The 70th anniversary of deportations of Jews from the Łódź Ghetto to Auschwitz
70 years ago, on 9th August 1944, liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto (German: Litzmannstadt Ghetto) began. The process lasted a little over three weeks and saw ca. 67 thousand men, women and children deported to the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwiz-Birkenau.
According to the research conducted by Andrzej Strzelecki, a historian from the Auschwitz Museum and author of Deportation of Jews from the Łódź Ghetto to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp and Their Extermination, 67 per cent of the deported Jews were killed in gas chambers. Only a little over 3 thousand were imprisoned in Auschwitz as registered prisoners, whereas 19 thousand were transferred without registration to other concentration camps.
For Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, the director of the Auschwitz Museum, the story of the Jews deported to Auschwitz from Łódź has a very important personal aspect. “Marian Turski, Noah Flug and Roman Kent, among others, arrived at Auschwitz as part of the last major series of deportations from the Łódź Ghetto. Today Marian Turski lives in Warsaw and is a historian working for Polityka weekly. Noah Flug died not so long ago in Jerusalem. Roman Kent lives in the USA and sits on the board of Claims Conference, among others. They are three mates from a Łódź school, from the same class, sitting desk to desk in class. They survived,” said Mr. Cywiński.
“Years later, each of them became member of the International Auschwitz Council. This is how I met them. I remember all three of them walking between the blocks of the former Auschwitz I camp. I was with them. They told me they were from the same class. And that they survived. They also told me how important it was for them to be able to work towards remembrance of the event. Their lives are a victory in themselves,” director Cywiński emphasised.
In his book, Andrzej Strzelecki mentions another person who contributed to preserving the memory of Jews deported from the Łódź Ghetto. In mid-August 1944, Załmen Lewental, member of the Sonderkommando, found a diary of an unknown Jew among belongings of the Łódź Ghetto Jews killed in gas chambers. The diary describes the author’s experiences in the camp, written in a form of letters to his friend. Having presented the diary’s content to his closest companions, Załmen Lewental wrote some comments to it, put it in a metal tin, and buried near one of the crematories. In 1961 these documents were found and published a few years later.
“In his comments Lewental explained that he had hidden the diary so that the work of an anonymous Łódź Jew ‘would not go waste’ and that ‘future generations' would learn more about the carnage of Jews from the Łódź Ghetto,” says Andrzej Strzelecki in his book.
The Museum published yet another work in memory of Jews from the Łódź Ghetto –Europe by Auschwitz. The Łódź Ghetto– edited by Marek Miller. This 500-page chronicle of the Łódź Ghetto is based solely on source texts: accounts, diaries and memories of those who survived. The late Julian Baranowski, curator of State Archive in Łódź, whom the book is dedicated to, wrote in the preface: “This book is materially different from typical scientific studies. It constitutes a ‘live’ monograph on the ghetto written by the district dwellers themselves.”
The ghetto was established in February 1940 in Łódź, renamed to Litzmannstadt by the German occupier in April of the same year. In the ghetto, in addition to the Jewish dwellers of Łódź, there were also Gypsies and the Jews displaced from the so-called “Reischgau Watheland” (Polish: Kraj Warty), part of the Western Poland annexed directly by the Third Reich, deported from Germany, Austria, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and Luxembourg. In 1942, more than 70 thousand Jews and ca. 5 thousand Gypsies were transported from the ghetto to the Chełmno (German: Kulmhof) extermination camp. Afterwards, the deportations were suspended and the ghetto became a slave labour camp where tens of thousands of people worked for the Reich’s economy. Following Heinrich Himmler’s decision to liquidate the ghetto, between June and mid-July 1944 more than 7 thousand Jews were killed in Kulmhof. In August, subsequent deportations were headed for Auschwitz. In total, around 67 thousand people were deported to Auschwitz, of which 45 thousand were killed in gas chambers. Some of them straight after selection on the ramp and others after some time spent in the so-called “depot camps” (German: Durchgangsjuden). Only slightly more than 3 thousand Jews were registered in the camp and the remaining 19 thousand were transferred to other concentration camps. Out of more than 200 thousand Jews from the Łódź Ghetto only 7 to 10 thousand survived (5 per cent).
Excerpt of the account of former inmate Rachela Grynglas-Grynfeld
I was brought with my entire family to a place where trains were waiting for us. They were not normal trains. They had cattle wagons. And when we were being “loaded” onto one of those wagons, we already saw this as great tragedy. The journey was very long and they wouldn’t tell us where we were going. There were hardly any windows in the wagon. All the openings were either closed or shaded so that we wouldn’t figure out where we were headed. It was very crowded. People lay on one another.
Excerpt of the account of former inmate Sara Sznek-Bosak
We left the ghetto in August 1944. We didn’t know where we were going. We were headed for the camp in cattle wagons, without a toilet (there was a bucket in the middle). It was so crowded that my husband stood so that I could lie down, cowered. We took turns in doing this for the entire journey. After three days the train finally stopped. Somebody ordered: get off! The Germans would not allow us to take any personal belongings from the wagon or help one another get off. Women were separated from men.
Excerpt of the account of former inmate Jadwiga Trębasiewicz
We came across a transport of 10-12-year old boys from the Łódź Ghetto during our morning march between the male camp and the so called “Mexico” (a slang name of sector BIII of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp). They put the kids in a place in front of a weaving mill separated by barbed wire, and waited. Most likely the machinery jammed again. The kids stood there in grave silence. It was obvious they were going to face the FINAL, from which there was no way back. Only one boy wept quietly, smearing his tears all over his face. The Doll (nickname of one of Jadwiga Trębasiewicz’s fellow inmates) stopped, and with a swift move wiped the boy’s face. Still weeping, the boy lamented: “I know they are taking us to the chamber.” The girl was trying to comfort him, saying it was not true and that all the boys would get their uniforms back after “a bath” and will go work in the field. The girls looked at one another and nodded: “Yes, you are going to work just as we do”. They were lying. The kids were doomed and only hope could cheer them up in those last moments of their lives. We were punished for the conversation: at noon we had to “leapfrog”.