Monumentum Iudaicum Lodzense Foundation
Foundation in Memory of the Jews of Lodz
following article, dated February 26, 1999, is reprinted here courtesy
The Australian Jewish News - Melbourne and was contributed by
Mary Blumenstein of Australia.
The Lodz Archives
Barbara Celler is one of the few
Jews still living in post-Shoah Lodz. She has been visiting Melbourne,
and spoke with Dan Goldberg about the city today, and her efforts to help
reclaim its Jewish past.
DATE: September 1, 1939. The place: Poland, home to 3,300,000 Jews, the
largest Jewish community in Europe. And Lodz, its second largest city,
housed some 230,000 Jews, one in three of the city's population.
in the wake of Hitler's Final Solution, only 5,000 Jews remain in Poland
-- a mere 200 in Lodz.
is one of those last remaining Jews of Lodz. Her father survived as a 10-year-old
boy who was hidden by a Polish family in the basement of their house.
And now, his
daughter, Ms. Celler, 41, and a lawyer by profession, is Economic Advisor
to Tadeusz Matuszak, the President of the City of Lodz. More importantly,
her position has allowed her access to the city's archives, opening the
door to some of the most comprehensive archives from the war era -- documents
that have lain dormant for over 50 years.
"I am the first
Jew in the municipality. Over the last three years, I have worked to restore
Jewish culture and heritage.
And since the archives are housed
in the basement of the municipality building, I was in a position to act,"
she told the Australian Jewish News.
Reclaiming Jewish LandWIKTOR Celler, Barbara's brother, is
a Polish solicitor -- and one of the legal representatives of Israel's
United Restitution Organisation in Poland.
If it can be proven
that property belonged to Jews prior to September 1, 1939, Mr. Celler takes
the issue to the Polish courts in an attempt to reclaim the land and transfer
it back into Jewish hands.
In May 1996,
he managed to recover -- after a five-year wrangle -- the Lodz Jewish Community
Centre building, the hub of the community during its golden age when around
230,000 Jews lived there. Now, the community's modest offices have been
moved back into the building and they offer a daily free meal to the elderly.
"He has retrieved
around 20 properties belonging to individual Jews," added Ms. Celler. "If
there is no living family member, the property cannot be returned."
Balter is one of Mr. Celler's cases. His parents owned a house in the Polish
town of Ostrowiec prior to the war.
"I lived there
until my 20's," Mr. Balter told the AJN.
His case is currently
going through the Polish courts and, in theory, so long as Mr. Balter can
prove that he is the descendant of his parents, the property he grew up
in as a child will be returned to its rightful owner.
are 12 very large rooms of documents. They are all paper documents. We
have maybe 20 people working on the archives," explained Ms. Celler, who
arrived in Australia this month as a guest of Melbourne's Abraham Cykiert,
a survivor of the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz.
It was a chance meeting. "I went to Poland to negotiate on behalf of the
Hebrew University with a local author who had written a book about the
lost quarter of the city of Lodz," Mr. Cykiert told the AJN.
"Next year we
will show the whole world what actually happened in the Lodz Ghetto"
"I had arranged
with Hebrew University to see if it was worthwhile to publish it as a
handbook for secondary schools.
"So I went to
Poland to talk to the author. I asked him if he knew of a family I could
stay with. I ended up with the Celler family."
As soon as Mr.
Cykiert discovered that Ms. Celler was not only economic advisor to the
president of the city, but had uncovered astonishing documents that shed
light on the Lodz Ghetto, he knew her story would be one worth telling
to Australian Jewry.
Why are these
archives arguably the most comprehensive of all the Holocaust records?
"Lodz was the
only ghetto that became a German business," explained Mr. Cykiert, a messenger
boy in the ghetto at the age of 16. "I had to deliver papers to the secretary
of the head of the Lodz Ghetto Judenrat, Chaim Rumkowsky.
"It became a
Pty Ltd. At its peak the Lodz Ghetto made $100,000 per day for the Germans.
"Many more people
survived the Lodz Ghetto because it was a business. The Germans did not
want the ghetto liquidated until mid-1944," explained Mr. Cykiert. "There
were some 68,000 Jews left in 1944 before we were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
"So some 8-10,000
Jews are survivors. No other ghetto has that number of survivors."
team of 20 archivists sifting through the deluge of papers,
it is a process that will take some time yet to chronicle. But Ms. Celler
and her staff have already made some remarkable discoveries.
"One day, at
the beginning of 1997, we found documents about Jewish gold which was transported
to Germany," recalled Ms. Celler. "It went to a firm, which exists until
this day, Degussa.
