The Holocaust in Poland: Łódź Ghetto

Figure 1.--The NAZIs began transporting Jews from the Łódź Ghetto in December 1941. The Lodz Jews wre told they were being deported east for labor. NAZI authorities then ordered the deportation of the sick, elderly, and children under 10 years of age in Septembedr 1942. While some have deluded themselves that the original transports were really for work, there could be no way of hiding the reason for removing children, the sick, and elderly. Here elderly people are reorting for transport. There is also a mother reporting because she can not bear to be separated from her baby. They were transported to Chelmo where they were gassed in specially prepared vans. U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Łódź is one of Poland's largest cities. It is located in what was at the time western Poland. Before World War II it was the home of Poland's second largest Jewish community, second only to Warsaw. About 230,000 Jews lived in Lodz. The Germans only 7 days after invading Poland seized Lodz. Within days after seizing the city, attacks on Jews Began. Jews were beaten and their property stolen and seized. The first official anti-Jewish measure occurred on Rosh Hashanah (September 14, 1939). Fighting was still underway around Warsaw. German authorities ordered Jewish shops to remain open, but closed the synagogues to close, making it impossible for Jews to celebrate their holiday. The military situation deteriorated rapidly. The Soviets invaded (September 17) and Warsaw suremdered (September 27). after which resistance collapsed. The Germans annexed areas of eastern Poland including Lodz into the Reich and changed the city's name to Litzmannstadt. Litzmann was a German general who was killed during World War I while trying to take Lodz. For several months the Germans carried out daily round-ups of Jews for forced labor. There were also indescriminate beatings and killings on the city streets. To simplify the task of identifying Jews, authorities issued regulations requiring Jews to wear a yellow star armband (November 16, 1939). A month later the regulation was changed to the yellow Star of David badge (December 12, 1939). Friedrich Übelhör, NAZI governor of the Kalisz-Lodz District, drafted a secret memorandum explaining the need for a ghetto in Lodz (December 10, 1939). The NAZIs confined more than 160,000 Polish Jews to the Lodz ghetto (May 1940). Large numbers of Jews from the ghetto were sent to Chelmno and gassed to death, some of the earliest mass killings (January 1942). The ghetto was finally liquidated as the Red Army was moving east through Poland. The remaining 70,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau (September 1944).

The City

Łódź is one of Poland's largest cities. It was located in what was at the time of World War II western Poland, about 75 miles southwest of Warsaw. Łódź began to grow in the late medieval period when it appears as a small village. It is first mentioned in the written record (1332). A document at that time awards the village of Łodzia to the bishops of Włocławek. The village developed as a market center in an agricultural area where grain was raised. Its chief attribute was that it ws located on a trade route connecting Masovia and Silesia. King Władysław Jagiełło granted city rights to the village of Łódź (1423). Even so even in the 16th century there were lass than 1,000 inhabitants. For several xenturies Łódź did not change much. Poland was partionined by Austria, Prussia, and Russia in the 18th century. In the second partition of Poland. Protestant Prussia acquired Łódź whch became part of the province of South Prussia (1793). The Prussians called it Lodsch. As Prussia acquired Łódź, the French Revolution had begun and Europe was soon to be enveloped in the Napoleonic Wars. The Prussians nationalized Łódź (1798). This mean that it losts its status as a town of the Catholic bishops of Kuyavia. Napoleon's defeat of Austrian, Prussian, and Russian armies raised hope that he would reserect Poland as a nation. He redrew the map of central Europe and Łódź became part of the Duchy of Warsaw (1806). After Napoleon's defeat, the Russians and the Congress of Vienna created Congress Poland, a part of the Russian Empire (1815). After the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution spread to the Continent. Stanisław Staszic in Łódź saw the potential of industrial development. He promoted efforts to promote industrial development. workers, businessmen and craftsmen from various European countries began to transform Łódź (1820s). The focus was as with the initial Industrial Revolution in Britain on textiles. Łódź developed as the most important textile manufacturing center of the Russian Empire. A cotton textile mill opened in Łódź (1825). The first steam-powered factory in the entoire Russian Empire opened in Łódź (1839). The new factories drew immigrants, including Poles, southern (Catholics) Germans and Czechs/Bohemians (Catholics). There were also smaller numbers from other countries. Many Jews arrived at this time. The population of the city as it developed in the 19th century were primarily Poles, Germans, and Jews. Tsarist Russia abolished the customs barrier between Congress Poland and the rest of the Empire (1850). This gave industry in Łódź access to the huge Russian market illserved by the Empire's small industrial base. The first rail line opened (1865). The late 19th century was a period of very rapid growth with the city dobeling in population several times. Thus Łódź by the time of World War I was a major industrial city. Germany occupied Łódź and the rest of Poland during World War I. As a result of Germany's defeat in World war I, however, Poland was recreated as an independent country and Łódź was one of its most important industrial centers.

