was closed down, the Nazi authorities focused on robbing its inhabitants' of their little possessions they had been left over. The operation, carried mainly out by the Ghetto Management Board (Gettoverwaltung), and to a lesser extent by the criminal police (Kripo) and the secret police (Gestapo), covered the entire Jewish population, who was forced to give away all their money, valuables, goods, and clothes. The operation was carried mainly out by purchasing through a specially established purchasing bank, or by confiscation. Jewish property was purchased at extremely underrated prices with a huge profit for the Occupier. From November 1940 to August 1942 the revenues on Jewish property looting amounted to 18,781,600 marks, of which 8,589,300 marks came from seizure of money transfers from abroad, 8,957,900 marks came from stolen foreign currencies and tax collection, 835,000 marks came from confiscation and purchase of goods, fur coats and clothes, and 399,100 marks came from confiscated gold and jewellery. In August 1942, the looting stripped already 70 percent of the total ghetto population of all their money, foreign currencies, valuables, as well as food and warm clothing. The pauperization caused a soaring number of illnesses and deaths. Forced work contributed significantly to the systematic physical exhaustion of ghetto inhabitants as well. Work gradually became obligatory for all ghetto population aged between 10 and 65 years. If in 1940 there were nearly 7,000 people employed in the 18 plants in the ghetto, in 1943 over 70,000, i.e. 85% of ghetto population, worked in the ghetto's 93 working areas. The work was performed under hard conditions, and strict discipline. The working hours (10 hours a day) were often extended to 12 or even 14 hours. The workers received insignificant pay for the slave work that brought the Occupier huge profits (by the end of 1943 — 27 million marks per month). The wages were 70 pfennig per day, while a kilogram of potatoes on the free market cost 2 to 7 marks. Such wages did not even allow the workers to regenerate.

However, the increasing famine was the most severe form of indirect extermination. In 1940 the daily food ration of a ghetto inhabitant was equal to a prisoner's ration, i.e. around 1,800 kcal; by mid-1942, the food ration was three times less.

Famine, overpopulation, lack of medicine and hygiene products, as well as hard, exhausting work caused a sharp increase in the number of cases of tuberculosis, heart attacks and cardiovascular failures, as well as epidemics of typhoid fever, prison fever, and dysentery. In 1940-1944 a total of 43,000 inhabitants of the ghetto died of hunger and illnesses (21.75%).

Throughout the entire period of the ghetto's existence many people who ventured to approach its fences were killed. As a part of the so-called blackout control, the occupation forces were shooting at house windows, allegedly because they were letting out light. There was also a quite common practice of "manhunts" organized by the German police. In total, 181 of ghetto inhabitants were shot in such circumstances.

To intimidate the Jewish population, the Nazis also performed many public executions, hanging this way 21 people.

Soon after the Third Reich authorities had decided to implement the Endlosung - the "final solution" of the Jewish issue - mass extermination of ghetto inhabitants started. The operation in the Łódź Ghetto commenced on January 16, 1942 with the first transport of people sent to the extermination camp in Chełmno on Ner. The extermination was carried out at intervals until September 12,1942. In total, 72,745 Jews from the ghetto were gas-poisoned, including 10,493 Jews from Western Europe.That was the first stage of the liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto inhabitants, which included mostly non-working population, old people and children (in the German nomenclature, the "redundant element"). At the same time, the process of transforming the ghetto into a huge labour camp was completed. It functioned in such a form until mid-1944, when the Nazi authorities decided to liquidate eventually the Łódź Ghetto.

From June 23 to July 14,1944 ten transports with 7,196 people were sent from the Łódź Ghetto to the extermination camp in Chełmno on Ner. On July 15 the liquidation of the ghetto was suspended, probably as a result of the intervention of Albert Speer, the minister of armament and ammunition, who managed to convince Adolf Hitler to continue the exploitation of the Jewish slave labour force. The interval did not, however, last for long. Two weeks later, on August 1, when the Warsaw Uprising started, the Head of the Council of Jewish Elders was notified that "the evacuation of the Jewish population inland the Third Reich" had been resumed. His numerous appeals and the German authorities calls to volunteer for the relocation, repeatedly made until August 8, met with little response. Only several dozens of people reported at the meeting points. In such a situation, the German authorities started to block district streets and organize round ups to capture people. The operation started on August 9 and took three weeks. On August 29, 1944 the last transport of Jews was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Łódź Ghetto that housed around 70,000 people in July 1944, ceased to exist. A commando of 840 people remained in the ghetto to clean it (Aufraumungskommando). Some 600 people were detained for a short period of time in collective camps in 36 and 63 Łagiewnicka Street. These were the families of Aron Jakubowicz, the director of the head office of working sectors and Marek Kligier, the commander of the special department of the Jewish police, a group of doctors, engineers, craftsmen and workers from Rynek Bałucki (the Bałuty market). They were sent to labour camps in Dresden and Konigswurstenhausen near Berlin, where they lived to liberation. In total, 12,000 to 15,000 inhabitants of the Łódź Ghetto survived Auschwitz and staging camps.

Julian Baranowski
Senior Custodian at the State Archive in Łódź