The sign reads: "Jewish Residential Area: Entrance is Forbidden"

The Polish city of Łódź had a population of about 230,000 Jews when the Germans invaded in September 1939. Immediately, the Nazis burned down synagogues and forced all the Jews in the city to crowd into a neglected slum, which was separated from the rest of the city with barb-wire fences. Conditions in the new ghetto were appalling, with minimal food, lack of water or toilets. Trainloads of Jews from other towns and cities flooded into the ghetto, leading to unbearable overcrowding and frequent epidemics of dysentery, tuberculosis and typhus. On May 1, 1940, the Nazis declared the ghetto officially sealed, reporting that one hundred sixty thousands Jews had entered the ghetto. 

A Jewish Council, headed by Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, was appointed to administer the ghetto. Rumkowski hoped to keep the ghetto prisoners alive by turning them into slave workers for the Germans. He governed in a dictatorial manner, making ruthless decisions that he believed were the best and only course for survival.



In September 1942, Rumkowski was ordered by the Nazis to select more than 20,000 ghetto inmates for deportation. He determined that the sick and elderly, as well as children under age ten, should be selected. He explained his decision to the people of the city: “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! . . . The part that can be saved is much larger than the part that must be given away.”  As a result more than 14,000 Jews were deported in one week.

But despite Rumkowski’s efforts, the Germans took steadily more and more Jews out of the ghetto to extermination and slave labor camps, while tens of thousands died in the ghetto from sickness and disease. By May 1944, only 77,000 remained alive.

Rumkowski’s collaborationist tactics resulted in the Łódź ghetto avoiding final liquidation until August 1944. It was the last ghetto to be liquidated. But the end result was the same. Almost all of the remaining ghetto inhabitants, including Rumkowski and his family, were deported to Auschwitz and murdered. Altogether, just 10,000 of the more than 200,000 in the Łódź ghetto survived the war.


Additional Links:

Children II

Ghetto Lullaby (Isaiah Spiegel)