Chaim Rumkowski

Chaim Rumkowski

Chaim Rumkowski was appointed as the chief of the Council of Elders in the Lodz Ghetto by the Nazis. The role of Rumkowski in the Holocaust is controversial. Some argue that he abused his power and worked closer with the Nazis than he needed to so he could increase his own power, while others state that Rumkowski had no alternative but to collaborate with the Nazis who controlled the ghetto.

Born on 27 February 1877, Chaim Rumkowski was a Jewish businessman and prior to the Nazis swift invasion of Poland in 1939 he had run an orphanage. Like all the other Jews in the Polish city of Lodz, Rumkowski was sent to live in the ghetto and while he was there the Germans made him the head of the ghetto’s Jewish council, which was created to help run the area.

Rumkowski was of the opinion that the Jews best chance was to prove their worth to the Nazi and they would do this by providing manual labour - they could help manufacture things the Nazis needed for their war effort.

He remains a controversial character because of the power he acquired within the ghetto, which such that he earned the nickname as the ‘King Chaim’. Many argue that he and those who supported him did not suffer in the terrible conditions of the ghetto like many of the other Jews.

Rumkowski worked to show Hans Biebow, who was the most senior Nazi administrator in Lodz, that the working being done with the ghetto was valuable to the Germans. In April 1940 this led to the Jews making military equipment and in return for this they would receive food.

While people state that he formed too strong and beneficial of a relationship with the Nazi, at the same time had Rumkowski not collaborated with the Nazis then it is likely that the Jews would have been killed soon, rather than being allowed to work in the ghetto.

Also in his favour is the fact that under Rumkowski's leadership there were seven hospitals and five medical clinics established in the Lodz Ghetto, although medicine was always in short supply. He also helped to establish 47 schools, although these were later closed.

Most people came to accept the slogan “Labour Is Our Only Way”, which Rumkowski used to demonstrate that the Jews’ only chance was prove their worth to the Nazis through manual labour.

Rumkowski also had the unforgiving task of carrying out the deportations - the sending of the Jews in the ghetto to death camps. One of Rumkowski’s equivalents, Adam Czerniakow, who headed up the council in the Warsaw Ghetto took his own life because of the guilt he felt about sending the Jews away to their deaths (he had believed at first that they were being resettled). The most notable moment of his enforcement of the deportations was when he had to send 20,000 children away from the Lodz Ghetto, in which he made the ‘Give Me Your Children’ speech to encourage parents to hand over their children.

As they did with the death camps, when it became clear that the Nazis were going to be defeated they set about demolishing the ghettos.

Exactly what happened to Rumkowski is not known but it is believed that he was sent to Auschwitz in early August 1944 because he did not want his brother to be deported by himself. He was incredibly weak by the time he arrived, according to survivors from the camp who recognised him from their time in the ghetto, and it is believed that he died on 28 August 1944.

MLA Citation/Reference

"Chaim Rumkowski". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: Chaim Rumkowski
Birth Date: 27 February 1877,
Death: 28 August 1944 (aged 67),
Nationality: Polish
Known for: Head of Council of Elders in Lodz Ghetto