After the invasion of Poland in 1939 the Nazi party began work establish ghettos in cities that would house Jews and gypsies. Behind the Warsaw Ghetto, the one created in Lodz was the second largest ghetto set up.
Despite only being built as a temporary ghetto, the Lodz Ghetto steadily expanded in size over time. Used as a holding area before Jews would be sent to Auschwitz, tt was eventually so big that by 1944 it was made permanent.
At the time of its takeover in September 1939, very soon after the Nazi invasion of Poland, around one third (just under 700,000) of the population of Lodz were Jewish. The ghetto was first mentioned as a plan in December that year.
Two months later, on 8 February 1940, and it was declared by the Nazis that all the jews in Lodz would have to live in a designated area in the Old City. Fences were set up around the area and by 1 May 1940 it had been formally announced that the had no choice but to live in the ghetto, which was in turn cut off from the rest of the world.
At first there had been 47 schools operating in the area but these were declared illegal by the Nazi because they taught Jewish history and culture.
Police of the ghetto was extremely severe; anyone caught smuggling things in or out of the ghetto or found trying to escape would be shot on the spot. The Jews were also forbidden from making any kind of contact or communication with the outside world. There was even a special currency created for the Jews to use, which could not be used anywhere else, further isolating the ghetto and building their absolute reliance on the Nazis for supplies. Therefore the Jews in the Lodz ghetto were entirely reliant on the Nazis for food and essential supplies.
Chaim Rumkowski was the head of the Lodz Ghetto and he still seen as a controversial character. He divides opinion between those who accepted that he had no choice but to collaborate with the Nazis and those who are more critical of him and say he worked too closely with the oppressors.
As well as acting as a holding pen for the Polish ghetto, the Lodz Ghetto also became an important workshop, helping to manufacture things that the Nazis needed in their war effort. At its peak there were 117 workshops in operation in the ghetto, with adults working 12 hours a day in them.
The conditions in the ghetto were appalling. Food was severely rationed, diseases could break out at any moment and with minimal medical supplies available, death was common. Indeed, the population of the ghetto was around 164,000 but it is believed that 43,500 lost their lives because of disease or starvation. The steady flow of other Jews and gypsies coming in from other areas meant that population rarely dipped though.
In December 1941, the Nazis began deporting many people in the Lodz Ghetto, with around 55,000 sent away in just six months. The Nazis later demanded that 20,000 children were to be deported. This led to one of the more infamous moments in the ghetto’s history when Rumkowski pleaded with Jewish families to “give me your children”. Deportation stopped soon after these children were sent away and at this stage the population within the ghetto stood at roughly 70,000.
In 1943 Heinrich Himmler declared that he wanted to destroy Lodz Ghetto but because it was profitable the ghetto remained open for another year. Soon Himmler would get his wish though and the decision was made to shut down the Lodz Ghetto. In June and July 1944, there were around 7,000 Jews sent to their deaths at the Chelmno concentration camp. After this point most of the others were sent to Auschwitz/Birkenau and by the time the Russians liberated the city in January 1945 there were only 900 Jews still there.
"The Lodz Ghetto". HistoryLearning.com. 2023. Web.