A Jewish History of Lodz, Poland

by Daniel Kazez

Associate Professor, Wittenberg University
Springfield, Ohio, USA

26 March 1999

My own introduction to native Poland occurred on the streets of Chicago, in the summer of 1998. I emerged from the Cook County Circuit court, where I had finally found the naturalization records for my grandfather, Harry Talman, confirming what I had always thought: that he was born in Lodz, Poland. On the street, I hailed a cab and discovered that the driver's heavy accent was Polish: He was a recent immigrant, to the "New World" looking for opportunity, just as my grandfather had been when he arrived in Chicago back in 1902.

We spoke of Poland in general, but especially of Lodz. Among other things, he tried (unsuccessfully, I think) to teach me how to pronounce the name of this city. The short ride did not, of course, permit us even to dabble in the long history of this Lodz.

Omitting focus on the Jews of Lodz, the briefest possible history is this: The second largest city in Poland, Lodz was chartered in 1423. Control was taken by Prussia in 1793, Russia in 1815, and reasserted by Poland in 1919. Lodz was occupied by Germany during World War II.

The Jewish history of Lodz, reduced to one sentence, would tell of 150 years of robust growth (despite a myriad of anti-Jewish laws) followed by rapid slaughter at the hands of the Nazis (and, in part, an unsupportive Polish population). But the story of the Jews of Lodz deserves a longer telling:

The Jewish population of Lodz is eleven, almost 6% of the total.

Jews make up more than a third of the population: 259 out of 767. Jews are not permitted to acquire building properties or sell liquor.

A textile industry is founded, primarily by weavers from Silesia.

1 July 1827
Jews are given permission to acquire building sites and to build on these sites.

Samuel Ezekiel Salzmann (among others) promulgates Jews' rights to settle and establish themselves in Lodz.

The textile industry in Lodz is propelled forward by the introduction of steam-powered weaving looms.

The Czar (of Russia) abolishes laws restricting Jewish settlement in the cities of Poland.

The Czar permits Jews to settle throughout Lodz.

Arthur Rubinstein is born in Lodz. In the years to come, he will study piano in Warsaw, make his debut with the Berlin Symphony (1898), emigrate to the U.S.A., and establish himself as one of the finest pianists of the twentieth century.

The Jewish population of Lodz is nearly 400 times that in 1820, now 98,676 -- nearly a third of the total population of 310,302.

Lodz-born chess champion David Janowski receives an honorary gold medal upon his visit to his native city. Lodz-born artist Leopold Pilichowski receives a gold medal at the Paris Exposition, for his painting "The Wandering Jew."

As a manufacturing giant, Lodz is known as "the Manchester of Poland."

The first Hebrew secondary school (Gymnasium) in Poland/Russia is founded, in Lodz, by Markus (Mordecai) Braude.

One-third (175) of the city's factories are owned by Jews, as are more than a quarter (18,954) of the small workshops. Experiencing decades of growth, an expanding textile industry produces items made of wool, cotton, and other materials.

The first Yiddish school is established.

World War I
Lodz is badly damaged during the war.

Anti-Jewish laws and policies adversely affect Jews throughout Poland.

A Jewish population of 202,497 is a third of Lodz's total population (604,470).

8 September 1939
The German army occupies Lodz.

18 September 1939
Many anti-Jewish decrees are made:
  • All Jewish-owned bank accounts are blocked. Jewish cash holdings are restricted to 2,000 zlotys (under $400).
  • Jews are forbidden to engage in the textiles industry; Jewish businesses are expropriated by the Germans.
  • Jews are forbidden from using public transportation, may not leave the city without special permission and may not own cars or radios.
  • Synagogue services are forbidden.

13 October 1939
The Nazis appoint a Judenrat (Jewish Council), known in Lodz as an Altestenrat (Council of Elders), with Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski as head.

9 November 1939
Lodz is officially annexed to the Reich.

11 November 1939
The Commissioner of Lodz issues a decree to identify non-German shop owners:

"I hereby order all shops in the City of Lodz to immediately place a sign in their windows, at eye level, indicating whether the shopkeeper is German, Polish, or Jewish.... Violations will be severely punished."
15-17 November 1939
Germans destroy the synagogues of Lodz, including the Altschule, built in 1809.

17 November 1939
Jews are required to wear yellow badges on their clothing.

2 December 1939
The Chief of Police issues a decree to control Jewish access to transportation:

"It is hereby forbidden for all taxicabs, trucks, or vehicles of any kind to be driven on open roads by Jewish drivers."
Uebelhoer sends a confidential communication to the police:
"Jews must be placed in a closed ghetto.... We must succeed in drawing out all of the valuables squirreled away by the Jews.... It is obvious that the establishment of the ghetto is only a transitional measure. I reserve for myself the decision when and by what means the city of Lodz will be cleansed of Jews. In any case, the final aim must be to burn out entirely this pestilent abscess."
January 1940
Jews are forcibly segregated within Lodz.

8 February 1940
A Jewish ghetto-prison is established, consisting of 1.5 sq. mi. (4 sq. km.) of dilapidated buildings, without running water or sewers.

