(Yid., Lodzh), Polish city and industrial center about 100 km west of Warsaw. From a hamlet of 767 people, including 259 Jews, in 1820, Łódź grew over the next century to a city of 670,000, with a Jewish community of more than 230,000, the second largest in Poland. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Łódź was home to about 1 million people, fewer than 300 of whom were Jews.
Factory smokestacks, Łódź, 1937. (Archiwum Państwowe, Łódź)
During Łódź’s first decades of growth (1820–1864), textile mills built by German manufacturers such as Ludwig Geyer and Karl Scheibler attracted masses of Polish peasants to work in what the Polish novelist Władysław Reymont called Ziemia obiecana (The Promised Land; 1899). Jews established retail and other businesses, eventually breaking into textile manufacturing as well, although they were largely restricted to an overcrowded residential quarter in the Old Town.
In the 1850s, Jewish entrepreneurs Isaac Bławat and Isaac Birnzwajg developed housing in the village of Bałuty (Yid., Balut), beyond the city limits. Bałuty grew haphazardly, without running water or sewer lines, creating a neighborhood for the masses of the poor. When Bałuty was annexed to Łódź in 1915, it was home to perhaps half the city’s Jews, and its name became a byword for poverty.
Łódź attracted Jews from throughout Russian Poland and the tsarist Pale of Settlement. The city’s Jewish population increased from about 10,000 in 1873 to nearly 100,000 in 1897. By 1914, Łódź was home to more than 500,000 people, including 170,000 Jews. Most of the Jews of Łódź were poor and Orthodox, mainly followers of the Aleksander and Ger Hasidic rebbes. A considerable influx of “Litvaks” from Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine brought Orthodox opponents of Hasidism to the city; these non-Hasidic Jews tended to be fluent in Russian, more open to secular education, and often active Zionists.
Street scene in the Bałuty neighborhood, Łódź, ca. 1930s. (YIVO)
Jews dominated retail trade, and by the eve of World War I, Jewish entrepreneurs operated more than half of the city’s factories. Among the leading Jewish industrialists were Israel Kalmanowicz Poznański, Khayim Yankev Wiślicki, Yankev Wojdysławski, Adolf Drabnicki, S. Rosenblatt, and Markus Silberstein. Still, Germans owned the largest factories, and most factory workers were Polish. Struggling masses of Jews increasingly turned to industry and crafts for their livelihood. Excluded from the largest, most modern mills, thousands of Jewish weavers labored in sweatshops in apartments located in Bałuty.
The dynamic industrial city was a hotbed of proletarian movements. The Bund and Jewish labor unions were clandestinely active, along with the legal Harfe (Harp) society that promoted cultural activities in Yiddish. The Polish Socialist Party (PPS) established a Jewish Section in Łódź in 1903, while the Po‘ale Tsiyon movement also took root. After World War I, Łódź was also home to an active Orthodox Jewish workers’ movement, Poyale Agudas Yisroel. Zionist groups were also active, despite tsarist restrictions. Much Zionist cultural activity was under the aegis of the Hazomir (Nightingale) music society. Many Litvaks and Aleksander Hasidim were Zionists; by contrast, followers of the Gerer rebbe, as well as wealthy assimilationists, were bitterly opposed to Zionism.
In the 1920s, the Polish government noted hundreds of societies, associations, houses of worship, and schools that were active in Łódź’s Jewish community. Among those organizations were traditional mutual aid and charitable groups, including Biker Khoylim and Lines Hatsedek for health care, Noysn Lekhem to feed the hungry, Malbish Arumim to clothe the needy, and Hakhnoses Kale to aid poor brides. Wealthy Jewish manufacturers and merchants, among them Poznański, Silberstein, and Rosenblatt, created a network of more substantial, modern philanthropic institutions to meet the needs of impoverished Jews. The Jewish Good Works [Dobroczynność] Society, organized in the 1890s, coordinated social welfare institutions. Many professional and trade organizations were also founded by and for Jews, who were largely excluded from the city’s general organizations.