Jewish Community

Łódź before World War II it was the home of Poland's second largest Jewish community, second only to Warsaw. About 230,000 Jews lived there. Many were Polish Jews that moved to Łódź during the industrial expansion of the 19th century following the Napoleonic Wars.

German Invasion (September 1939)

The Germans launched World War II by invading Poland (September 1, 1939). The Polish military fought bravely, but was in no way capable of resisting the Whermact and Luftwaffe which unveiled Blitzkrieg for the first time. The Allies (Britain and France) declared war on Germany (September 3), but the French were unwilling to offer effective assistance by invadeing Germany from the West. And the British were only beginning to deploy the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France. The Wehrmacht only 7 days after invading Poland reached Lodz (September 8). The military situation for embattled Poland deteriorated rapidly. The Soviets invaded (September 17) and Warsaw surrendered (September 27). after which Polish resistance collapsed. The NAZIs and Soviets partitioned Poland. Lodz was in the German sector.

Anti-Jewish Violence (September 8, 1939)

Immediately after seizing the city, attacks on Jews began (September 8). The pillage of Jewish property began on a wide scale. The Germans essentoally began an old-fashioned Tsarist pogrom. Jews were beaten and their property stolen and seized. There were virtually no limits on the plunder during the first few days of the German occupation. Jews who had experienced German occupation during World War I were shocked. At first it was mostly on the streers. Then on the third day armed soldiers and police began breaking into Jewish workshops, stores, and even homes. The pretense was a search for guns and weapons. Actually they were looking for precious objects which they stole. During these searches, there were commonly brutal assaults, usually on the men. It was not just the German military and security forces involved, but ehnic Germans living in Lodz participated. They knew where the wealthier Jews lived. Many Jews were forced to pay a ransom for their lives.

Anti-Jewish Actions (September 1939)

After the initial outburst of violence, NAZI occupation authorities began regularizing and legalizing actions against Jews. They issued degrees styled on the Nuremburg Race Laws. This gave actions against Jews the force of law. The first official anti-Jewish measure occurred on Rosh Hashanah (September 14, 1939). Fighting was still underway around Warsaw. German authorities ordered Jewish shops to remain open, but closed the synagogues, making it impossible for Jews to celebrate their holiday. Friedrich Ubelhor, the governor of the Kalisz-Lodz District, instituted a curfew for all Jews. They were prohibited from from leaving their apartments and homes from 5:00 pm untill 8:00 am. The Whermacht (Chief of Civil Administration, 8th Army) issued restrictions on Jews engaging in currency exchange and prohibited Jews from any involvement with leather and textile goods (September 18). (Many Polish Jews worked in these areas.) Police control measures were enacted. Jews were prohibited from walking along Piotrkowska Street (the main street of LOdz) or usin city parks. Jews were not allowed to use public transportation. “Aryan” business were ordered to dismiss Jewish workers. German occupation authorities including thecWehrmacy adopted a policy of organised robbery. Wehrmact authorities ordered the Lodz Association of Combing Mills carry out an inventory of the textile raw materials that were owned by Jewish businessmen and to confiscate themb(mid-September). Authorities reported seizing 1.8 million RM in textiles. The Wehrmacht next ordered that all enterprises, workshops and real estate abandoned by their owners went into receivership controlled by the occupation authorities (Sepotember 29). This did not just affect Jews, but included a number of Jews.

Anti-Jewish Actions (October 1939)

Further anti-Jewish actions were taken in nOctober. The new German Lodz Chief of Police ordered Lodz residents to prominantely indicate the owners nationality (October 31). Jews were considered a separate nationality and had had to indicate their religion. This of course facilitated the pillaging of the Jewish establishments.

