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Lodz Ghetto


Lodz was a large industrial city in Poland, south-west of Warsaw, with the second largest Jewish community after Warsaw. At the outbreak of the Second World War there were some 223,000 Jewish inhabitants, about 34 percent of the city's population.

The Jews had developed a rich cultural and educational life in Lodz, including Jewish schools, Yeshivot, libraries, theatres and sports clubs. The community included artists and writers and two Jewish daily newspapers, one in Polish and one in Yiddish.

In February 1940 the ghetto was set up in a poor Jewish neighborhood in the northern part of the city. Over 200,000 people were squeezed into an area of 4 square kilometres. Overcrowding, appalling sanitary conditions, extreme cold and, most of all, starvation led high rates of disease and death.

The German regime gave the ghetto's Altestenrat (council of elders) extensive authority over the running of the ghetto. Their main task was to organize labor for the ghetto's factories and workshops. The Altestenrat saw these as the only way to fight the unemployment and starvation in the ghetto. There were several dozen factories and workshops, mostly producing textiles, and they employed over 70,000 workers.

In 1942 the deportations began. From January to May, the people of Lodz were deported to the death camp of Chelmno, where the Jews were killed in gas trucks. A second wave of deportations took place in September, with the Germans sealing off each quarter of the ghetto in turn, brutally pulling the Jews from their homes. They held a Selektia (selection) to sort out the weak and those unable to work - children, the old and the sick. Twenty-thousand people were taken from the ghetto and murdered in Chelmno.

From October 1942 to May 1944, there were relatively few deportations. Then, in the summer of 1944, the Nazis decided to liquidate the Lodz ghetto. Deportations were renewed in August, this time to the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Throughout its existence there had been a rich cultural and public life in the ghetto - welfare, soup kitchens, religious and secular study groups, lectures and libraries. This cultural and spiritual emphasis found its expression in works of art by artists who lived in the ghetto, such as Amos Schwarc, who died in 1944 in Auschwitz.

(Dr Pnina Rosenberg)