25 October 2008

Poland: How Lodz became a casualty

Jewish genealogists researching Lodz, Poland will want to read "Ghettostadt: Lodz and the Making of a Nazi City," by Gordon J. Horwitz (Harvard/Belknap Press, 416 pp.,$29.95).

It was reviewed in the Boston Globe, by John Merriman, a Yale University history professor.

When German forces stormed into Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Lodz was the country's second-largest city and the second-largest Jewish community in Poland. The city's population was well over 600,000, including about 200,000 Jews, most quite poor. The German population of Lodz was about 60,000. The city would never be the same.

German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels proclaimed Lodz a hideous city, industrial, dirty, and diseased, because so many Jews lived there. The city was renamed Lodsch and the following April named Litzmannstadt, after a World War I general and fervent Nazi. Polish names had to go. The largest boulevard became Adolf-Hitler-Strasse.

Litzmannstadt was to be a modern city without Jews or other Poles, ready to welcome ethnic Germans from Soviet-occupied eastern Poland, Galicia, Estonia, and Latvia. Jews would be confined in a ghetto on the northern edge of the city, before being banished. In May 1940, 164,000 Jews lived in a ghetto no more than four kilometers square, barbed wire separating them from the rest of the city. The buildings they left behind were "decontaminated."

In 1941, a film crew recorded the efficient city: a park with pond and walkways, festivals, concerts, sports and a zoo of exotic animals.

The head of the Jewish community in 1939, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski coordinated the implementation of Nazi policies dealing with the Jews, and organized the ghetto, schools, hospitals, orphans and the elderly.

The ghetto was to pay for its upkeep. Gold, silver, currency, and jewelry confiscated from Jewish families and then sold would not be nearly enough. Hans Biebow served as the German director of the industrial work of the ghetto, working with Rumkowski. Biebow's obsession was to assure the productivity of the work force. Tailors, seamstresses, and other workers and more than 5,000 sewing machines would turn out uniforms, underwear, earmuffs, gloves, hats, boots and shoes (200,000 pairs in December 1942) for Nazi soldiers, and clothes for the German domestic market.

The review says:

"Ghettostadt" is wrenching, absolutely heartbreaking. We of course already know the horrific outcome. The Jews then remaining in the ghetto, hoping against hope, did not. Part of the sheer horror of it all is the recounting of daily life, amid disease, hunger, and death, each rumor generating waves of anxiety, anguish, and panic, particularly as deportations increased. ...

The 68,000 people remaining in the ghetto at the end of July 1944 were were taken away to be exterminated.

Read the complete article at the link above.

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