German Annexation and Administration (November 1939)

The Germans annexed areas of eastern Poland including Lodz into the Reich (November 7, 1939). Lodz became part of the new German province (gau) of Warthegau. NAZI authorities changed the city's name to Litzmannstadt. Karl Litzmann was a German general who was killed during World War I in operations involved with seizing the city from the Russians. Hitler appointed Artur Greiser to be the Gauleiter (NAZI governor) (November 9). His primary interest was the Germanisation of Warthegau, as rapidly and as totally as possible. This meant replacing the Polish population with Germans and eliminating Jews. The NAZIS buned down the large synagogue on Spacerowa (now Kosciuszki) Street (November ?). Greiser worked closely with Friedrich Übelhör appointed President of the Kalisz-Lodz region and ??? Leister, Commissioner of Lodz. Greiser and his associates proceeded to issue decrees restricting Jewish life. They were based on the Nuremburg, but even more severe. The principal goal of the NAZI occupation authorities was to separate of Jews from the general Polish population and resrict freedom of movement. A subsidiary goal was to seize as much of their property as possible. Whermact occupation authorities ttransferred responsibility for the confiscation and selling of enterprises not belonging to German citizens (mraning Poles and Jews) to the General Receivership Bureau East (Haupttreuhandstelle Ost) which had bee set up in in October. It is at this point that the actial confiscation of Jewish factories began in earnest. Most of the confiscated raw materials were shipped to the Reich. Occupation authorities accelerated the seizure and confiscation of Jewish property including raw materials, half–finished goods as well as finished products. The Lodz office of General Bührmann’s agency played a major role. The first actions were aimed at factories and larger enterprises. Omce this property was seized the Germand began going after merchants operating shops. Occupation authorities set up the Lodz Trade Society (mid-November). The Assoxciation was of course made up of Germans and played an active role in seizing the property of Jewish merchants.

Early Roundups

For several months after the Germans invasion, the situation for Jews in Poland was chaotic. The NAZIs carried out daily round-ups of Jews for forced labor. There were also indescriminate beatings and killings on the city streets.

Star of David Armband/Badge (November-December 1939)

NAZI authorities, to simplify the task of identifying Jews, issued regulations requiring them to wear a yellow star armband (November 14, 1939). Friedrich Übelhör for the Kalisz-Lodzannounced the regulation, “The Jews were to wear on their right arm, directly under the armpit, with no regard to age or sex, a 10cm wide band of Jewish yellow colour as a special sign. Those who violate this order are liable to face the death penalty”. Übelhör’s order was the first such requirement issued by the NAZIs. These regulations varied within NAZI-occupied Europe, even in different areas of Poland. The order was not based on Reich law. Heydrich’s decree concerning a badge for Reich Jews was not published until 2 years later (October 1, 1941). The Reich decree did not apply to children under the age of 6 years and violations were not punished by death, but instead a fine of 150 RM or up to 6 weeks arrest. This is a good example of NAZI rule in Poland and other occupied countries. It would be conducted without any constraits, even the limited constraints that had characterized NAZI rule in the Reich itself. NAZI authorities a month later the regulation was changed to the yellow Star of David badge (December 12, 1939). Greiser the Gauleiter of the Wartheland ordered Jews to wear a yellow star of David on the chest and back instead of armbands. These badges became an important part of the NAZI Holocaust throughout Europe. This is because the NAZIs found after seizing control of Germany that it was difficicult to tell just who a Jew was. Having Jews wear badges greatly simplified this process. One child in the Lodz Ghetto explained what the Star of David meant. Jutta Szmirgeld who was 12 years old explained, "The yellow badge was a kind of stamp. A stamp that distinguished me from the rest of the population. Anyone could approach me, tell me, do to me whatever they wanted." This was because the NAZI authorities would not take action against anyone attacking or stealing from Jews even before they were enclosed in the Ghetto. These regulations continued in force even after the Ghetto was established.

Planning the Ghetto (December 1939)

Friedrich Übelhör, NAZI governor of the Kalisz-Lodz District, drafted a secret memorandum explaining the need for a ghetto in Lodz (December 10, 1939). He made it clear that the Ghetto would not be permanent. He exolained in the memo, “The establishment of the ghetto is only a transitional measure. I reserve for myself the decision as to when and how the city of Lodz will be cleansed of Jews. The final aim must be to burn out entirely this pestilential boil.” The NAZIs had not yet decided on the "sollution " to the Jewish problem. It was clear hower that at the very least they were to be expelled from Germany. Thus what ever the sollution, the Jews would need to be concentrated so they would be accessable when the decessiion was made. Also concentratiion in a ghetto offered the added advantage of enabling authorities to steal their propert and belongings and exploit them in other ways such as forced labor. Lodz was not the first ghetto. The Germans had established a few small ghettos, normally based on the local "Jewish quater" and had not yet closed them off. Residents were allowed to move in and out. Lodz was a different matter. It was a large city with about 230,000 Jews and they lived throughout the city, although many lived in the northern section of the city. Creating a ghetto in a large city would be a major administrative undertaking. NAZI Governor Übelhör appointed a committe with represenatives from the security forces and other administrative agencies to make the necessary preparations. They decided to locate the ghetto in the northeastern part of the city, primarily because many Jews already lived there. An area of about 4.3 square kilometers was mapped out. To reduce the number of non-Jews in the area, the NAZIs posted warnings that this area was planned for a Jewish ghetto and was contaminated with dangerous infectious diseases.

