The main reasons for death in the L ghetto were heart disease, tuberculosis, and malnutrition. From TB - the illness of the poor, of hunger and bad sanitary conditions - there died at the time the ghetto was established 11,000 people, i.e. 9.3% of the population on the average. The symptoms of malnutrition (the illness of hunger) included swelling, loss of bone calcium and muscular atrophy. From time to time epidemics broke out in the ghetto: typhus fever, typhoid fever, dysentery. Frequent too were illnesses caused by lack of vitamins (pellagra and scurvy), cold (even leading to death), and many suicides.
In the fight against illness the chairman endeavoured to extend the health services, an enormous problem in view of the difficulties caused by the German authorities, lack of buildings and of medicine, and lack of furniture and equipment in the hospitals - for these had been looted by the Germans. Until the ghetto was erected the following medical institutions existed: three clinics; a first-aid station (perhaps two); three laboratories; four pharmacies (these were owned by Jews and confiscated by the Germans, but bought back by the chairman for 47,000 marks); two hospitals; and two mental institutions. At the height of the development of the health services in 1941-1942 the health department had at its disposal five clinics, two first-aid stations, 5-7 laboratories, 4-7 pharmacies, 5-6 hospitals, an insulin station, a physiotherapy clinic, a maternity clinic, a children's clinic, two tuberculosis clinics, and a dental clinic. In addition, there were medical services in the schools, in the refugee hostels, and in the welfare institutions (old-age home, hospice for the poor, and orphanages). In May 1940 there were in the health services 94 doctors, and in January 1943 - 144 doctors. The sanitation department had three bath houses and nine disinfection units. There was also a veterinary department (there were a few horses in the ghetto, and for a while a number of cows).
The chairman also initiated a convalescence scheme. In the summer of 1941 a week's holiday was given to clerks who had worked at least a year. In 1942 the scheme was extended to factory workers. Instead of the holiday one could receive food. In 1941-1942 a few recreation homes (called heim) were in operation in Marysin - at first only for senior officials and managers. Later the scheme was open to clerks and workers.
In the period of autonomy child care, and especially care of orphans, developed very satisfactorily - considering the conditions in the ghetto. An institution of particular interest was the colonia - a group of boarding schools for orphans in Marysin for children aged 7 to 15. The number of children here varied from 300 to 1,500. The pupils were in the main orphans, poor children, ailing children, cripples, and children in convalescence. They lived permanently in the colonia, in the care of teachers and their assistants. They were given food, clothes and medical treatment. A clinic was attached to the institution, as was a small hospital for minor diseases, a bath-house, and a pharmacy. A few schools were opened in Marysin and the children of the colonia attended them. They also worked in gardens and agricultural plots.
In the summer and autumn of 1940 and 1941 day camps were organized, generally for children aged 3-5, but there may well also have been camps for school and gymnasia pupils. At these camps the children stayed outdoors as much as possible, and received three meals a day. For most pupils these camps were free of charge.
At the end of 1940 or the beginning of 1941, after the opening of the Culture House at 3, Krawiecka Street, the cultural life of the ghetto was concentrated here. There were regular concerts, performances by the Hazamir choir, entertainment, and children's performances (by school pupils or pupils from the colonia). The symphony orchestra that was formed in the ghetto gave ten concerts a month in 1940-1941. The conductors were T. Rejder and the composer of popular music D. Biegelman; while among the soloists were the violinist B. Rotsztadt and the singer N. Sztajnman. During the deportations of 1942 the number of concerts fell to one a week. A group of instructors and actors from Habima Haktana from before the war operated in the ghetto under the name Avantgarde, its leader being M. Pulawer, and gave popular entertainment performances. Its repertoire, called Revues, included sketches, ballads, readings, dance sequences, with lyrical and humorous elements, local colour, and satire on people in the ghetto. A programme was performed many times, and performances were given two-three times weekly on the average. Ressort workers were admitted at reduced prices. The Culture House also held art exhibitions: of the painters Yitzhak Brauner, Yosef Kowner, Maurycy Trebacz, Israel Leyzerowicz, H. Szylis, and P. Szwartz. These artists also provided the decor for performances. The group of artists of the Culture House was considerably enriched by the arrival of virtuosi deported from Western Europe at the end of 1941: the pianists Kurt Baer and Leopold Birkenfeld, the violinists Wajnbaum and Kraft, and the painters Gutman and Golub. Active around the Culture House at the end of 1941 were 60 musicians, singers, actors, dancers and instructors, and ten painters. After the mass deportation in September 1942 and the transformation of the ghetto into a labour camp, the chairman gave the artistes work in administration or production, and their cultural activities became a sideline.
There was in the ghetto an unoffical organisation of writers, centred around the poetess Miriam Olynower [Allinever]. Some of them had published work before the war, but many others now took their first steps. Among the better-known were Siewicz, Spiegel, Zelkowicz, Wolman, Hofman, and Janowski. A few held their own literary evenings. Of the writers of memoirs and diaries, of whom there were many in the ghetto, may be recalled the names Shlomo Frank, David Sierakowiak, and Yakov Poznanski, whose writings were preserved and published after the war. Some authors and journalists arrived at the ghetto from Prague and Vienna, among them Leon Deutsch, Oskar Rozenfeld, Oskar Zynger, and the historian Bernard Heilig. Part of their works written in the ghetto were kept until after the war. The journalist Ajzynger (Alter Schnor) published over three years the Hebrew periodical Hamesaper, with its literary supplement Min Hametsar. The ghetto administration took the initiative in collecting and ordering documents on the life of the L ghetto Jews during the Second World War, which proved invaluable. Active in this project were the archives of the comprehensive registry (including the Departments of Statistics and Marriage). The archive workers collected material on all aspects of life in the ghetto, and also collated special subjects in the form of reports and monographs. From January 1941 to July 1944 the archives produced a daily duplicated bulletin in Polish (Biuletin Kroniki Zudjneni) and thereafter in German (Tagskronik), which are to this day paramount sources for the history of the Jews of the ghetto of L under the Nazi occupation. Some of the material and its edited versions, and the writings of the archivists themselves, survived the war. Part of the chronicle and other reports by the authors named above have been published. The archives also collected an enormous number of sacred books and books on Judaism - from the aftermath of the killed and the deported - as well as many of their personal documents ; but these were not found after the war.
