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The Łódź Ghetto in occupied Poland
Jewish children, the Ghetto
Jewish children inside the Ghetto Litzmannstadt, 1940
The map
Map of the Łódź Ghetto
Location Łódź, German-occupied Poland
Persecution Imprisonment, forced labor, starvation
Organizations Schutzstaffel (SS)
Death camp Chełmno extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp
Victims 204,000 Polish Jews

The Łódź Ghetto (German: Litzmannstadt Ghetto) was the second-largest ghetto (after the Warsaw Ghetto) established for Jews and Romani in German-occupied Poland. Situated in the city of Łódź and originally intended as a temporary gathering point for Jews, the ghetto was transformed into a major industrial centre, manufacturing much needed supplies for Nazi Germany and especially for the German Army.

Because of its remarkable productivity, the ghetto managed to survive until August 1944, and absorbed 40,000 Jews from Germany and Central Europe. Despite reverses in the war, the Germans persisted in liquidating the ghetto: they transported the remaining population to Auschwitz and Chełmno extermination camps, where most died. It was the last ghetto in Poland to be liquidated.[1] A total of 204,000 Jews passed through the ghetto; 800 remained when the Soviets arrived, and about 10,000 survived the war in other places.

Establishment of the ghetto

When German forces occupied Łódź in September 1939, the city had a population of 672,000 people; over one-third of them (233,000) were Jews. The Reich annexed Łódź directly to the Warthegau region and renamed the city Litzmannstadt in honour of a German general, Karl Litzmann, who had led German forces in the area in 1914. It intended to “purify" the city and make it more Aryan: the Jewish population was to be expelled to the Generalgouvernement and the Polish population was to be reduced significantly and transformed into a slave labour force for Germany.

The first known record of the establishment of a ghetto[2] appears in an order dated 10 December 1939, which directs setting up a temporary gathering point for local Jews to ease the deportation process. By 1 October 1940, the deportation was to have been completed, and the city was to have been Judenfrei (free of Jews).

German and Jewish police guard at the entrance to the Ghetto

Token money in the ghetto with Rumkowski's signature

The Łódź ghetto had: “Some forty-three elementary schools, two high schools, and one vocational training facility, serving some 63 percent of the ghettos school aged youngsters.” (Heberer, Patricia. Children During the Holocaust. Plymouth: AltaMira Press, 2011.)

The securing of the ghetto was associated with a series of anti-Jewish measures (as well as anti-Polish measures), by which Jews were stripped of their businesses and possessions, and forced to wear the yellow badge. Since Germany's invasion of Poland, many Jews, particularly the intellectual and political leadership, had fled to the area of the General government or eastward to Soviet-occupied Poland. On 8 February 1940, the Germans limited Jewish residence to specific streets in the Old City of Łódź and the adjacent Baluty Quarter, the areas that would later become the ghetto. A Nazi-sponsored pogrom on 1 March in which many Jews were killed, expedited the relocation. Over the next two months, wooden and wire fences were erected around the area to cut it off from the rest of the city. Jews were formally sealed into the ghetto on 1 May of that year.

As nearly 25% of the Jews had fled the city, by the time the ghetto was set up, the population was 164,000. Over the coming years, Jews from Central Europe and as far away as Luxembourg were deported to the ghetto. A small Romany population was also resettled there (see: Porajmos).

To ensure no contact between the Jewish and non-Jewish population of the city, two German Order Police units were designated to patrol the perimeter of the ghetto including the Battalion 101 from Hamburg. Within the ghetto, a Jewish police force was created to ensure that no prisoners tried to escape. Any Jews caught outside the ghetto could, by law, be shot on sight. On 10 May orders went into effect prohibiting any commercial contact between Jews and non-Jews in Łódź under similarly severe penalties. The contact with people outside the ghetto was also impaired by the fact that Łódż had a 70,000-strong ethnic German minority, many of whom were loyal to the Nazis and would not try to overcome their restrictions. To keep outsiders out, rumors were also spread saying that the Jewish people had carried infectious diseases.[3]

In other ghettos throughout Poland, thriving underground economies based on smuggling of food and manufactured goods developed between the ghettos and the outside world. In Łódź, however, this was practically impossible. The Jews were entirely dependent on the German authorities for food, medicine, and other vital supplies. To exacerbate the situation, the only legal currency in the ghetto was a specially created ghetto currency. Faced with starvation, Jews eagerly traded their remaining possessions and currency for this scrip, thereby abetting the process by which they were dispossessed of their few remaining belongings.

Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski and the Jewish Council

Chaim Rumkowski delivering a speech in the ghetto


Jewish telephonists in Łódź ghetto

To organize the local population and maintain order, the German authorities established a Jewish Council, or Judenrat. The Judenälteste, or elder of the Judenrat, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, is still considered one of the most controversial figures in the history of the Holocaust. Known mockingly as "King Chaim," he was granted unprecedented powers by the Nazi government, which authorized him to "take all necessary measures" to maintain order in the ghetto.

Although he was directly responsible to Nazi official Hans Biebow, within the ghetto Rumkowski adopted an autocratic style of leadership to transform the ghetto into an enormous industrial complex, manufacturing goods on behalf of Germany. Convinced that Jewish productivity would ensure survival, he forced the population to work 12-hour days despite abysmal conditions, producing garments, wood and metalwork, and electrical equipment for the German military. By 1943, some 95 percent of the adult population was employed in 117 ressorts or workshops, which Rumkowski once boasted to the mayor of Łódź, were a "gold mine." It was possibly because of this productivity that the Łódź Ghetto managed to survive long after all the other ghettos in occupied Poland were liquidated. Rumkowski systematically deported potential political activists or anyone who might have had the capacity to lead resistance to the Nazis. Conditions were harsh and the population was entirely dependent on the German authorities. Typical caloric intake averaged between 700 and 900 calories a day. People affiliated with Rumkowski's administration received disproportionately larger distributions of food, medicine, and other rationed necessities. Starvation was rampant and diseases like tuberculosis widespread. This fueled dissatisfaction with Rumkowski, and led to a series of strikes in the factories. In most instances, Rumkowski relied on the Jewish police force to quell the discontented workers, but in one instance, the German police were asked to intervene. Strikes usually erupted over the reduction of food rations.

A young girl assists in the paper factory

Disease was a major feature of ghetto life with which the Judenrat had to contend. Medical supplies were critically limited, and the ghetto was severely overcrowded. The entire population of 164,000 people was forced into an area of just 4 square kilometres, of which just 2.4 square kilometres were developed and habitable. Fuel supplies were severely short, and people burned whatever they could to survive the harsh Polish winter. Some 18,000 people in the ghetto are believed to have died during a famine in 1942, and all together, about 43,500 people died in the ghetto from starvation and disease.

The first deportation

Tailors in one of the ghetto clothing workshops, 1941

Overcrowding in the ghetto was exacerbated when some 40,000 people from the surrounding areas, as well as Germany, Luxembourg, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, particularly from Terezín, were resettled there. On 20 December 1941, Rumkowski announced that 20,000 Jews would be deported from the ghetto, selected by the Judenrat from among criminals, people who refused to work, and people who took advantage of the refugees arriving in the ghetto. An Evacuation Committee was set up to help select the initial group of deportees.

It is uncertain who first realized that the deportees were being sent to Chełmno, the first of the Operation Reinhard death camps. There inmates were killed with carbon monoxide fumes in gas vans (gas chambers had not yet been built). By 15 May 1942, an estimated 55,000 people had been deported from Łódź. The Germans planned that in September, children, the elderly and anyone deemed "not fit for work" would follow them.

