The Lodzer Centre in Melbourne has been in existence for over 20 years. During this period of time, the Centre was active in various fields. However, particular attention has been given to the commemoration of the City of Lodz and its Jewish inhabitants, the martyrs of the Second World War.
The publication of this book is one of the forms of fulfilling this aim.
Jewish Lodz comprises original works, memories, poems, documents, and photographs, all of them depicting the life of this Jewish City as it was before the war, in the ghetto and after the war.
A special part of the book commemorates the names of our dearest who perished during the war.
Due to financial difficulties the book is in Yiddish only. However, it includes a small section in Hebrew and an article in English which gives a short history of the Jewish Lodz.
The book is mainly the work of the members of the Lodzer Centre in Melbourne and does not pretend to be the Yiskor book of the Jewish Lodz. It is a modest contribution of the Lodzer who reside in Melbourne to the sacred work of the commemorating our city and its inhabitants.
It should also serve as a memento for the young generation lest they forget.
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Cooperation between the minorities proved to be the best form of defense against the Polish nationalism, and consequently there ensued a long period of collaboration between the Jews and the Germans at the time of elections to the Polish Parliament and the Municipal Authorities.
Later, in the 1930's, under the influence of Nazism, most of the Germans became antiSemitic once again.
As regards the Polish population, it has been permeated with antiJewish feelings from time immemorial. Their antiSemitism sometimes weakening, sometimes gaining strength, never completely faded away.
There was an organization called Rozwoj the purpose of which was to induce an economic boycott of the Jews. The Poles were urged to avoid Jewish shops, Jewish professionals etc.
AntiSemitism was very often inspired by the central Government. To make the economic oppression more effective, legislation was passed forcing the Jews to keep their shops and factories closed on a Sunday. Thus, the religious Jews had to observe two days of rest, which, very often, was ruinous for them.
One of the forms of the economic oppression was the system of taxation from which the Jews suffered most.
All governmental offices were occupied by Poles and so were the municipal offices. Only at times when the Polish Socialist Labour Party was successful in winning the municipal elections were a token number of Jews employed in some secondrate official positions, and some of the Jewish institutions received subsidies from the Municipal Authority.
The Jewish political, cultural and social life in Lodz was very rich and versatile. There exited all possible Jewish parties, groups and organizations, Zionist and nonZionist. There was the Zionist Organization whose leaders Dr. J. Rosenblat and Dr. M. Braude were members of the Polish Parliament for several terms. Around this Organization, concentrated the ‘Keren Kajemeth Leisrael’, ‘Keren Hajesod’, the women's organization ‘WIZO’ and various other groups. There was the ‘Aguda’ a religious party, whose leader, Leib Mincberg was also a member of the Polish parliament. There were the ‘Mizrachi’, ‘Poalei Zion Right’, ‘Poalei Zion Left’ and the ‘Bund’. All these parties had their representatives in the Municipal Council.
There were all kinds of Youth Organizations, the Zionist Jardenia (later Hanoar Hazyoni), Gordonia, Hashomer Hatzair, Freiheit and Betar, Jugend, Hashomer Hadati, the Bund youth Cukunft, the sports clubs, BarKochba, Hakoah, Kadimah, Hasmonea and others.
There were Jewish theatres (the famous Ararat here took its origin), ‘Hazomir’ a society for music, the Choir ‘Shir’, the Borochov's and the Grosser's People's Libraries.
The Jewish community in Lodz distinguished itself in the field of social and charitable work. The Jewish magnates were very generous donors. The names of Israel Poznanski, the founder of one of the greatest hospitals in Lodz (known as the Poznanski's Hospital), Zygmunt Jarocinski, the founder of a very good technical school and Herman Konsztat, the founder of orphanages, homes for elderly people and many other institutions, were well known to the Jewish population in Poland. There were hundreds of others who devoted their lives to creating and conducting a great number of social, health and charitable institutions like loan societies, clinics or provident funds. Many other personalities could be mentioned like the big industrialists, Osher Kon, the owner of Widzewska Manufactura, Naum Eitingon and Kestenberg. Their genius created employment opportunities for thousands of workers.
