Monumentum Iudaicum Lodzense Foundation

Foundation in Memory of the Jews of Lodz

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The following article, dated February 26, 1999, is reprinted here courtesy of 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.
THE 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.
    Today, tragically, in the wake of Hitler's Final Solution, only 5,000 Jews remain in Poland -- a mere 200 in Lodz.
    Barbara Celler 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 Land

WIKTOR 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."
    Melbourne's Hirsch 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.
    "There 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.
"Next year we will show the whole world what actually happened in the Lodz Ghetto"
    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.
    "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."
     With her 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.
    "We 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 exists.
   "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.
The Australian Jewish News - Melbourne
Melbourne, Australia
E-mail: ajnewmel@netspace.net.au
Lodzer Centre in Australia
Mr. Josef Wiesenfeld
Tel: 61 3 9531 9086

Monumentum Iudaicum Lodzense Foundation
ul. Piotrkowska 104
Lodz  90926, Poland
Tel: ( 0 42) 38 40 80, Fax: (0 42) 38 41 24

United Restitution Organization
18 Gruzenberg St.
P.O.B. 29159
Tel Aviv 65811
Israel
(Recovery of Jewish communal property)

Report 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 victims.

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 of Strategy)

 

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