By September, Rumkowski and the Jews of Łódź had learned that deportation meant death. Baggage, clothing, and identification papers of the deportees had been returned to the ghetto for processing, and people began to strongly suspect the fates of their fellow inmates. They had witnessed the German raid on a children's hospital, when all the patients were rounded up and put into trucks (some thrown from windows), never to be seen again. A new German order demanded that 20,000 Jewish children be handed over for deportation, and a debate raged in the ghetto over who should be given up. After considering the options, Rumkowski was more convinced than ever that the only chance for Jewish survival lay in working productively for the Reich. He addressed the parents of Łódź:

Children rounded up for deportation to the Chełmno extermination camp, September 1942

A grievous blow has struck the ghetto. They are asking us to give up the best we possess – the children and the elderly. I was unworthy of having a child of my own, so I gave the best years of my life to children. I've lived and breathed with children, I never imagined I would be forced to deliver this sacrifice to the altar with my own hands. In my old age, I must stretch out my hands and beg: Brothers and sisters! Hand them over to me! Fathers and mothers: Give me your children!

Despite their horror, parents had little choice but to turn over their children for deportation. Some families committed collective suicide to avoid the inevitable. Deportations slowed down for a time after the September 1942 purges of the Ghetto's "weak."

By January 1944, there were over 80,000 Jews in the Łódź Ghetto.[4] It was a giant labor camp where survival depended solely on the ability to work. Schools and hospitals were shut down, and new factories, including armament factories, were established. Soviet troops were just 95 km (60 miles) away and advancing rapidly, and the survivors lived with persistent rumors of salvation. Then suddenly, the Soviets stopped their advance.

The end of the ghetto

The Gypsy neighborhood in the ghetto, after its inhabitants were transported to the Chełmno extermination camp.

The ultimate fate of the Łódź Ghetto was debated among the highest-ranking Nazis as early as 1943. Heinrich Himmler called for the final liquidation of the ghetto, with a handful of workers to be relocated to a concentration camp outside Lublin, while Armaments Minister Albert Speer advocated the ghetto be continued as a source of cheap labour. He argued that it was especially necessary as the tide of the war had turned against Germany.

In the summer of 1944, German officials began the gradual liquidation of the remaining population. From June 23 to July 15, about 7,000 Jews were deported to the Chełmno extermination camp, where they were killed. On July 15, 1944 the transports paused for two weeks while the Chełmno facility was dismantled with the approach of Soviet troops. As the front approached, German officials decided to transport the remaining Jews, including Rumkowski, to Auschwitz, and the liquidation of the ghetto quickly began. On August 28, 1944, Rumkowski and his family were killed at Auschwitz, along with thousands of others. A few hundred people were left in the ghetto to clean up. Only 877 Jews survived to the day the Soviet army liberated Łódź on January 19, 1945, 12 of whom were children.[5] All together, just 10,000 of the 204,000 Jews who passed through the Łódź Ghetto survived the war.

Resistance in the ghetto

20-mark coin used in the ghetto

The peculiar situation of the Łódź Ghetto prevented armed resistance such as occurred in the final days of the ghettos of Warsaw, Vilna, Białystok, and others in Nazi-occupied Poland. Rumkowski's overbearing autocracy, the failure of attempts to smuggle food—and consequently, arms—into the ghetto, and the conviction that productivity would ensure survival precluded attempts at armed revolt.

The Swiss sociologist Werner Rings identified four distinct forms of resistance that civilian populations engaged in throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, with offensive resistance constituting the final form of resistance. The other three categories: symbolic, polemic, and defensive, can all be found in the Łódź ghetto. Sabotage was a form of offensive resistance.

Symbolic resistance is evident in the rich cultural and religious life that the people maintained in the ghetto throughout the early years. Initially, they created 47 schools and day care facilities in the ghetto, which continued to operate despite the harshest conditions. When the school buildings were converted to living space to house the 20,000 Jewish transported to the ghetto from Central Europe, alternatives were established, particularly for younger children whose mothers were forced to work. In addition to educating the young, schools tried to ensure the children were adequately nourished, despite the allotment of meager rations. After the schools were shut down in 1941, many of the ressorts continued to maintain illegal daycare centres for children whose mothers were working.