1 March 1940 ("Bloody Thursday")
The 164,000 Jews of Lodz are forced into the ghetto-prison. The Germans torture and kill as they herd the Jews in a bloody march.

11 April 1940
The German occupiers rename the city Litzmannstadt, after German general Karl Litzmann, who conquered Lodz during World War I.

1 May 1940
The Lodz ghetto becomes the first Polish ghetto to be sealed.

25 May 1940
Hans Biebow issues orders to establish factories in the Lodz ghetto-prison. Jewish slave labor will net the Germans an estimated profit of fourteen million dollars. Ninety-six factories are established, employing over seventy thousand Jewish slave laborers.

Early 1940s
Many inmates of the ghetto-prison die, felled by typhus fever, hypothermia, and starvation. Over 43,000 persons (nearly a quarter of the population) die from disease, cold, or lack of food.

30 January 1941
The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto reports a death, one of many:

"Chaim Bielajew has died from exhaustion, cold, and hunger at 6/8 Marysinska Street."

12 April 1941
The schutzpolizei kommando issues orders for the use of deadly force to control the movement and actions of the inmates of the ghetto-prison:

"Every Jew attempting to crawl through the wire of the ghetto fence or over it or to otherwise leave the ghetto without permission will be shot without warning.  

"Every Jew who throws any smuggled goods or money over the fence or who receives goods thrown over the fence will, when caught in the act, be shot without warning.

"Every Jew going to the fence after the curfew hour (9:00 PM) will be shot without warning."

17 May 1941
The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto reports a shooting by the sentries, one of many:

"On May 17, at 4:15 p.m., 49-year-old Mordka Moszkowicz was shot dead by a bullet fired by a sentry. The incident took place by the barbed wire at the intersection of Smugowa and Franciszkanska streets."

20 August 1941
Ghetto inmate David Sierakowiak, in his diary, describes the health of the Jewish community:

"Almost everywhere there are signs of tuberculosis: it's getting worse all the time. Some people arrived this week from Warsaw, and they speak of the horrible situation there. Still, none of them has that dreadful pasty tubercular skin seen here. The cadavers walking around the streets give the entire ghetto that pale, musty, tubercular look."

16 January 1942 to May 1942
Fifty-five thousand Jews and all five thousand Roma (or "Gypsies") in the ghetto-prison are deported, then murdered in gas vans at the Chelmno extermination camp.

September 1942
Nazis demand that all children and old people be surrendered. In the 10 days after Rumkowski's public speech, 20,000 children and old people are deported to the Chelmno extermination camp.

1 September 1942
More than two thousand patients are deported to the Chelmno extermination camp from the Lodz Hospital, including 400 children and eighty pregnant women. Eighteen patients try to escape and are shot.

1 October 1942
The population of the ghetto is now cut by half, to 89,446, due in part to the systematic extermination of children under age 11, adults over 60 and the sick.

August 1943
The ghetto-prison becomes a de facto labor camp, with 90% of the inmates working in 119 factories. Generally, the need for orphanages, hospitals and schools ceases.

23 June 1944
Deportations to the Chelmno death camp resume.

30 August 1944
The last transport leaves Lodz, having by now taken 76,701 to Auschwitz. The ghetto-prison in Lodz is the last in Poland to be liquidated.

Fall 1944
Eight hundred Jews remain in Lodz, a group known as the Aufräumungskommando ("tidying-up detachment"). They collect the possessions of the dead and deported inmates of the ghetto-prison and they collect the equipment of the factories. Each day, fifty to sixty freight cars filled with these items leave for Germany.

19 January 1945
The Soviet army liberates the Lodz ghetto-prison. Fewer than 800 Jews are found still living, out of an original population of 180,000.

Late 1946
50,000 Jews resettle in Lodz, most from the Soviet Union.

Half the Jewish population of Lodz leaves Poland.

Most remaining Jews leave for Israel.

Nearly all remaining Jews leave Poland.

Miriam Weiner, a leading expert on the Jewish communities of Poland, reports the status of the Jewish community in Lodz:

"In the immediate postwar period, some 38,000 Jews settled in Lodz, making it Poland's most important Jewish community. However, confronted by economic hardship, political violence, repression and anti-Jewish hostility, most of this community emigrated. After the 'Anti-Zionist' campaign of 1968-1970, only several hundred Jews remained in Lodz, with a single synagogue and cultural club." In Miriam Weiner, Jewish Roots in Poland: Pages from the Past and Archival Inventories (Secaucus, NJ: Miriam Weiner Routes to Roots Foundation and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 1997).

Facts and figures drawn from:
Adelson, Alan and Robert Lapides. Lodz Ghetto: Inside a Community under Siege. (New York: Viking, 1989.)
Berenbaum, Michael. The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1993.)
Dobroszycki, Lucjan. The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto: 1941-1944. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984.)
Encyclopaedia Judaica. (Jerusalem: Keter, 1971.)
Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. (New York: Macmillan, 1990.)
Gilbert, Martin. Atlas of the Holocaust. (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1988, 1993.)
The Jewish Encyclopedia. (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1904.)
The New Columbia Encyclopedia. (New York: Columbia University, 1975.)
The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia. (New York: 1942.)


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