There were also a number of private lending libraries in the ghetto, the largest among them being the Zonenberg Library of some 7,500 volumes; and despite its expensive fees, it had around 4,000 readers.
The chairman usually succeeded in obtaining German permission to bake matzot from the flour allocation. All who wished could buy matzot instead of bread. The very orthodox, however, chose to eat potatoes only in Passover, for fear that the flour was not kosher.
Several orthodox committees operated in the ghetto. Bnei Horeb continued the pre-war activities of their committee, founded by R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsz. This group was careful to observe the Sabbath, taught their children sacred subjects and Hebrew, organized for them religious-cultural ceremonies on Friday and on the Sabbath. The Pe Kadosh Committee, led by the Dayan from Lutomiersk, R. Mendel Lenczycki, strove to avoid eating taref (unclean) food. The Shomrei Mezuzot Committee took care of the supply of mezuzot and their consecration. The pre-war committee known as Veahavta Reaycha Kamocha (Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself) dealt as much as it was able with extra food for the children (but only until the end of 1940), and arranged lodging for homeless refugees, as well as Torah lessons.
Until the deportation of September 1942 there was a Rabbinical Committee adjacent to the Judenrat, consisting of 15 rabbis. At its head was the Dayan R. Yosef Fajner (following the departure to Warsaw in the winter of 1940 of the Head of the Rabbinical Court, R. Trajstman). The committee was part of the population registry; and in matters of betrothal, divorce, births, and deaths worked in conjunction with the marriage department. The rabbis received the same wages as the other administrative workers.
The chairman and the departmental heads held their hands over the rabbis and the other religious persons in the ghetto, registered them ficticiously as administrative workers, or in ressorts, in order to assure them some sort of income and the right to extra food - and to protect them from deportation.
Some political groups initiated or participated in demonstrations against the chairman (in the autumn of 1940 and the spring of 1941). Various sections of the population complained of hunger, low wages, unemployment, confiscation of tools for the ressorts, and so forth. The political organizations, and in particular the Left, instigated or supported strikes in the ressorts in 1941, with a view to improving the lot of the workers. At a later date (1943) the strikes assumed another form - that of soup strikes, i.e. refusal to eat the meals provided in the ressorts. There were also appeals to sabotage production for the Germans under the slogan Go Slow, and accompanied by destruction of tools and equipment. There were also demonstrations and low-key strikes in honour of May 1st. The strike organizers in many cases were members of Communist youth groups.
There were persons in the ghetto - mainly members of political organizations - who listened in secret to the wireless, and spread the news by word of mouth or by small notes. Twice, in 1941 and 1944, the Germans arrested and executed some of these persons. One of them, Chaim Widawski, killed himself.
The pioneer youth groups too pursued their pre-war activities. At the request of the Zionist parties, the chairman agreed to the setting up in the Marysin quarter of kibbutz training farms, which engaged in agriculture and gardening. At first, there were more than 20 such kibbutzim, totalling some 950 members, mostly of Zionist youth groups, but with one of the Bund, and one of Agudat Israel. The ideological basis of these collectives was the responsibility of the parties, but administratively they were subordinate to the agriculture department and the authorities of the Marysin quarter. Part of the kibbutz produce was given to the colonia in Marysin; the rest was for their own consumption. Impelled by hunger in the ghetto, young people of no party affiliation applied to join the kibbutzim - and by the autumn of 1940 there were another 12 collectives of these latter groups. The older kibbutzim nurtured bitter feelings against the chairman who had permitted the establishment of these new kibbutzim. They declared these to be mavericks and accused the chairman of lack of morality, of smuggling, and other misdemeanours. These older kibbutzim were united in the Vaad Hakibbutzim (Kibbutz Council), while the mavericks had their own organisation under the name of Hazit Dor Hamidbar (Desert Generation Front) or Hahazit Hayehudit Hatseira (The Young Jewish Front).
The kibbutz members did not confine themselves to agriculture, but strove to be educators in the colonia, or manual workers in the ressorts, in order to boost the income of their collectives. In addition the ghetto administration would mobilize a certain number of kibbutz members for work of public benefit in the ghetto. The kibbutzim carried out cultural activities, as was their practice, organized Zionist festivals, evenings of literature and Hebrew songs, with good attendance by the ghetto inhabitants.
In the conditions of the ghetto the kibbutzim did not last long. In the spring of 1941, a year after they began,the chairman disbanded them. There were various reasons for this. Members of the veteran groups asserted that the newer groups - the creation of the chairman - spread demoralisation in Marysin, and because of them all the kibbutzim were closed. Other sources talk of immoral behaviour in the kibbutzim and of clashes between the Marysin authorities and the kibbutzim (evasion of public duties by kibbutz members, disagreements between the Jewish policemen and the kibbutz militia, smuggling, theft of produce and trees, unauthorised destruction of fences and wooden buildings for fuel, and other offences). After the abolition of the kibbutzim the pioneer youth groups continued their organizational and further training, albeit in a more restricted form.
