On this day in history, Heinrich Himmler ordered the liquidation of the remaining residents of the Lodz Ghetto in Poland.
On November 7, 1939, Lodz was incorporated into the Third Reich and the Nazi’s changed its name to Litzmannstadt (“Litzmann’s city”) – named after a German general who died while attempting to conquer Lodz in World War I.
The Nazis wanted Jews concentrated in one area to facilitate their transfer and/or elimination. A couple of ghettos had already been established in other parts of Poland, but with much smaller Jewish populations. Lodz had a Jewish population estimated at 230,000, living throughout the city.
On February 8, 1940, the order to establish the Lodz ghetto was announced. An area of only 4.3 square kilometers was designated and Jews from throughout the city were ordered to move into the sectioned off area. The Jews were packed tightly within the confines of the ghetto with an average of 3.5 people per room. In April a fence went up surrounding the ghetto and on May 1, 1940, only eight months after the German invasion, the Lodz ghetto was officially sealed.
The Nazis decided to have the Jews to pay for their own food, security, sewage removal, and all other expenses incurred by their continuing incarceration. They also appointed one Jew responsible for the ghetto administration. The Nazis chose 62-year-old Mordekchai Chaim Rumkowski.
With 230,000 people confined to a very small area that had no farmland, food quickly became a problem. Rumkowski believed that if the ghetto became an extremely useful workforce, then the Jews would be needed by the Nazis and thus, the Nazis would make sure that the ghetto received food.
On April 5, 1940, Rumkowski petitioned the Nazi authorities requesting permission for his work plan. The Nazis eventually agreed that they would deliver raw materials, Jews would make the final products, and the Nazis would pay in food, but in an amount and on a schedule they determined.
Rumkowski immediately began setting up factories and all those able and willing to work were found jobs. The food entered the ghetto in bulk and distributed by Rumkowski’s officials. This consolidated Rumkowski’s power in the ghetto, since everyone’s survival was now dependent on his dispersal of food, of which there was very little.
As ghetto residents continued to starve, they became increasingly suspicious of Rumkowski and his officials, who appeared well nourished and healthy in spite of the rampant disease and hunger throughout the ghetto. When dissenters of the Rumkowski rule voiced their opinions, Rumkowski made speeches labeling them traitors to the cause. Rumkowski believed that these people were a direct threat to his work ethic and punished them further. When the Nazis later gave Rumkowski the job of naming residents for deportations, dissidents were the first to go.
Adding to the tensions were the daily arrivals of additional people. In the fall of 1941, 20,000 Jews from other areas of the Reich and 5,000 Roma (Gypsies) were transferred to the Lodz ghetto.
Deportations to death camps began in January, 1942. Rumkowksi and his officials had been ordered in December to compile lists of those slated to go, beginning with 10,000 names. Approximately one thousand people per day left on the trains. These people were taken to the Chelmno death camp and gassed by carbon monoxide in trucks. By January 19, 1942, 10,003 people had been deported. By April 2, another 34,073 had been sent to Chelmno. In September 1942, everyone unable to work was to be deported, including the sick, the elderly, and children.
On June 10, 1944, Heinrich Himmler ordered the final liquidation of the ghetto. When the Nazis decided to close Chelmno because Soviet troops were getting close, the remaining transports went to Auschwitz.
On August 4, 1944, a last transport of 74,000 Jews from Lodz was sent out from the ghetto on its way to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. A few remaining workers were retained by the Nazis to finish confiscating materials and valuables out of the ghetto, but everyone else had to go, including Rumkowski and his family.
Five months later, on January 19, 1945, the Soviets liberated the Lodz ghetto.
Only 877 Jews remained from the more than 245,000 who were interned in the ghetto since its opening in 1939.