Ghetto Operation (February 1940-September 1944)

NAZI occupation authorities announced the order establishing the Lodz Ghetto (February 8, 1940). Jews from all over the city were forced to move into the designated area that had been established. They were only allowed to being what they could carry. They were then forced to march to the new ghetto. This hand to be done on foot. The NAZIs located the Ghetto in the most neglected area of northern Lodz which included Baluty and the Old Town. The area for the Jews was very restricted. Armed German police encircled the Ghetto in barbed wire and guarded the perimeter. Hans Biebow, a 38-year-old German businessman, was assigned to run the Ghetto. The NAZIs set up the process of creating a bureaucracy to systematically confiscation the Jews’ property and then further exploit them through slave labor. Conditions in the Ghetto were very crowded Estimates suggest that there were about 3.5 people for every available room. One the Jews were forced in, the NAZIs built a fence around the ghetto (April 1940). The NAZIs then closed the Lodz ghetto (April 30) and the officially sealed it (May 1). There were Jews from Czechoslovakia and other areas added to the population of the Ghetto Estimates suggest that about 230,000 city Jews were forced into the ghetto. We have also note an estimate of 160,000. We are not at this time able to explain this discreapancy. A Jewish Council was appointed to administer the internal affairs of the Ghetto headed by Mordekchai Chaim Rumkowski. At the time the Lodz Ghetto was created, the NAZIs had not yet fully decided on genocide. Few conceived of the purpose of the ghetto. Many Jews felt safter in the ghetto than they had felt on the streets of Lodz where they were often attacked and robbed by NAZIs or anti-Semetic Poles or drafted into often humiliaring forced labor squads. Lodz was an important industrial city. Thus many Jews were skilled workers or had a variety of industrial skills. Rumkowski believed that the Jews might be able to survive if they proved useful to the Germans. The principal problem for the Jews in the Ghetto was the limited amount of food the NAZIs delivered. Many Jews died in the Ghetto, primarily because of manlnutrition and outright starvation. Most were deported to death camps, primarily Chelmo.

Deportations (January-September 1942)

Those selected for deportation had to begin reporting (January 6, 1942). Ghetto residents began calling these summons "wedding invitations". The NAZIs concentrated the deportees at designated assembly points before deportation in large enough numbers so that if some did not report as instructed there would still be emough to fill the quota. The transports normally consisted of 1,000 people daily. The destination of the transports was the Chelmo death camp. The initial 10,000 person quoita had been deported in only a few days (January 19, 1942). NAZI authorities in only a few weeks demanded more deportees. To facilitate the process, unusally small food deliveries were made. NAZI authorities then promissed deportees a meal. Another 34,000 people were deported (February 22 to April 2, 1942). All of these transports were to Chelmo. These deportations were followed by another request for more deportees. This time the NAZIs used another ploy. They asked for the newcomers who often had no personal ties to the Lodz residents and the Ghetto administration. Exemptions were allowed for Ghetto residents with German or Austrian military honors. The Ghetto officials also exempted their associates.

Allgemeine Gehsperre: Selecting the Children (September 1942)

The procedure of having the Jewish authorities to prepare lists of deportees gradually became less effective as more and more Ghetto residents realized what was happening. The NAZIs were thus forced to begin roundups to fill the quotas. German security personnel entered the Ghetto to conduct these roundups. In the process they shot and killed hundreds of Jew. The NAZIs made the most apauling demand of all in the history of the Lodz Ghetto. They demanded the Getto authorities turn over all those who were not working ythis included the sick, eldely and the children. All children under 10 years of age had to be turned over for deportation. Many parents refused to hand over their children (September 1942). Some may have deluded themselves that the earlier transport were to work camps. Transports of the sick, elderly, and young children could be for only one purpose--the killing of non-productive individuals. Finally the German security forces entered the Ghetto, conducting a search for the children. This action defies human imagination

Chelmo (December 1941-July 1944)