The attitude of the parties towards the Judenrat was essentially negative, The role of the parties in demonstrations and strikes has been mentioned above. In addition, the parties on various occasions requested the chairman to increase the food allocation, to reduce the quota of production imposed by the Germans, to improve work conditions, to find work for party members, to abolish the Jewish Police, and so on. No party, however, suggested an alternative policy to that of the chairman. For his part, he met time and again with representatives of the political organizations with a view to formulating an agreed, basic policy for the ghetto. It is well-known that in spite of his sympathy for Zionism, the chairman considered the leaders of all the parties, even the Communists, persons of value to the community, and defended them against deportation (in periods of deportation the parties gave him a list of their active members). Sanctions, such as dismissal from work or detention, were only implemented by the chairman for the organizers of demonstrations, strikes, and serious unrest that were likely to undermine the stability of the ghetto and lead to intervention by the German authorities.
The existence of political parties, their activities, and the names of their leaders and activists, were an open secret in the ghetto. Obviously, the Germans also knew of all this, but did nothing to eradicate them (apart from action against radio listeners); it would appear that they did not regard this political activity as dangerous to their own interests.
When the establishment of the ghetto was under way, house committees or tenement committees sprang up spontaneously - chosen by the inhabitants to carry out the duties formerly incumbent upon house owners. On March 26th, 1940, the chairman ordered the election of such committees - to collect payment for cleaning, removal of waste, repairs, and wages for the caretakers. As stated, the committees also took part in the distribution of food, and in the summer of 1940 began to open soup kitchens. But such activities were short-lived under ghetto conditions. Their funds were low: house taxes were not paid, due to the poverty of the people and to lack of will or possibility to collect these monies. The committees were thus prevented from doing a proper job. Neither did the soup kitchens function properly because of lack of money, commodities, and equipment. The control authorities of the ghetto were inundated with complaints about the ineffective management of the house committees, about embezzlement, and mostly about their stealing ingredients from the kitchens and from the rations of the tenants. The chairman therefore found it necessary to transfer the house committee functions to his administrative personnel. At the end of 1940 he began gradually to reduce the sphere of activities of the house committees: caretaking and chimney sweeping were taken over by workers of the community, while the administration saw to the removal of waste and excrement, and the cleaning of houses. And finally, when rationing of food was definitely begun (January 1, 1941), the distribution of food and management of the kitchens was taken away from the committees.
In many institutions the employees themselves elected committees to deal with illness, loans, and mutual aid. These committees had little to work with: the contributions of money and food from the workers (e.g. each worker contributed one potato or a spoonful of soup, dished out at the place of work) were meagre. At times these committees, with the approval of the executive, received part of the produce of the vegetable plots at the disposal of the institution. The managers of the ressorts and the offices also allocated to them a small quantity of talons for food, and sometimes a little money; often too the chairman contributed to these funds. The committees plied their contacts and influence with a view to obtaining for the most wretched of the workers in their institutions a temporary job in bakeries, the public kitchens, or other supply sources, where there was a chance of extra food, and medicine for the ailing. The political parties too engaged in mutual aid: apart from the kitchens previously mentioned, they established in the ressorts and the offices committees and funds for their members.
Transfer to Labour Camps The dispatch of L Jews to the labour camps began in December 1940. They were sent mostly to camps in the vicinity of Poznan to pave the motorway from Poznan to Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. In December 1940 638 men from the ghetto were transferred, and in 1941 the number increased considerably: in April - 1,040, in May - 1,051, and in November - 1,130. This latter batch was mainly composed of displaced persons from Western Europe, recently arrived in the ghetto. At first the groups consisted of volunteers (the poorest elements). The German doctors examined them and cashiered a considerable percentage of them due to poor physical condition or age. In time the illusion that conditions in the labour camps were better than those in the ghetto evaporated - few returned from them, and their condition was miserable. The Gestapo did not allow these to return home, but ordered them detained in the prison ghetto; and only in a few fortunate cases allowed the chairman to include them in the ghetto production process. Nor was he permitted to tend in the hospitals any but the most seriously ill of the returnees. The imprisoned returnees were mostly sent back to the camps directly from jail. It was thus no wonder that after a while the Jews failed to respond to the appeals of the authorities to go to the camps. From then on the chairman was obliged to use force in order to fulfil the quotas set by the Germans: dispatched were the camp prisoners, convicts sentenced by the ghetto court, and persons imprisoned by the Gestapo or the Kripo. In 1942, when the annihilation of the Jews in all the Wartegau reached its peak, there flowed into the ghetto Jewish remnants left to live by the Germans through selection; and transports to the labour camps consisted of this new category. When these failed to fill the quota fixed by the Germans, single persons, former criminals, and non-patients in the hospital clinics were selected - and did these not suffice, the Jewish police hunted candidates in the streets and in their homes. The returnee prisoners also filled up the labour camp quotas during the mass deportations from the ghetto to the extermination camps, as did batches of the terminally ill, rounded up from the hospital clinics by the Nazis.
The families of those sent to the labour camps remained in the ghetto bereft of a breadwinner, and this added to the number of poor and destitute. The chairman paid them a small fixed amount.