Photograph taken in a Jewish library, Łódź, ca. 1915, with (upper right) the Yiddish newspaper Lodzer tageblat (Łódź Daily) (YIVO)
Until the 1920s, Jewish education in Łódź was dominated by the traditional heder, although some yeshivas were established before 1914. Few girls in Łódź received formal Jewish education before World War I; in interwar Łódź, a majority of Jewish girls attended public elementary schools. In 1912, Markus (Mordekhai) Braude, preacher of the progressive Synagoga, founded the first Jewish gymnasium (secondary school) in the Russian Empire. It became a model for bilingual Polish–Hebrew secondary schools in interwar Poland, educating middle-class children in a Zionist spirit.
Zionists and Bundists sponsored a broad range of societies and clubs that promoted the study of Yiddish or Hebrew language and literature, history, and economics. In 1912, the Bar Kochba Jewish sports association was founded, the first such body in Poland. Yiddish dailies began to appear in 1907. The two longest-running of these were the Lodzer tageblat, edited by the Zionist Yishaye Uger and published by Emanuel Hamburski; and the Nayer folksblat, edited by the Kahan brothers, which initially supported the Folkist movement. Other interwar Yiddish periodicals were the Bund’s weekly Lodzher veker, the Po‘ale Tsiyon’s Arbeter-shtime, and Eli Baruchin’s business journal, Der ilustrirter poylisher mantshester.
By law, all Jews living in Łódź were members of the official Jewish community (kehilah), which levied mandatory taxes and fees and was subject to close state supervision. From the 1870s, the kehilah board was dominated by a small circle of wealthy manufacturers and merchants who won the support of the Hasidic masses by maintaining the status quo in public religious matters. In the 1920s, a democratically elected regime was introduced after public elections that drew many thousands of voters.
Symptomatic of the growth of Łódź Jewry was the election in 1873 of Eliyahu Ḥayim Meisel, Łódź’s most prominent rabbi, to lead the Jewish community. He held this post until his death in 1912. Although he was a Litvak, Meisel won the respect and affection of the Hasidic masses. Opposed to Zionism and other modern political movements, he was energetic and creative in social welfare and education, and gained the support of assimilated millionaires. In 1913, Eli‘ezer Eliyahu Treistman, a Gerer Hasid, was elected Meisel’s successor, but only after a very bitter campaign that made the communal leadership reluctant to face renewed communal strife. After Treistman’s death in 1920, Łódź was left without a chief rabbi until World War II.
“Ararat. Artistic Director: Moyshe Broderzon. Short skits by the famous Kleynkunst [cabaret] theater!” Polish/Yiddish poster, artwork by Kultura, printed by M. Kon, Łódź, ca. 1930s. (YIVO)
More modernized and acculturated Jews of the city worshiped at the progressive Synagoga (“Daytshe shul”), whose domed building was completed in 1888. Its rabbis included Markus Jastrow, Ezekiel Karo, Adolf M. Radin, and Israel Jelski, who first introduced Polish-language sermons instead of German. Markus Braude became the preacher of the Synagoga in 1909 and won nationwide stature as a senator in the 1920s. During that decade, he founded the Institute for Jewish Studies in Warsaw and led the Łódź B’nai B’rith lodge.
World War I cut Łódź off from Russian markets for its goods and saw the city’s population decline significantly. The German occupiers also stripped factories of parts and raw materials. Although independent Poland offered more political freedom than Imperial Russia, the city’s Jews suffered economically. Masses of impoverished Jewish laborers, craftsmen, and peddlers crowded Old Town and Bałuty, while middle-class and well-to-do Jews resided in the central districts, along the northern reaches of Piotrkowska Street and adjacent areas.
Łódź was a center of Jewish literary, theatrical, and artistic activity for such figures as Moyshe Broderzon, Yisroel Rabon, Yitsḥak Katzenelson, Miryem Ulinover, Shimen Dzigan, and Yisroel Shumacher, among many others. Pianist Artur Rubinstein was born there and attained worldwide fame, as did the poet Julian Tuwim, who wrote, “Let other poets sing praises / Of Ganges, Sorrento, Crimea / Give me Łódź. Her dirt and smoke / Are happiness and joy to me.”