Political organizations also continued in the ghetto, and engaged in strikes when rations were cut. In one instance, a strike got so violent that the German police were called upon to suppress it. At the same time, the rich cultural life included active theatres, concerts, and banned religious gatherings, all of which countered official attempts at dehumanization. Much information about cultural activities can be found in the ghetto archive, organized by the Judenrat to document day-to-day life in the ghetto.

Photographs such as this served to record the horrors of ghetto life for posterity

The archive can be considered a form of polemic resistance, intended to record life in the ghetto for future generations. The photographers of the statistical department of the Judenrat, besides their official work, illegally took photos of everyday scenes and atrocities. One of them, Henryk Ross, managed to bury the negatives and dig them up after liberation. Because of this archive, the reality of the ghetto was recorded and preserved. Unlike many other images from that period, some of the photographs taken in the ghetto are in color. One diarist wrote: "We must observe and protect everything with a critical eye, draw sketches of everything that occurs ..." so that they would be remembered. The archivists also began creating a ghetto encyclopedia and a lexicon of the local slang that emerged to describe their daily lives.

The Jewish population maintained several illegal radios with which they kept secretly abreast of events in the outside world. At first, the radio could only receive German news broadcasts, which is why it is codenamed "Liar" in many of the diaries from that period. Among the news bulletins that quickly spread around the ghetto was the Allied invasion of Normandy—on the day it occurred.

Defensive resistance in the ghetto includes avoiding the final transports and helping others to do the same. Approximately 800 Jews managed to survive in the ghetto from the final liquidation until the Soviets finally liberated the city. Even before the final deportation, members of youth movements shared meager rations with friends who refused to report for deportation, allowing them to survive after they were no longer registered to work and thus entitled to food rations.

Since work was essential to the ghetto's survival, sabotage was a form of resistance. In the later years, leftist workers adopted the slogan P.P. (pracuj powoli, or "work slowly") to hinder their work on behalf of the Wehrmacht. When a bunker with Jews hiding in it was discovered, one of the people assaulted Hans Biebow, Rumkowski's direct superior in the Nazi administration.

The diaries contain suggestions that some form of armed resistance was discussed in the final days of the ghetto, but it never developed as it did in other ghettos, for the reasons already mentioned.

Ghetto administration

Notable inmates

  • Heda Kovaly, an author who wrote about her experience in the ghetto in her autobiography Under a Cruel Star
  • Lucjan Dobroszycki, scientist and historian
  • Mendel Grossman, photographer
  • Chava Rosenfarb, writer
  • Oskar Rosenfeld, writer, ghetto chronicler
  • Henryk Ross, photographer
  • Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, Judenälteste ("Elder of the Jews"), or head of the Judenrat
  • Ruth Minsky Sender, author
  • Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore International and later bought the rights to Atari
  • Maurycy Trębacz, painter, died in the ghetto 29 January 1941
  • Rywka Lipszyc, diarist, died in a hospital after liberation in 1945

See also

  • The Story of Chaim Rumkowski and the Jews of Lodz, a documentary
  • Yellow Star, a children's book based on the memoirs of a child survivor
  • Jacob the Liar, a novel by Jurek Becker, a survivor of the Ghetto Litzmannstadt
  • The Cage (Holocaust book), a biography by Ruth Minsky Sender, a survivor of Auschwitz and Mittlestein.
  • Kinder KZ, German concentration camp for Polish children inside Łódź Ghetto.
  • Simon Says, a memoir of Holocaust survivor Simon Lewenberg. Due for release first quarter 2012