In December 1941 the chairman was ordered by the authorities to provide them with 20,000 persons, to be deported from the ghetto. He was not informed that they were earmarked for extermination. As a result of efforts on his part, the Germans agreed to the number of 10,000, but did not keep their word. On January 16th, 1942, began the mass deportation of Jews from the ghetto. The first stage continued until the 29th of that month, and encompassed 10,003 Jews. Deportation was resumed on February 22nd until April 2nd, and concerned 3,074 victims. In order to select persons for deportation the chairman - in consultation with leading persons in the ghetto - formed the Deportation Committee, afterwards known as the Committee of Five: its members being the Head of the Population Registry, who also dealt with the displaced persons in the ghetto; the Chief of the Jewish Police; the Head of Police Investigations; the Chairman of the Law Court; the Head of the Department for Administrative Sanctions; and the Prison Warden. This committee determined subjects for deportation, and listened to appeals. Marked for deportation were mainly persons convicted in the ghetto for offences and crimes, their families, and persons receiving welfare benefits. Seriously ill people in their homes were not proposed, on the advice of the committee of doctors specially appointed. Nor were hospital convalescents, children from the colonia, inhabitants of the Old-Age Home, political and social leaders, and rabbis among those listed for deportation.
The deportees were not officially prevented from taking luggage with them, but in many cases this was taken from them before they were loaded into the wagons. Assembly points for deportation were fixed at the ghetto prison, in Marysin, and by the siding at Radogoszcz, from where the trains departed. Persons chosen for deportation who did not report at the assembly points, were rounded up by the Jewish police. It was not known in the ghetto at that time that the deportees were destined for extermination at Chelmno.
In addition to the waves of deportation of the L Jews in the first half of 1942 displaced persons were also sent to their deaths from the ghetto, which thus served as an assembly point for their final journey. In October-November 1941 the Germans lodged some 5,000 gypsies in a separate bloc of houses in the ghetto. This bloc was fenced in with barbed wire, thus forming a special type of concentration camp. These unfortunate gypsies died there en masse from hunger and typhus, for the conditions there were appalling - even worse than in the ghetto itself. At the beginning of January 1942 the surviving gypsies were sent to their deaths in Chelmno.
Between October and November 1941 some 20,000 Jews from Germany (Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt-am-Main, Dusseldorf, Cologne, and Emden and district), and from Luxembourg, Vienna, and Prague - were brought to the ghetto. Most of these displaced persons were elderly (53,5% of them were 50 or more), and many of them ill and feeble. Before the arrival of these deportees in L, or even prior to it, the young and healthy were removed and sent to labour camps. The remainder were subjected to horrible conditions. They were lodged communally in school buildings, without heating or sanitation, each one with only 45 square metres of living-space. A tiny number found employment in the ghetto, and were able to leave the collectives. The others soon buckled under from hunger and disease. In the six months they were in the ghetto more than 3,000 of them died - a mortality rate of 16%, compared with one of 8.4% of the ghetto population as a whole on October 1st, 1941. In the first half of May 1942 the Germans sent about 10,500 of these displaced persons to be exterminated in Chelmno. In this instance too the same Deportation Committee carried out its functions as with the previous deportations. As a rule, those who had permanent jobs were not selected; nor the terminally ill, inmates of the old-age home, holders of German medals from the First World War, and a group of multilingual interpreters (on the orders of the Gestapo). After this deportation, some 4,000 displaced persons from Western Europe remained in the ghetto.
In this same period - from December 1941 to August 1942 - extermination of the Jews continued throughout the Wartegau. When winding up the ghettos in the provincial towns the Germans usually carried out selections, leaving alive Jews able to do manual work or skilled craftsmen. These were sent to work in the ghetto of L (the only one left in the whole Wartegau). Even before, in the summer of 1941, the Germans had planned to concentrate all the Jews of the Wartegau in this ghetto. The idea was to transform it into a huge central ghetto of 300,000 Jews - but of healthy Jews only, while the ailing would be left where they were and isolated from their surroundings - which undoubtedly meant that they were earmarked for extermination. However, the ghetto plan did not materialize in this way. In September-October 1941 3,000 Jews only were brought to the ghetto from Wloclawek and its environs, and the composition of these displaced persons did not fit into the planned pattern: they were mainly women and children, as the able-bodied men had already been sent to labour camps. More in keeping with the plan was the projected arrival in May to September 1942 from the closed-down ghettos of the provincial towns of about 10,500 Jews. However, as stated, a considerable number of them had been or were now sent directly to the labour camps.
The last stage of extermination, which in 1942 embraced all the Wartegau and the L ghetto, was the deportation from the ghetto in September 1942, known as the Shufra (the Halt, or Stop). On September 1st-2nd, 1942, German policemen suddenly encircled all the hospitals in the ghetto and the children's isolation ward in Marysin, and removed all the patients. They also removed all the prisoners from the ghetto jail. The Jewish Police were ordered to close the streets and surround the buildings included in the raid. Frightful scenes took place and patients tried to escape. As the Germans were short of 200 for the quota they had set (for many patients had gone into hiding) they took this number from among people referred to hospital treatment.