Łódź’s Jews actively participated in municipal politics, electing numerous representatives to the city council to face the antisemitic right-wing Polish National Democrats and Christian Democrats. Nevertheless, Zionist councilmen made possible the governing center-right coalition between 1923 and 1927. The PPS won control of the Łódź city hall betwen 1927 and 1933 and again between 1936 and 1939, with the crucial support of the Bund and the Po‘ale Tsiyon. On the national parliamentary stage, Łódź’s Jews were represented by the Zionists Jerzy Rosenblatt (1872–1939?), Markus Braude, Agudas Yisroel’s Moyshe Halpern, Leib Mincberg (1884–1941), and the Mizraḥi (Religious Zionist) Mosheh Helman, among others. Voters in the hard-fought Jewish community elections chose from 16 competing lists. Zionist Sejm (parliament) deputy Jerzy Rosenblatt gained the communal presidency in 1925. Agudas Yisroel attained power, with Marshal Józef Piłsudski’s support, in 1928 when Mincberg became kehilah president. Confronted by the success of the Bund in the 1936 municipal elections, the government indefinitely postponed the Jewish communal elections, leaving Mincberg in office until September 1939.
Street scenes. Łódź, Poland, 1930s, as seen from a moving tram. (Amateur film shot by American Jewish travel agent Gustave Eisner.) (YIVO)
The vast majority of Jews in interwar Łódź spoke Yiddish, but increasingly used Polish. In addition to the two main Yiddish dailies, Jews owned and supported two Polish-language dailies, the progressive Głos Poranny (Morning Voice), edited by Jan Urbach and supported by the industrialist Oskar (Uszer) Kon; and Republika, with connections to the wealthy Pozńanski family.
The economic engine of interwar Łódź was the textile industry. Jews tended to operate small and medium-sized mills, while Germans owned the great mills, and Poles predominated on the factory floor. Jewish skilled workers dominated tailoring, shoemaking, meat-cutting, printing, and paper workshops and factories. Jewish merchants controlled wholesale and retail commerce in Łódź, marketing most of the textile production and operating thousands of small grocery stores and market stalls. Jews owned many of the city’s apartment houses.
The interwar decades were a period of deepening economic crisis for Jews, who had to contend not only with the effects of the Great Depression but also with legislation that damaged their livelihoods. The so-called humane slaughter law of 1936 targeted kosher slaughter, provoking mass Jewish protest in Łódź. Israel Joshua Singer’s Yiddish novel, Di brider Ashkenazi (The Brothers Ashkenazi; 1937), captured the despair among many Łódź Jews of the time.
Speakers address a crowd at the funeral of Yisroel Lichtenstein, a leader of the Bund, Łódź, ca. 1936. (YIVO)
Nevertheless, interwar Łódź was a multiethnic society with interlocking interests and frictions, where anti-Jewish violence was an occasional, but not predominant phenomenon. Attacks on Jews multiplied from April 1933, with organized murderous assaults in May 1934 and September 1935. Between 1934 and 1936, Polish and German rightist parties briefly controlled the municipal government; however, socialists regained control of the municipality in 1936 with Bundist support.
The German occupation, beginning in September 1939, brought a Jewish curfew, yellow star badges, and mass conscriptions for forced labor. Jewish bank accounts were frozen, while businesses and apartments were looted and seized. The annexation to the Reich of the Wartheland region, including Łódź, led to deportations of Poles and Jews to make way for “repatriated” ethnic Germans (Volkesdeutschen).
All Jewish trade unions and social and political organizations were liquidated. Jewish politicians, social activists, and intellectuals were seized, tortured, shot, or sent to concentration camps. Between 10 and 14 November 1939, the city’s four major synagogues were burned and dynamited. On 11 November, most of the members of the Council of Jewish Elders appointed by Khayim Mordkhe Rumkowski were seized. Only 6 were released; more than 20 councilmen were tortured and then shot.
Łódź. Detail of ghetto, 1942–1944.
During the first six months of the war, more than 75,000 Jews left Łódź. They fled or were deported into the Generalgouvernement and the Soviet Occupied Zone. To isolate and concentrate the remaining Jews, the Germans created a ghetto in the city renamed Litzmannstadt, after a German general from World War I.