The Jews of Lodz were those who invented the Vicugna cloth; a mixture made of all kinds of textile waste. Due to the cheap price of the Vicugna cloth, the products of Lodz could compete on the world market.
Some of the best High Schools in Poland were the First and the Second Jewish High School for Boys and the Jewish High School for Girls. These schools were founded and maintained by the Jewish Society for High schools in Poland, whose headquarters were in Lodz. There was, of course, a number of other Jewish High Schools (one of them was founded and managed by the poet, Izchak Kacenelson), primary schools of Cisho and Shulkuit (organizations who cared for the Jewish secular education), Hebrew High School ‘Jabne’ and a variety of all kinds of religious schools.
We have already mentioned that two Polish daily papers, namely Glos Foranny (The Morning Voice) and Republika (The Republic), were widely read by the Jewish population. There were also published various dailies in Yiddish. Two of them, the Lodzer Tageblat and Lodzer Folksblat survived until the beginning of the Second World War.
Jewish Lodz was proud to have had among
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its inhabitants, a number of famous personalities. In Lodz was born and here wrote his first poems, one of the greatest Polish poets, Julian Tuwim. Julian Tuwim's poems were written in Polish, but he was proud of his Jewish origin.
Lodz was also the home of those creative poets and writers such as Izchak Kacenelson, Moshe Broderson, David Fryszman, Zusman Segalowicz, H.D. Nomberg and a galaxy of others.
In the field of music, Lodz has given the world Artur Rubinstein.
In the field of art and painting, the Jewish Lodz had Artur Szyk, Maurycy Hirszenberg, Leopold Pulichowski, Ichok Brauner and Yankel Adler.
The city of Lodz was treated by the Central Government of Poland as a Cinderella, possibly because of its Jewishness and also because it was a city of workers. However, despite all difficulties, including a natural deficiency (lack of natural supply of water), the city kept growing and so did the Jewish community.
The oncoming storm was first heralded by the Polish Jews who were deported from Hitler's Germany in 1933. They were forcibly expelled as ‘Ost Juden’ to a Polish frontier township, Zbaszyn. Some of them arrived in Lodz. The Polish Government was unwilling to admit them, but as the Jews were Polish citizens, the Government had no option. It was painful to see the uprooted ‘Ost Juden’ (as the Germans called them), trying to rebuild their lives in ‘Motherland’ Poland. The antiSemitism in Poland grew stronger and stronger. After the death of Jozef Pilsudski (the first head of the Polish State after the First World War), his successors in their endeavor to retain power, did not hesitate to use the old proven weapon of antiSemitism in order to compete with the other antiSemitic political parties in the fight for the support of the antiSemitic Polish population.
The Polish Government imposed the prohibition of the ‘Shechita’. The Prime Minister Skladkowski officially proclaimed an economic boycott. In the universities, where there was already in existence numerous clauses, a rule was introduced which made the acceptance of Jewish students even more difficult.
The Polish students attempted to herd the Jewish students into the socalled ghetto benches. By force of legislation introduced in a summary way, young Jewish lawyers were prevented from becoming advocates. They were never given the chance to be judges. Here and there the Jews were molested in the streets and in some cities pogroms took place.
The situation of the Jews in Lodz was worse than in other cities. The German population opted quite manifestly for Hitler. The Polish population, even the working class, was antiSemitic. There were more and more excesses against the Jews.
The stability of the Jewish population in Poland started to crumble. More and more Jews were leaving Poland, and more and more Jewish inhabitants of Lodz were leaving the city. Jewish students left the city to study in France, Belgium and Italy, never to return.
The number of candidates to go to Eretz Israel was growing, but the Aliya was limited by the number of available certificates issued by the English Government.