On September 4th the chairman, in a speech to the ghetto, announced that the authorities demanded the deportation from the ghetto of 20,000 Jews under the age of ten and over the age of 65. On this and the following day a deportation committee, consisting of almost the same persons connected with the preceding deportations, worked on lists of such people, based on the population register. The Germans imposed a curfew on the ghetto from September 5th to 12th, in order to implement this action. Therefore, on the basis of the lists, Jewish policemen began on the 5th to round up the persons involved and take them to the assembly points. But only two days later the German police took matters into their own hands, in order to expedite the process. One after the other streets were closed off, houses surrounded, and all the tenants ordered into the courtyard for inspection. The Germans did not look at the lists at all, but selected for deportation children, and old or ailing people, on sight alone. Groups were brought to the assembly points, and from there taken away in lorries - which returned empty after an hour. Auxiliary duties in the deportation were the province of the Jewish police, firemen, and the so-called White Guard - the carters and porters of the supply department. The Germans promised these people that their families would not be deported. These units therefore transported the weak and ailing to the assembly points. There were heart-rending scenes: the Germans killed on the spot those persons who were too weak to stand up in the courtyard for inspection, or shot those who tried to flee. The workers of the ressorts sought help from the General Manager of the ressorts, Aharon Jacobowicz - and he succeeded in getting the Germans to exempt some of the workers from deportation. Some 1,500 family members of the Jewish policemen, the firemen, and the White Guard and other privileged persons, were housed in the now empty hospital buildings, and thus saved from deportation. During the Shufra the Germans deported some 16,000 inhabitants of the ghetto to extermination in Chelmno.
Since the Jewish remnants from the whole of the Wartegau were now concentrated in the L ghetto, the German administration of the ghetto, the GV, was now also the owner of all the Jewish property from the defunct ghettos. The local authorities were ordered to report to the GV on all this property, or to transfer it to them. Jewish policemen from the L ghetto were sent in the summer and autumn of 1942 to the closed ghettos of the provincial towns, to supervise the groups of Jewish survivors there in the collection and sorting of this property.
The mass deportations of 1942 by and large determined the living conditions of the population in the now reduced ghetto. Strenuous efforts were made to find official work, and preferably in production, and there now arose a struggle to obtain work permits - which were a protection against deportation. The number of young people and children in employment increased greatly, also because schools in the ghetto had been turned into hostels for the displaced. Only five elementary schools in Marysin are recorded as operating in the first quarter of 1942, and these were attended by children from the colonia. The Retraining Committee of the Education Department now increased in importance, since it dealt with the employment of young people in the ghetto. In April 1942 all the youngsters aged 13 and more who had not worked before were given employment, in order to save them from deportation, whose renewal was anticipated. In May and June even children of 9 and 10 were among those registered as working. The ressorts now began to organize training courses for the young, as a springboard to vocational courses in the years to come.
As a consequence of the arrival of persons uprooted from Western Europe, and of the mass deportations, the colonia of the children in Marysin was reduced. Some of its buildings were put at the disposal of the displaced persons, and many children returned to their parents in the ghetto; and some were deported together with them. In April 1942 the chairman proclaimed a renewal of the colonia, but in a different form: it would now be a boarding school for the children of working parents. This reformed colonia did not, however, last long - it ceased to function in the days of the Shufra. With this last deportation disappeared the last remnants of general education in the ghetto.
From September 1942, when the Germans removed from the ghetto the non-productive Jews, the ghetto was in fact a labour camp. Nearly all the machines from the dismantled ghettos in the Wartegau had been brought to L, together with all the Jews capable of manual labour, or skilled craftsmen - the leftovers of the selection process. All the inhabitants of the ghetto, including their children aged 8-9 they had managed to save from deportation, were officially approved workers. Employment in relation to the number of inhabitants rose considerably, as can be seen from the following table:
clerks & workers
|July 1941||145,000||45||ca. 40,000|
Concurrent with the increase in the proportion of Jews employed in production, the number sent to other labour camps decreased considerably. In September-December 1942 this involved 240 persons only; in 1943 - 126 monthly, on the average; in 1944 - small numbers, consisting only in a large, one-time dispatch in February-March of 1,700 men - as demanded by the authorities for work in the labour camp in Skarzyko-Kamienna (in the General Gouvernment).
The transformation of the ghetto into a labour camp led though to a stricter control of the ghetto by the Nazi authorities, first and foremost in the sphere of production. All initiatives by the Jewish administration were abolished. The Germans alone fixed the type and volume of production; and they also began to interfere in other spheres that they had hitherto ignored. The ghetto lost its autonomy, and the chairman a great deal of his relative freedom of action. In these new circumstances, the importance of the general manager of the ressorts, Aharon Jakobowicz, increased enormously. An important unit too was now the Special Department in the ghetto - that section of the Jewish Police concerned with confiscation of property and combating theft and embezlement. This body was now authorized by the GV to supervise the whole supply system and to deal with all the institutions of the ghetto. The Head of this section, David Gertler (and after his mysterious disappearance from the ghetto, Marek Kligier), together with Aharon Jakobowicz, were empowered, like the chairman himself, to distribute personal talons for food - and all in all were now on an equal footing with the chairman.
The accent in the ghetto now being on production, its administrative personnel were reduced, and some of the cut-backs were effected by Biebow himself. He abolished several offices, and reduced the staff of others. Thus was removed the Department of Welfare, and institutions such as the Old-Age Homes, orphanages, and the like, and their inmates expelled, while those who secretly remained in the ghetto had no formal right to exist.
After the mass deportation, there remained in the ghetto with no one to care for them some 1,500 small children, who had been saved from deportation, but had been left without parents. The chairman instigated an adoption campaign for these children, and the foster families received extra food and other benefits. For parentless working youngsters, aged 12-17, hostels were set up under the supervision of teachers. For the older youngsters, aged 16-18, small, autonomous collectives were introduced. The Department of Education ceased to exist, and was taken over by the Retraining Committee. The only form of instruction after the mass deportation were vocational courses of a few months run by the ressorts. The apprentices worked fewer hours in the workshops, learnt a trade, Yiddish, and Mathematics, and received full wages and the soup to which the workers were entitled. To look after children aged 2-9 both of whose parents were working, day care centres were set up near the ressorts under the supervision of teachers, where basic lessons were taught (in May 1943 there were 17 such centres). The chairman established a rest home and a kitchen to strengthen (with extra food) children who worked.
