Lamenting Lodz

The city of Lodz is the second largest city in Poland. The first ghetto established by the Nazi occupation was created in Lodz. The Jewish population of Lodz on the eve of the Second World War in 1939 was 233.000, one-third of the city’s population. Today, there are fewer than one hundred Jews in Lodz.

Jews had created a dynamic life in the city. There were dozens of synagogues, several Yiddish schools, many Hebrew-language schools with emphasis on Zionism, great rabbis, scholars, writers, medical doctors…. Lodz Jewry was second only to Warsaw.

When occupied by the Nazis, the city was given a German name… Litzmannstadt… named after a German officer who attempted but failed to capture the city during the 1914-1918 Great War.

When the occupation began, Chaim Rumkowski was appointed by the occupying forces Elder of the Jewish community and was responsible to the Nazis for everything related to Lodz Jewry. It included providing names of Jews to be rounded up for extermination. In the end, more than 230,000 Lodz Jews were shipped to the gas chambers in Chelmno and Warsaw. No longer able to live with his conscience, Rumkowski committed suicide.

Before the war, Lodz was renowned as the textile capital of Poland. Most Jews were employed in textile factories producing quality items that were exported to other European countries. Lodz was the center of Polish manufacturing. It was also a leading center of Polish Zionism.

After the war, an estimated five- to twelve-thousand Jews from Lodz had survived. Most of them made their way to Palestine. The few hundred Jews remaining try to keep the memories of Jewish Lodz alive by attending the local remaining synagogue.

Despite the mere handful of Jews living in the city, Lodz is not free from anti-Semitism. Only this week two Lodz soccer teams were competing. Although there are no Jews on any of the teams, one team regarded the other as “the Jew team” and carried banners onto the field reading “Burn More Jews” and “Death to the Jews”.

Sickening as it may be, it is alarming that none of the teams’ coaches rushed in to stop the hatred and to remove the death signs. The soccer match went on, uninterrupted.

Such things are occurring in soccer team matches throughout Europe these days. London, Paris, and Amsterdam are not free of Jew-hatred and their players march on to the fields with Palestinian flags flying high. Signs read “The Jews stole Palestinian Lands” or “Israel is an Apartheid state”. But at least in those cities, coaches reprimand the players and confiscate the flags and anti-Israel banners.

Not so in Lodz. (The Polish pronunciation of Lodz is Wooj). I lament the decimation and destruction of Jews and Jewish life in the pre-war second largest Jewish city in Europe. Its history began in the 14th century and ended in the 20th century…. Six hundred years of Jewish vitality and creativity.

When Chaim Rumkowski was the Nazi-appointed Elder of the Jewish community, he printed a currency for the ghetto Jews… called on the front of each bill, Quittung (receipt) in denominations of Eine Mark, Zwei Mark, Funf Mark and Zwanzig Mark, each bearing a Magen David. On the reverse side of each currency there was the picture of the seven-branched menorah. Only with this Jewish currency were Jews able to purchase food in the few ghetto shops.

I have a collection of the ghetto currency framed and hung on a prominent wall of my home. I pass by it dozens of times each day, glance at it, and lament the Lodz that once was and the almost-Jew-free Lodz of today.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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