The writing was on the wall, but nobody could foresee the extent of the looming catastrophe. No one could find any solution to the situation.
It took some time before the Polish Government realized that its flirtation with the Nazis was suicidal. In the last months before the 1939 war, the Polish Government called for national unity. Even the Jews were included in this call to unity.
The Jews demonstrated their patriotism by generous donations to the Air Force, by volunteering for the Army and taking part in the preparation of civil defense. However, it was too late. On the first day of September, 1939 the Germans invaded Poland. The struggle was brief. On the 8th day of September, 1939 the German Army entered Lodz, and this was the beginning of the German occupation and of the most tragic period in the Jewish history of Lodz.
The persecution of the Jews commenced almost immediately after the German Army entered Lodz.
All Jewish bank accounts were frozen and later confiscated. The Jews were ordered to give up jewelry and gold. It was prohibited to hold more than $2,000 Zloty. The Jews were not permitted to use public transport, and despite the fact that a number of Jews lived in Piotrkowska Street (the main street of the city); they were not allowed to enter this street. There was a curfew for the Jews and after 5:00 p.m. no Jew was allowed to leave his residence.
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The Jewish population was subjected to all kinds of humiliations.
They were attacked and assaulted, rounded up in the streets and forced to carry out various manual work, very often unproductive.
There were many instances of armed robberies. Under pretense of searching for hidden arms, Jewish dwellings were searched and various goods taken away.
In order to strike terror, the Germans murdered a number of Jewish leaders and individuals. Others were taken away to camps, from where they never came back.
I n October 1939 the Germans appointed Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski, as chairman of a Jewish Council called Judenrat.
In November of the same year, all Jews were ordered to wear a yellow armband so that they could easily be recognized and thus discriminated against. This yellow armband was shortly thereafter replaced by a yellow Star of David pinned to both the front and back of any clothing worn by the Jews.
The two great Synagogues which were the pride of the Jewish community in Lodz were burnt down, as were all others.
The name of the city was changed to Litzmanstat to commemorate an obscure German General who happened to conquer Lodz in the First World War. The change of the name was not merely symbolic. From now on the City of Lodz was to be a German city. It was incorporated into the Third Reich and every effort was made to force the Jewish population out of the town even before they were pushed into the Ghetto.
In February 1940, the Germans announced the creation of a ghetto in the most neglected part of the town, the ‘Baluty’.
To ‘facilitate’ the transfer from the inner city to the ghetto the Jews were deprived of almost all of their belongings. Attacks on the Jews in the main streets of the city increased so that panic set in. Many Jews left the inner city for the ghetto voluntarily, hoping to recover some of their property.
On the first day of May, 1940 the ghetto was hermetically closed. Every 50 meters a German policeman was placed on guard. Hans Bibow, a merchant of Bremen, was appointed the head of the ghetto, which was converted into a little state with its own police, money, prison, post and various other departments. Of course it was only a caricature of a state. The only official representative of the population was Chaim Rumkowski. The Jews called him der Kaiser fon Ghetto.
What was the purpose of creating the ghetto? Was the Germans' initial intention only to exploit the Jewish manpower for the warmachine or did they see the ghetto as a means of liquidation of the Jewish population, as a step to the final solution?
Chaim Rumkowski believed that by cooperating with the Germans and by sacrificing part of the population, he would be able to save the remaining part. He regarded himself as savior of the Jews. After all, in August 1944, when the fate of the Germans was actually sealed, there were still over 68,000 Jews in the Ghetto.
The Jewish population clung to Rumkowski's belief and therefore, the main aim was to fight for survival. This fight for survival was carried out with Jewish stubbornness, optimism and spirit.
Despite the appalling conditions in the ghetto, the Jewish population managed to organize some kind of cultural life. Concerts were given by an orchestra. There were two choirs; a review theatre Die Avangarde (The Vanguard) was created. There was a puppet theatre and a lending library.