Immediately after the mass deportation the Germans abolished the rabbinical council. A shortened kiddush ceremony was now carried out by the chairman himself. The Health Department and its activities, mainly the hospitals, were also reduced, since their patients had been exterminated during the expulsion.
Twice more were there cut-backs in offices and workers: in the spring of 1943 and the spring of 1944. In March 1944 Biebow personally abolished the Department of Labour, Food Cards, and Housing, with a view to combining them into one office.
After abolition of the institutions by the GV an interesting phenomenon could be observed: several institutions continued to exist, or were reestablished by the chairman after a while under different names and addresses. In this way the health services were resumed to a large extent, although neither the Department nor its activities appeared on the chart to the authorities that showed the administrative structure of the ghetto in the summer of 1943. The only instance described was the Sanitary Department attached to the head office of the ressorts. Similar camouflage was the removal of the signs from the diet shops. The aim of the chairman was apparently not to attract the attention of the Nazi authorities, who were frequent visitors to the ghetto in 1943-1944, in connection with the negotiations on transferring this important production centre to the Osti of the SS.
During the labour camp period (October 1942-July 1944), and particularly in 1943, there was some improvement in the living conditions of the 90,000 Jews remaining in the ghetto - in spite of the hard and fatiguing work (from February 1943 the Germans imposed a working day of ten hours, six days a week, with Sunday as the day of rest). The food situation improved slightly, and the supply of food became more regular. With this betterment in supply, the number of ressort kitchens increased to 42. For some time the two to four supplementary kitchens for adults were also in operation, and served 28,000 workers (who benefited from them for 14 days at a time); and in addition there was such a kitchen for the 12,000 working children. Despite the abolition of all the other categories of public kitchen, that for the intellegentsia continued to function. In the day centres mentioned above some 4,000 children were also given extra food. There was a slight improvement too in housing conditions with the deportation of a considerable part of the population. It should be stressed, however, that those remaining alive were the toughest, since the weak and ailing had died in the first years of the ghetto, and 60,000 non-workers - children, elderly and ailing - had been deported. It was not surprising therefore, that after the mass deportation the mortality rate fell considerably, and in October 1942 stood at 4.5 per thousand, as compared with 17.3 in August 1942.
A relatively large number of Jews (probably as many as 10,000) deported from the ghetto in L in the period of its liquidation (June-October 1944) - survived the war. Germany's crumbling economy needed a growing number of working hands. Many Jews from L were not exterminated immediately upon arrival in Auschwitz, but were put to work in sections of the camp or in other concentration and labour camps where they were sent. From October 1944 on the rate of extermination in Auschwitz itself slowed down.
|Jewish population of L before the outbreak of the Second World War||ca. 233,300|
|Jews added to the population during the occupation* (displaced persons in 1941-42 from Wloclawek and district, Western Europe, remnants from the provincial towns)||ca. 38,500|
|Decrease in the number of Jews in L under the occupation:|
|a. Deaths before establishment of the ghetto (Oct. 1939-April 1940)||2,541|
|b. Deaths in the enclosed ghetto (May 1940-July 1944) **||ca. 43,500|
|c. Transferred to the General Gouvernement and voluntary refugees from L (Sept. 1939-April 1940)||ca. 70,000|
|d. Deported to labour camps (1940-1944)||ca. 15,000|
|e. Deported to extermination camp at Chelmno (1942)||70,849|
|f. Deportees on liquidation of the ghetto, mainly to Auschwitz (June-Oct. 1944)||ca. 75,000|
|Decrease in all||ca. 277,000|
|No. of Jews liberated in L by the Red Army (Jan. 1945)||900|
* Account not taken of no. of births, which was insignificant.
** This figure is 36,8% of the average number in the ghetto in this whole period, and this is a mortality rate five times that of the Poles in L under the occupation, and eight times that of the Jews in L before the war.
When the town was liberated by the Red Army there were, as stated, about 900 Jews still in the ghetto area. This number gradually increased: to L came Jews who had spent the war in hiding with the help of forged documents; and those who had survived the Nazi camps. This latter group numbered several thousands. From the autumn of 1945 through 1946 and 1947 thousands of Polish Jews from the Soviet Union - in the framework of the repatriation programme - converged upon L. They did not all settle in L, however: many were diverted by the Polish authorities to the former German areas now incorporated in Poland.
These years also saw a continuing mass migration of Jews in transit in Poland. The number of Jews in L therefore fluctuated constantly. In the autumn of 1945 there were 20,000 registered with the Jewish Committee there. In mid-1946 there were some 15,000 (at that time 11.1% of all the Jews in Poland). In February 1947 this number again rose to 20,000; up to this time 60,000 Jews had passed through the registers of the Committee, consisting of 30,000 camp prisoners and 30,000 repatriates from the USSR.
The first Jewish institution in L after the war was thus the Jewish Committee. As with Jewish committees in other Polish towns, it had been set up by local Jews to fulfil the functions of the extant communities; and the Polish authorities recognized it as the official representative of the L Jews and the public institution that dealt with all the specific matters of its populace.
The most urgent task of the committee was to provide shelter, clothing, food, and medical attention, and work for the returnees. The first step was to get them registered, also with a view to tracing relatives and reuniting families. In February and March 1945 the committee received from local authorities a thousand flats abandoned by the Germans, and installed in them some 10,000 Jews - a luxurious density compared to other towns in Poland at the time. But with the mass arrival of repatriates from the Soviet Union these flats were inadequate. The sight of large numbers of people sitting on the pavements outside the offices of the committee in Srodmiescie Street was a daily occurrence. As a temporary measure, the homeless were lodged in a factory building in Baluty, in the old ghetto area in Jakuba Street. Many others of their own accord took to the desolate and ruined ghetto area, even though housing possibilities there were almost non-existent. Representatives of the Committee used to go to the repatriation stations on the Polish-Soviet border in an attempt to restrict the flow of Jews to L, or at any rate to give preference to its former inhabitants. During this period the Committee's ability to find accommodation was much reduced.