Chelmo was one of the five death camps, camps created for the expressed purpose of killing Jews. Like most of the death camps, the NAZIs located it in Poland. Chelmno was named after te nearby town located about 50 miles from Lodz. The Germans who were in the process of Germanizing the area called it Kulmhof. The first gassing of Jews in large numbers occurred at Chelmo. Some of the work to "perfect" the killing process was done at Chelmo. The killing was overseen by Herbert Lange who commanded a Sonderkommando. The SS transferred Lange to Chelmno. He had worked in the T4 euthanasia program where he was involved with murdering Posen psychiatric patients using gas vans. Thus Lange was an experienced killer before arriving at Chelmo. The killing was initially done using vans. Many Reich Jews were killed here. Chelmo was the first of the death camps to begin operation (December 7, 1941). It was primarily used to kill Jews from the nearby large Lodz Ghetto. The first commandant at Chelmo was Herbert Lange. The camp consisted of two principal sections. The first was for the administration section, the barracks and the storage of valuables and goods taken from the victims. The second was for the burial and cremation of the victims. The killing was done by three gas vans. The Jews were locked into the hermatically sealed van cargo compartments. The carbon monoxide fumes were used to kill the vicytims in the vans that served as mobile gas chambers. Operations at Chelmo continued until most of the Lodz Jews had been killed (March 1943). It was briegly reopened to finish the killing of the Lodz Jews (June 23, 1944). The NAZIs finally ceased operations as the Red Army began moving into western Poland (January 17, 1945). There is no precise accounting of the number of Jews miurdered at Chelmo. Estimates range widely, about 150-300,000 Jews and other NAZI victims.

Transports Suspended (October 1942-June 1944)

NAZI authorities for the most part suspended transports from the Lodz Ghetto after the children were transported (September 1942). The Ghetto was now composed entirely of productive slave laborers. It was also producing munitions, uniforms, and other products needed by the German military. Given that both workers and the products being produced were bady needed, NAZI authorities decided to suspend the trahsports and utilize the productive capability. The Ghetto was run essentially as a slave labor camp, although conditions were somewhat better because the camp was administered by Ghetto authorities rather than brutal SS guards. The fact that the production could be maintained at such low cost was especially attractive for NAZI authorities, many of who benefitted personally in a variety of ways.

Liquidation of the Ghetto (June-September 1944)

There were in early 1944 about 70,000 Jews remainging in the Lodz Ghetto. About 45,000 Jews had died in te Ghetto and the rest had been deported, mostly to the Chelmo Death Camp. NAZI authorities finally decided to liquidate the Ghetto, in part because of the deteriorating military suituation on the Eastern Front. The Red Army began moving into eastern Poland. SS Commander Heinrich Himmler a few days after D-Day in the West finally ordered the Lodz Ghetto liquidated (June 10). NAZI authorities informed Rumkowski. I'm not sure precisely what he was told. Rumkowski told the remaining residents that the Germans needed workers to repair the damage caused by the Allied strastegic bombing camopaign. (This was a commonly NAZI ploy, to blame the Jews themselves or the Allies for what the NAZIs were doing.) I do not know if Rumkowski really believed this. The resumed transports began (June 23). Transports were conducted almost daily until (July 15). It was at this time the SS closed Chelmo because of the approach of the Red Army. The SS dismantled the camp to hide evidence of what they had done there. As a resulted the transports were haulted (July 15, 1944). The transports were, however, resumed after only 2 weeks. They were now routed to Auschwitz-Birkenau and continued until (August 1944). NAZI authorities put Rumkowski and his family and his associates on the last transports. The NAZIs kept a few Jews at Lodz to use as work details, cleaning up the debris on the streets and search for valuables that the Jews may have hidden in the Ghetto.

The Red Army (January 1945)

The Red Army liberated Lodz (January 19, 1945). Upon reaching the Ghetto they found 877 Jews. I'm not sure who they were. Perhaps they had managred to hide from the NAZIs. They were all that was left of the 230,000 Lodz Jewish community and additional 25,000 Jews and Gypsies that had been moved into the Ghetto.

Personal Experiences

The only personal experience that we have is of Fredzia Marmur, a girl born in Łódź (1935). Most of her account, however is about her rescue from the Ravensbrück Coincentration Camp by the Swedish Red Cross.


Adelson, Alan and Robert Lapides (ed.). Lodz Ghetto: Inside a Community Under Siege (New York: 1989).

Zelkowicz, Josef. In Those Terrible Days: Writings from the Lodz Ghetto (Berghahn Books).

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Created: 9:10 PM 11/21/2004
Last updated: 6:16 AM 4/6/2011