Preserving the Lodz Ghetto Archives

by Michael J. Meshenberg


In contrast to most of the Jewish communities throughout Europe, a remarkable amount of documentation about the Lodz Ghetto has been preserved. There are, to this day, hundreds of thousands of pages of documents about life in the ghetto preserved in archives throughout the world.

Nachman Zonabend had been a resident of Lodz through the ghetto years, serving the ghetto administration as a mailman. As such, he was familiar with the entire district and its administrative offices. By August 1944, the ghetto population that had numbered as high as 250,000 had been reduced to just 877 people as a result of deportation by the Nazis and deaths from disease and starvation. Zonabend was among those remaining and was assigned responsibility to gather belongings of those who had been deported for packing and shipping. At great risk to himself, he slipped away from the work details on several occasions and gathered collections of documents. Some were specific items, such as a set of announcements of the Ghetto elder, Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski. Others were unknown, including several suitcases previously stuffed with documents that he found in the ghetto archives. All these items Zonabend hid in various places in the ghetto, burying some in jars, others in a dry well, which he covered with bedding strewn nearby hoping they would be kept safe from prying eyes and the elements.

Zonabend was among the very few survivors of the ghetto. After Lodz was liberated by the Red Army in January 1945, he returned to his hiding places and retrieved his treasures which, to his amazement, had not been ruined or discovered by the looters roaming the streets. All this material he kept in his apartment, working out a plan for their preservation with other survivors, until it was safe to remove them in 1947. They were initially transported to Sweden, where Zonabend settled, and eventually divided among YIVO and the other repositories, where they remain as a unique record of the second largest, and longest-lasting ghetto in Nazi occupied Europe.

The collection is vast and contains correspondence and mimeographed announcements and circulars, calendars, newspapers, statistical reports, charts, maps, reports, essays, albums, photographs, and personal documents relating to the organization, life, and destruction of the ghetto under Nazi rule, 1939-1944. Most are in German, with many in Polish and Yiddish.

References: See Lodz Bibliography section on the Holocaust period for references to the Yad Vashem (Michal Unger) and YIVO (Marek Web) collections, Zonabend’s own defense of his preservation efforts, and other related materials.

Michael J. Meshenberg
10 January 2000 Email:



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