"This firm actually
melted the Jews' gold which went, first, to the National Reichsbank, and
then on to Switzerland. The archives detail the whole process.
discovered the transportation lists of the Jews from the Czech Republic
and other countries in Western Europe.
"Last year, when Czech
President Vaclav Havel visited Poland, we gave him a copy of the list of
the 5,000 Jews of Prague who were deported to the Lodz Ghetto between 1941-42.The
list had never been found before.
"Now we have found
the transportation lists from Vienna, from Luxembourg, from Hamburg. There
is even a list of every Jew who was in the Lodz Ghetto."
Clearly, these discoveries
are just the tip of the iceberg.
"We are in the formative
stages of organising the archives. Next year we will show the whole world
what actually happened in the Lodz Ghetto. We plan to house the archives
in a permanent exhibition in a museum. The foundation decided that the
archives must be housed in a Jewish museum in Lodz because no such institution
"All documents will
be copied because the original documents must remain in the archives. We
would like to house the museum on the main street in Lodz and we will ask
the president of the city for a building on the main boulevard and request
funding from the municipality."
In addition to her
work at the municipality, Ms. Celler -- as a trustee of the Monumentum
Iudaicum Lodzense Foundation (the Memorial Foundation of the Jews of Lodz),
established in 1995 to save the cemetery and other remains of Jewish culture
in Lodz -- recently initiated the idea to make the Lodz Jewish Cemetery
a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The cemetery, established
in 1892, is the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe with around 180,000 graves,
of which some 43,000 belong to Jews who died in the ghetto. Ms. Celler
proposed the idea at the end of 1998 to the president of the foundation,
Arnold Mostowicz, himself a survivor of the Lodz Ghetto.
As a result, it has
now been formally tabled in the Polish parliament by the Polish minister
of culture and, if passed, will be signed by Polish President Kwasniewski
before being presented to UNESCO for approval.
In respect of her efforts
both in the municipality and at the foundation, Ms. Celler was awarded
the 6th Annual Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial Prize in 1998.
During her month-long
stay in Australia, Ms. Celler has given lectures to the Australian
Jewish Genealogical Society, the Volunteers of the Holocaust Centre, the
Friends of Hebrew University, and the Australian Institute of Polish Affairs.
She was also interviewed by SBS Radio.
Ms. Celler departs
Australia at the end of February.
Australian Jewish News - Melbourne
Centre in Australia
Mr. Josef Wiesenfeld
Tel: 61 3 9531 9086
Monumentum Iudaicum Lodzense
ul. Piotrkowska 104
Lodz 90926, Poland
Tel: ( 0 42) 38 40 80, Fax: (0
42) 38 41 24
United Restitution Organization
18 Gruzenberg St.
Tel Aviv 65811
(Recovery of Jewish communal
from the Foundation: April 19, 1999
Thank you for the information
about Lodz Shtetlinks Web Site. We find it very important to publicize
the Jewish history of our city, including Holocaust. For many years Lodz
had been a city of at least three cultures - Polish, German and Jewish;
there were also some influences of Russian culture, since before 1918 Lodz
belonged to the Russian Empire. As you know, before the WWII one
third of the population of Lodz were Jews; after the war there was just
a tiny Jewish community left.
Now the city authorities are trying
to commemorate the presence of Jews in our history. In 1997 the Foundation
Monumentum Iudaicum Lodzense (In Memory of the Jews of Lodz) was established
in order to save the traces of Lodz Jewry, especially the Jewish cemetery
in Lodz, considered the largest in Europe. Recently the Foundation, in
cooperation with the city authorities and the State Archives in Lodz, has
undertaken the task of creating a museum of the Lodz Ghetto, basing on
a wide variety of original ghetto documents stored in the archives
since after the war and in fact forgotten. The Mayor of Lodz is willing
to give us a place to locate the museum; the archives are willing to provide
professional archivists, who would be taking care of the documents, translating
and copying them for the use of scientists and students. Our aim is also
to make the museum a research institute, a living monument of the Holocaust
We are planning to publish a book
about the Lodz Ghetto (Polish and English version) for the 55th anniversary
of the liquidation of the ghetto - as a beginning of uncovering the documents
from the archives...We will be very happy to meet you, to show you what
we have done and to answer your questions.
April 19, 1999
Barbara Celler (Foundation Monumentum
Iudaicum Lodzense, City Hall Department of Strategy)
Dorota Laskowska (City Hall Department