At Krawiecka Street, a Cultural Centre was opened where many different functions took place. There were also some sporting events. The cultural activities gave the population some sense of stability and strengthened the will to survive.
It was the Germans' intention to isolate the Jews completely from the outside world, and therefore no radio was allowed in the ghetto. The crime of possessing a radio, listening to the news or distributing the news was punishable by death. In spite of that, a group of Jewish activists operated an illegal radio, and distributed the news amongst the population to boost up the morale of the inhabitants.
It took the Germans four years to discover the illegal radio. All the offenders were arrested and put to death. Chaim Widawski was the only one to escape, but gave himself up, so preventing the Germans from taking hostages.
The ghetto was cut off from the whole world. It had its own money, the socalled ‘Rumkes’ but the inhabitants could buy nothing for this money. T hey had their post, but this could not work without the Germans. Their houses, businesses and belongings had been confiscated even before they entered the ghetto. The only thing they could sell was their intelligence, enterprise and labour. Thus, various factories, called ‘resorts’ were
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created where thousands of workers were employed. On the first day of September, 1941, two years after the outbreak of war, 40,288 workers were employed in 107 ‘resorts’. But they had no land to till. Food had to be ‘imported’ into the ghetto, with the Germans' permission. As a result, the ghetto hungered and thousands of people died of starvation.
Even though the ghetto was grossly overcrowded, thousands of Jews from little townships like Zgierz, Strykow, Ozorkow, Brzeziny, and Wielun managed to find their way there or were forced there. As the population in the ghetto increased, the greater was the hunger. The natural death toll reached frightful dimensions. It became evident that within the next few years, the whole Jewish population would perish. However, as the events proved, this process of perishing was too slow for the Germans. Already in the beginning of 1942 the Germans started to realize their devilish plan to liquidate the entire Jewish population.
The first death camp was created in the township Chelmno some 60 kilometers from Lodz. Apparently the process of extermination was then in the experimental stage. The liquidation of the Jews was being done by means of constructed motor vehicles turned into gas chambers especially designed for this purpose. To entice the Jews into these vehicles, the Germans assured them this was only a resettlement program for their own benefit, in order to give those better conditions of work. In this way, the Germans killed 44,000 Jews in Chelmno.
The final liquidation commenced in August 1944. By this time, there were still in the ghetto 68,615 Jews, a quarter of the number of the Jews who were in the ghetto at its creation. The East front was moving closer and closer to the city of Lodz, and the Germans decided to speed up the process of liquidation of the Jews. However, it was much harder now to deceive them.
It was announced that the entire Jewish population of the ghetto would be ‘evacuated’ from the ‘war theatre’, so that it would not fall into the ‘enemies’ hands.
The evacuation was to embrace also the machines, raw materials and manufactured goods. Hans Bibow personally tried to persuade the Jews to cooperate in the evacuation. However, the Jews did not believe him anymore, and many of them exercised passive resistance. Some of them were fortunate to find a hideout, but the majority was forcibly ‘evacuated’. The Germans left only a small number of Jews in the ghetto whose task it was to ‘clean’ the ghetto.
In January 1945 the Germans decided to liquidate even them. On the 11th January the Jews were ordered to dig large graves in the Jewish cemetery. A few days later German trucks arrived in the ghetto in order to take the remaining Jews to the cemetery and to liquidate them. However, they could not find a single soul.
The ‘cleaners’ had joined the other Jews who were already hiding in various places.
In another few days the city of Lodz was liberated. The ghetto was freed but there were no Jews in it except for the survivors scattered in various hideouts.
After the War
The City of Lodz was liberated on the 19th January, 1945. Almost immediately, the survivors began to organize Jewish life in Lodz. Very soon Jews started to arrive from forests, camps, bunkers and areas which had been liberated earlier.
A Jewish Committee consisting of representatives of various groups was founded and commenced its activities in various spheres of life.