Most of the Jews stood in need of material help. The main source of help for the Jews of Poland, from September 1946 on, was the Joint, which then renewed its activities in that country. Food, clothing, and money were distributed through the Central Committee of Polish Jews and the local committees. Medical attention was given by the TOZ, which also renewed its pre-war operations, with the support of Jews abroad. As the returning Jews became more and more self-supporting, the number of persons craving help from the Committee decreased, until only distinct social cases were left. Among these were also a number of poor Poles (some of the Righteous Gentiles of the World) who had helped to rescue Jews during the occupation.
A number of Jewish craftsmen had difficulty in finding work. In this respect, an important step was the establishment of Jewish production cooperatives by the Committee, in conjunction with some of the political parties: the Communists - PPR, the Bund, and the Left Poalei Zion. Such cooperatives were set up for tailoring, hosiery, shoemaking, furs, metalwork, and toys. Buildings were easily available, but money was scarce. Thus the cooperatives only began to develop when the Joint and ORT (also from September 1946) sent money, machinery, and raw materials. Until February 1947 ORT ran eight vocational courses, and thus enabled many Jews to learn a trade or change their previous occupation. In this same month 26 production cooperatives were at work in L. Of the 20,000 Jews then in L, 8,500 were working - 700 in the cooperatives, 1,500 in state factories, 1,800 in private workshops and the liberal professions, 500 in private business, and 1,500 in state or communal offices.
The Committee also engaged in child care and took under its wing the Jewish orphanage in Helenowek, near L, which had existed before the war. The first group of orphans in this house were youths aged 13-16, the sons of German Jews who had been brought to the ghetto in 1941. While still in the ghetto a collective of working youths was formed, which existed until the liberation (apparently clandestinely). These youngsters did not stay long in the orphanage, but emigrated. Afterwards a group of 14-16-year-olds arrived at the orphanage from camps in Germany; as did other orphans from other institutions in Poland after the war - children found by the central Jewish committee throughout the country in convents, where they had been hidden during the war. Also arriving were orphans from the Soviet Union. All in all, the orphanage contained several hundred children and young people.
On the initiative of the committee an elementary school (named after Peretz) was opened in 1945, with seven grades (an eighth was added later). Later again the school was enlarged to include secondary levels. The language of instruction was Yiddish, and the curriculum that of the pre-war Cisza Schools - and the teachers too were experienced and from this system. The school functioned until 1969, when it was closed for lack of pupils. In its last ten years the teaching language was Polish. This change came about on the orders of the authorities, and because there were fewer Jewish children in L with a Yiddish home background. Nevertheless, Jewish History and Literature remained among the subjects taught. Merkaz Hechalutz (the Pioneer Centre) established in 1945 a Hebrew elementary school with six grades, named after Lochamei Haghetto (Fighters of the Ghetto). In 1947-1948 it was attended by 160-200 pupils. In August and September 1946 national conferences of representatives of the Hebrew schools were held in L, where the organizational principles and uniform curricula of these schools were decided upon. The Jewish Committee in L opened a boarding school for pupils in the upper grades and students in Franciszkanska Street , in a refurbished building that in the ghetto period had also housed a Jewish Gymnasium. In the years following the war several hundred Jews attended institutions of higher learning in L. At the end of 1945 the circle of academics associated with the Committee numbered 150, and in 1947 - 280 members. In March 1948 Jewish students in L numbered about 400.
For the reasons stated above, the town attracted intellectuals, Jewish cultural personalities, and artists. The Jewish writers and journalists in L formed an association, and with the assistance of the Committee literary evenings were frequently held, and there were also concerts and theatre performances. Actors in the first Jewish theatre group in L, under the direction of Moshe Lipman, were mainly from the Soviet Union. When this company left Poland in the middle of 1946, the theatre was revived by the celebrated actress Ida Kaminska. In the course of time this was to become the National Jewish Theatre of Poland. From funds raised abroad, mainly by former residents of L, the Committee renovated the derelict building in Srodmiescie Street, and turned it into the Jewish Culture House, which also included the theatre. In March 1947 the cultural department of the Committee opened a theatre school; and an association of Jewish actors was also established.
L was also the scene of the Jewish Society for the Propagation of Art, the Jewish Society for Culture and Art, and the Association of Jewish Artists and Sculptors. In January 1948, in the month of culture organised by the Central Jewish Committee of Poland, an exhibition by 23 artists was opened in L. The Committee helped Jewish artists to set up the School for Jewish Artists and Sculptors, and to ensure its existence founded the creative artist cooperative Sztuka.
As early as February 1945 the Central Committee for Jewish History, founded in Lublin in December 1944 and headed by Dr. Philip Friedman, moved to L immediately after the town was liberated. Up to the end of 1946 the committee published 26 works on the history of the Jews in Poland under the Nazi occupation. The members of this committee also sat as experts at the trial of the L ghetto commander, Hans Biebow, which took place in L in April 1947, and resulted in a death sentence. In 1948, when the committee moved to Warsaw and became the Jewish Historical Institute, it continued to have an active branch in L.