Further reading


  • Alan Adelson and Robert Lapides, Łódź Ghetto : A Community History Told in Diaries, Journals, and Documents, Viking, 1989. ISBN 0-670-82983-8
  • Bostock, William, "Language policy and use in the Lodz ghetto", Web Journal of Modern Language Linguistics, 3/98, (June 1998)
  • Cappel, Constance, A Stairwell in Lodz, Xlibris, 2003.ISBN 1-4134-3717-6
  • Frank Dabba Smith, My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto; photographs by Mendel Grosman. Great Britain: Frances Lincoln Ltd., 2000. ISBN 0-7112-1477-8
  • Lucjan Dobroszycki (ed.), The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 1941-1944, Yale University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-300-03924-7
  • Sheva Glas-Wiener, Children of the Ghetto, Globe Press, 1983. ISBN 0-9593671-3-6
  • Mendel Grosman (Zvi Szner and Alexander Sened, eds.), With a Camera in the Ghetto. New York: Schocken Books, 1977.
  • Peter Klein, "Die "Gettoverwaltung Litzmannstadt", 1940-1944. Eine Dienstelle im Spannungsfeld von Kommunalbürokratie und staatlicher Verfolgungspolitik", Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2009, ISBN 978-3-86854-203-5.
  • Andrea Löw, Juden im Getto Litzmannstadt: Lebensbedingungen, Selbstwahrnehmung, Verhalten, Wallstein: Göttingen, 2006
  • Xenia Modrzejewska-Mrozowska, Andrzej Różycki, Marek Szukalak (eds.), Terra Incognita: the Struggling Art of Arie Ben Menachem and Mendel Grosman, Łódź: Oficyna Bibliofilow, 2009. ISBN 978-83-61743-16-3
  • Werner Rings, Life with the Enemy: Collaboration and Resistance in Hitler's Europe, 1939-1945 (trans. J. Maxwell Brownjohn). Doubleday & Co., 1982. ISBN 0-385-17082-3
  • Dawid Sierakowiak, The Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak: Five Notebooks from the Lodz Ghetto, Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-512285-2
  • Isaiah Trunk, Judenrat: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe under Nazi Occupation. The University of Nebraska Press, 1986. ISBN 0-8032-9428-X
  • Michal Unger (ed.), The Last Ghetto: Life in the Łódź Ghetto 1940-1944, Yad Vashem, 1995. ISBN 965-308-045-8
  • Chava Rosenfarb, The Tree Of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto Book One: On the Brink of the Precipice, 1939. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. ISBN 0-299-20454-5
  • Chava Rosenfarb, The Tree of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto Book Two: From the Depths I Call You, 1940-1942. Terrace Books. ISBN 0-299-20924-5.
  • Chava Rosenfarb, The Tree of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto Book Three: The Cattle Cars Are Waiting, 1942-1944.
  • Horwitz, Gordon J. Ghettostadt: Łódź and the Making of a Nazi City. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.

Terrace Books. ISBN 0-299-22124-5.


  • Leslie Epstein, King of the Jews (1979)
  • Steve Sem-Sandberg, The Emperor of Lies, New York: Faber & Faber, 2011 (English translation). Novel of life in the ghetto. Won the August Prize 2009 (first published in Swedish in 2009). ISBN 978-0-571-25921-2
  • Paul Russell's 1992 novel Boys of Life deals considerably and discusses at length about the atrocities witnessed in the Lodz Ghetto.[6]


  1. The statistical data is compiled on the basis of "Glossary of 2,077 Jewish towns in Poland", Virtual Shtetl, Museum of the History of the Polish Jews  (English), as well as "Getta Żydowskie," by Gedeon,  (Polish) and "Ghetto List" by Michael Peters at  (English). Accessed June 21, 2011.
  2. journals and footage on YouTube of the establishment of Łódź Ghetto by Nazi occupants
  3. Biuletyn Informacyjny Obchodów 60. Rocznicy Likwidacji Litzmannstadt Getto. Nr 1-2."The establishment of Litzmannstadt Ghetto", Torah Code
  4. Working against time
  5. Jennifer Rosenberg (1998). "The Lodz Ghetto". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved July 29, 2011. 
  6. Russell, Paul (1991). Boys of Life. New York, NY: Dutton. ISBN 0-525-93327-1. 

External links

Coordinates: 51°47′35″N 19°27′50″E / 51.79306°N 19.46389°E / 51.79306; 19.46389

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