Due to the fact that Warsaw was almost completely destroyed, and also due to Lodz's central position and relative proximity to Warsaw, Lodz became for a while the actual capital of Poland. For the same reason a number of central Jewish organizations and institutions were concentrated here.
In Lodz, at Narutowicz Street, No. 25, was the first seat of the Central Jewish Historical Commission. Here was established the Central Jewish Press as well as the central committees of all Jewish parties.
Meanwhile Warsaw was rebuilt, and gradually all these central institutions transferred back to the capital. However, some of them, like the headquarters of Keren Kajemet, Keren Hajesod, the Society of the Friends of Hebrew University and some of the central periodicals published by various Jewish political parties, remained in Lodz.
The Jewish Committee in Lodz or strictly speaking, the Jewish committee for the province of Lodz, was, of course, a local institution.
The Jews returned to their home city to find that their homes were already occupied by the Poles who, being on the spot. Quickly seized the dwellings left by the fleeing Germans. As a result
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of the new political situation, all buildings were being managed by the local authorities, and there were no landlords from whom one could rent an apartment. Any dwelling together with furniture had to be allocated to particular people. Therefore, the Jewish Committee had to fight for allocation of flats and furniture to the newcomers.
The Jewish population in Lodz fluctuated. Some Jews would not stay very long after arrival. Their main aim was to seek out their families and perhaps to recover part of their property left in 1939. These Jews left after a short stay and move further west.
However, there were a substantial number of others who decided to stay in Poland for good. They believed in the new order which promised to everybody equal rights, irrespective of creed, class or nationality. It was necessary to create for them a means of livelihood. As the majority had no qualifications, which would fit the existing economic system, this was not an easy task.
With the help of the Joint and the Polish Government, the Committee created a number of cooperatives where hundreds of Jews found employment. To assist those who could and wished to start a small business of their own, a credit bank was established.
Very soon, a Jewish School was organized. The renowned Orphanage House in Helenowek was reactivated. The Jewish Theatre started to give performances in the previous cinema Czary. When Ida Kaminska and Meir Melman returned from the Soviet Union, the theatre under their management had become one of the best theatres in Poland. The Jewish community, proud of the theatre, donated large sums of money for the erection of a special building in Lodz to house it. The theatre was later, as all other institutions, transferred to Warsaw.
The political system was not very conducive to the revival of the Jewish religious life. The religious Jews had a very slim chance to survive the war. Most of the Jews who survived were rather indifferent to religion. However, despite the unfavorable conditions, religious life was reawakening. A small religious congregation was formed at 66 Zachodnia street where were situated the administrative offices and the Synagogue.
In contrast, the Jewish political life thrived. The diminutive Jewish community displayed unprecedented political and social vigor. Of course, some parties, like Aguda and other religious groups disappeared completely from the scene. Some others, like a small group of the socalled Revisionists (followers of Zabotynski) were forced to go underground. Others had to modify their programs.
The Zionist parties and to some degree the Bund, were only tolerated and therefore, limited in their political activities. The new Zionist Organization assumed after the war the name Ichud. To carry on the Zionist activity was rather like performing on a tightrope. On the other hand, for various political reasons, it suited the Polish Government to present to the outside world a harmoniously working Jewish community, and therefore some political compromise was achieved.
The Jewish Committee in Lodz, like the Central Committee in Warsaw, was composed of representatives of the Communist P.P.R. (the Polish Workers' Party), the Bund, the alreadymentioned Ichud, ‘Poaleizion Left’ and ‘Right’ and ‘Hashomer Hatzair’. There were also a number of nonparty members on the Committee.
Due to the political climate, the P.P.R. group had the upper hand. The Zionists, however, acting in unison provided some kind of balance of power.
The P.P.R. and Bund devoted their activities to creating a new economical and social structure for the Jewish people. Zionist groups were rather lukewarm cooperators in this field. Their real aim was an aliya to Erez Israel. There was in fact an incessant migration from Poland, partly spontaneous, but mostly organized by the Zionist groups. There were Kibbutzim and Hachsharas. The perennial question at the meetings of the Jewish Committee was always whether the Committee should support the Kibbutzim, even though they were independently supported by the Joint. Even in this matter, a compromise was usually achieved. This was to change shortly.