In the immediate post-war years the editorial boards and printing presses of all the Jewish newspapers in Poland were to be found in L, as were the party organs, literary journals, and the like. Printed periodicals in the town numbered 20.
Immediately after liberation, branches of the Zionist parties were established in L - (Ichud - General Zionists, Left Poalei Zion, Hitachdut - Federation, and Right Poalei Zion); as well as the youth organizations - Hashomer Hatzair; Gordonia, and Hechalutz Hanoar Hazioni - Young Zionist Pioneers. A section of the Bund was also formed. many Jews belonged to the PPR, and a few to the PPS. The Zionist youth organizations also started a few kibbutz training farms in L. The authorities, however, did not allow the establishment of a Revisionist organization. An association of Jewish partisans and war invalids also started in L.
After the take-over of power in Poland by the Communists in 1948-1949 there was no room for the activities of the Zionist parties or the Bund. The Zionist parties were disbanded in 1949, and their members were offered the opportunity to go to Israel. The Bund ceased to exist and those of its members who did not emigrate were offered membership of the PZPR - the ruling party formed from a union of the PPR and the PPS.
In October 1949 the Central Committee of Polish Jews was abolished, and its institutions transferred to the Social-Cultural Association of Polish Jews - active, as its name suggested, mainly in the social and cultural spheres. The activities of the Joint and of ORT were also banned. In the above Association, officially non-party, the Communists exercised considerable influence on its members. From now on, the social and cultural life of the Jews of Poland, and of course in L too, was decided by the authorities and carried out by the members of the Association. This latter body administered various Jewish institutions and activities (cooperatives, schools, clubs, children's summer camps, etc.). In addition to the Association, there was in L the Congregatsia, viz. the Jewish community, whose duties were confined to religious matters (supervision of synagogue and cemetery, supply of kosher meat, kosher kitchen for keepers of kashrut, and the like). The Congregatsia employed a rabbi (R. Morejno) and a shochet. Many Jews were to be found outside these two Jewish frameworks, and left the Jewish community in an attempt to assimilate into Polish society. The Jewish population of L, as did other Jewish groups in Poland after the Second World War, went through many harrowing experiences. There were three waves of immigration to Israel or to Western Europe and the USA: the first in 1949-1951 after the establishment of Israel; the second in 1956-1959 after Gomulka's rise to power; and the third after the outbreak of anti-Semitism in Poland in 1967 and into the 70s. And after these three periods the Jewish presence in L was drastically reduced. After each wave of departure from L the remainder tried to repair the damage and restore its institutions. In 1951-1956 the Association successfully replaced the former Jewish Committee in the social and cultural fields. In 1957-1967 the Joint again helped to revive the cooperatives, benefits and medical care were given to the needy, summer camps were organized for the children, and there were clubs with widespread cultural activity - for instance, a choir and a drama group.
But as stated, each wave of exit from L from 1967 until the 1970s emptied the Jewish community of L of its inhabitants -and there remained thereafter only a few hundred souls.
Agudat Israel: Non-Zionist Orthodox Jewish political movement organized in 1912.
Bund: A political organization of Jews formed in Vilna in 1897 to promote labour causes, Jewish nationalism, and Yiddish in Eastern Europe - but opposed to Zionism.
Chassid (pl. Chassidim): An adherent of Chassidism , the Jewish revivalist movement originating in Eastern Europe in the late 18th century. It maintains many characteristics of Polish-Jewish life of that period, such as its dress. Diverse sects of Chassidism hail from different towns and follow different leaders (rebbes or admorim). Opponents of Chassidism are called mitnagdim (opponents).
Cheder (pl, chadarim): meaning room - a religious or Hebrew Sunday School. Cheders is used in this text, as this is widespread in English-speaking countries.
Gemara: The edited commentary on and discussion of the Mishnah (Rabbi Judah Hanasi's teachings in Israel in ca. 215) and incorporated into the Talmud.
General Gouvernement, or General Government: A German administrative district during the occupation of Poland (west of Łódź). See also Wartegau.
Gymnasium (pl. gymnasia): roughly a secondary, grammar or high school.
Hanoten teshua lemelachim: Who giveth salvation to kings; gmul nichbad : honoured giver of mercy (from the daily prayer book).
Joint:Joint Distribution Committee, founded in USA in 1914 to help Jewish communities worldwide.
Maskilim: exponents of Haskala (Enlightenment), the movement to introduce Jews to modern thought (from about 1750 to 1880). In modern Hebrew the word now means educated persons.
Mizrachi: Orthodox Zionist movement founded in Vilna in 1902.
ORT: Organization for Rehabilitation and Training - founded in 1880 to develop vocational skills.
Poel (pl. poalim, genitive poalei): Worker - hence hapoel, the worker, in combinations such as Poalei Zion, Hapoel Hamizrachi, etc.
PPR: Initials of the Polish Communist Party.
PPS: Initials of the Polish Socialist Party.
Rashi: Acronym of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, paramount Bible and Talmud commentator, 11th century.
Revisionists: Followers of the radically nationalist Zionist movement led by Ze'ev Jabotinsky.
Righteous Gentiles: Title of honour given to non-Jews who were instrumental in saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust (cf. Oskar Schindler).
Rumkowski: The controversial chairman of the Judenrat, who tried to stave off Jewish annihilation as long as possible, himself perished in Auschwitz.
Stiebel: A little room - designation used for a modest prayer house.
Yeshiva (pl. yeshivot): A school for training younger students in traditional Jewish sources, and older students in Talmud to prepare them as rabbis.
Wartegau: The German administrative district under the German occupation of Poland which Łódź was situated.
(MG: Oct. 2001)
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