The Łódź Ghetto
In 1940 the Germans sealed off the northern part of Łódź to create the Litzmannstadt Ghetto (after the German name for the city) – the second-biggest Jewish ghetto in Poland, after Warsaw. It was the first of the big urban Jewish ghettos to be set up by the Germans and the last to be liquidated, in 1944. At its height, the ghetto held around 200,000 people – mostly local Jews but also sizeable groups from across Europe.
The Litzmannstadt ghetto was not used primarily as a holding centre, as in Warsaw, but as a forced labour camp harnessed directly to the German war effort. In Łódź, Jews were obliged to barter their labour in exchange for the shred of hope they might survive the war. In the end, only a few managed to do so.
For four long years, the ghetto survived under the controversial leadership of Jewish elder Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, who led a policy of collaboration with the Germans as a way of prolonging the lives of ghetto inhabitants. When in 1942 the Germans demanded more victims to clear space in the ghetto, Rumkowski infamously pleaded with mothers to give up their children. The mothers refused, but in the end 7000 children were rounded up and shipped to the Chełmno extermination camp.
Łódź's ghetto was liquidated in August 1944, just as the Warsaw Rising was underway and the Soviet Red Army was approaching from the east. The Nazis sent 73,000 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau from 9 to 29 August 1944. Rumkowski died at Birkenau on 28 August. When the Red Army liberated Łódź in 1945, only 880 Jews remained.
After the war, few of the survivors elected to return to Łódź. Today You can still get a sense of the ghetto. Important buildings survive and much of the area still feels blighted, some eight decades on. Some places worth visiting include:
Plac Kościelny (Church Square) The start of the ghetto. Incongruously, it is dominated by the red brick steeples of Church of the Assumption of Our Blessed Mary, which could be seen from all points in the ghetto. It was used to store the goods of Jews killed in the death camps during the war. Most notorious was the Red House, where the German police tortured Jews to find out where they had hid their valuables.
Bałucki Rynek The administrative heart of the ghetto, where the Gestapo and Rumkowski had their offices. In the market here, starving ghetto residents bartered their valuables for scraps of food.
Further afield, Radegast Station is a memorial to the 145,000 people sent from here to their deaths. The Jewish Cemetery is a moody and evocative place that recalls Łódź’s once thriving Jewish community, which numbered 230,000 in 1939. The ride on tram 6 to these two sights passes through a large swath of the former ghetto. Look for the many murals showing the images of children killed by the Nazis.
The following are good resources for information on the Jews of Łódź during WWII:
- Łódź In Your Pocket The free city guide has an excellent ghetto walking tour.
- www.lodz-ghetto.com A comprehensive historical website.
- Field Guide to Łódź (www.taubephilanthropies.org/files/assets/pdf/2017/FieldGuide-Lodz-FINAL.pdf) A superb downloadable guide with walking tours.