While the attitude of the Polish Government was to some degree sympathetic to the postwar Jewish problems (a remarkable departure from the prewar climate), the disposition of the Polish population did not alter very much. Part of the Polish community was infected by the Nazi antiSemitism. Some of the Poles resented the Jews trying to recover their property. Others did not reconcile themselves with the new system, and as the new Government was friendly towards the Jews, they identified the Government with the Jews and hated both.
The war hostilities ceased but the lives of the Jewish citizens were still in danger. There were attacks on the Jews, particularly on the roads. For some time, it was dangerous for the Jews to travel
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in a car between Lodz and Warsaw. There were excesses in Krakow. Then there was a pogrom in Kielce. This was the event which shattered the hopes of those who believed that they could rebuild their lives in the new Poland. After the pogrom in Kielce, thousands of Jews decided to leave Poland legally or illegally, and the Polish Government turned a blind eye to this trend. No passports or visas were necessary. One had only to cross the border at a certain point. The direction was mostly the refugee camps in West Germany as a transit to aliya to Eretz Israel.
The Jewish population in Poland began to diminish considerably and so did the Jewish community in Lodz.
The political events in the world had, of course, their bearing on the situation in Poland. In November, 1947 the United Nations Assembly passed its resolution about the partition of Palestine into two states, the Jewish and Arab. On the 14th May, 1948 the State of Israel was proclaimed. The Polish Government was one of those who voted for the resolution. For the Jews in Lodz, these were memorable moments. The activities of the Zionist groups gained strength. The Polish Government not only tolerated this activity, but even showed some sympathy. A Polish ship loaded with wheat purchased by the money of the K.K.L. and K.H. went on its way to Israel.
However, this idyll did not last long. In 1949, under the influence of the trends in the Soviet Union, a decision was taken by the Polish rulers to liquidate all Zionist parties. The Bund was liquidated, even earlier by a forced fusion with P.P.R. The Jewish committees were dissolved, and in their place a new association was formed under the name of the Jewish Cultural and Social Society which consisted members of P.Z.P.R. (this was then name of the Polish Communist Party after the fusion of P.P.R. with the Polish Socialist Party) and a number of nonparty members. The activity of the Jewish Committee in Lodz, in the cultural and social fields continued to some degree by the new association. The Jewish school in Lodz still existed, but the number of students fell down to a minimum. The Jewish Theatre still gave splendid performances, but the Jewish audiences were dwindling. The rich and colorful political life ceased to exist. The Jewish weekly Dos Naje Leben was no longer published. It was replaced by the political organ of the P.Z.P.R. The Folkstimme. The publishing of the Zionist periodicals was prohibited.
Later, the political horizon became clouded, and a period of Stalinist terror followed. There were political arrests and the Jewish community faced a bleak future. Fortunately, Stalin died in 1953. Again a short period of relative freedom followed. The Polish border was reopened, and thousands of Jews seized this opportunity to leave Poland.
Despite this new exodus, the Jewish Society continued its activity enjoying the support of the Polish government. The ‘Six Days War’ changed the situation, Wladyslaw Gomulka, the then Secretary of the P.Z.P.R., accused the Jews of being the fifth column in Poland. A new and painful, period commenced for the Jewish remnants. An incessant antiJewish propaganda in the television, radio and the press, masked as antiZionist movement, created an intolerable atmosphere.
Many Jews were removed from their positions without any justification. Ironically, some of them have never identified themselves with the Jews. They were deprived of Polish citizenship and were forced to declare that they were leaving Poland for Israel, irrespective of where they intended to go.
In Lodz, there remained only a handful of Jews, and so ended the history of the Jewish community in Lodz.
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