The “Jewish residential quarter,” announced on 8 February 1940, was located in Bałuty and Old Town. Covering about 4 square km, the ghetto contained mostly rundown wooden houses without electricity, gas, waterlines, or sewerage. Enclosed with barbed wire fencing, the ghetto was sealed on 30 April 1940. Unlike in Warsaw, there were few opportunities for smuggling, escaping, or maintaining contacts with the outside world. Whereas in Warsaw tens of thousands of Jews attempted to hide “on the Aryan side,” only a handful of instances of such concealment are known in Łódź.
Official records show 160,320 Jews in the ghetto on 12 June 1940. Between 17 October and 4 November 1941, another 19,954 deportees from Vienna, Prague, Luxemburg, and Germany joined them; then, 17,826 Jews from liquidated provincial communities arrived between 7 December 1941 and 18 August 1942. In all, about 200,000 Jews were forced into the Łódź ghetto. Hans Biebow, a former coffee trader from Bremen, supervised the ghetto. German police forces oversaw security and continued to confiscate Jewish property.
Khayim Mordkhe Rumkowski, the head of the Łódź ghetto, on a visit to the Marysin, the "suburban" part of the ghetto where the retirement home, orphanage, schools, and communal gardens were located, ca. 1942. Photograph by Mendel Grossman. (YIVO)
On 13 October 1939, the German authorities appointed Rumkowski as “Eldest of the Jews.” He in turn appointed a council of elders that played no real role in the strange society headed by a man who was to be the sole contact between Jews and the German authorities. Through a highly ramified bureaucracy, Rumkowski attempted to control every aspect of life in the ghetto. Administrative posts also gave a minimal livelihood to thousands unable to find other work. Rumkowski could call on his “order service” of several hundred Jewish policemen armed with clubs to enforce his directives and maintain order.
Starving Jews were systematically stripped of their possessions. Increased isolation came with the introduction of currency with Rumkowski’s picture; this money was worthless outside the ghetto. Goods were allowed to be “sold” to a special ghetto bank or were confiscated outright. The prices paid through the bank were minimal, resulting in huge profits for the occupiers. All ghetto residents between ages 10 and 65 were subject to forced labor. Thousands were sent to labor camps under conditions amounting to a death sentence.
Rumkowski used the factories and workshops in the ghetto as a means to buy food for survival. By 1943, ghetto enterprises employed more than 70,000 workers (85% of the ghetto population) in 93 factories that comprised one of the largest and most profitable complexes in the German economy. Jewish workers toiled from 10 to 14 hours a day for an inadequate pittance. Impoverished workers, unable to buy the minimum food necessary to be able to work, depended on watery factory soups ladled out once a day.
Children digging for discarded bits of coal, Łódź ghetto, ca. 1941. Photograph by Mendel Grossman. (YIVO)
Starvation became endemic. By summer 1942, the daily ration amounted to only 600 calories. Overcrowding and lack of sewage or safe water contributed to rising incidence of typhus and diarrhea among the starving masses. Chronic starvation exacerbated mortality from many causes, especially tuberculosis and cardiovascular disease.
The Jewish birthrate collapsed. Prewar Łódź had averaged about 3,100 Jewish births per annum, but during the five years of the ghetto era only 2,306 children were born, while more than 43,000 people died of “natural causes.” Hundreds of Jews were shot “while trying to escape,” and about 11,000 were transported to do forced labor in the fatal conditions of Wartheland labor camps.
Details of the everyday drudgery of life in the Łódź ghetto are reflected in a mass of surviving documentation, including the ghetto archive’s daily chronicle and numerous clandestine diaries, as well as photographs by Mendel Grossman, Henryk Ross, and the German Walter Genewein, and collections of official documents.
Yet even under atrocious ghetto conditions, Łódź’s Jews attempted to maintain elements of civilized, humane life. Religious observances continued to the extent possible. Veteran composer and conductor David Beigelman continued to perform at the popular Culture House, where Teodor Ryder conducted classical works. Yankele Herszkowicz supplemented his tailor’s wages with street performances of songs that satirized the ghetto’s reality.
Signatures on a page from an album of signatures of 14,587 schoolchildren and 715 teachers from schools in the Łódź ghetto presented to Khayim Mordkhe Rumkowski, head of the ghetto, on Rosh Hashanah, 1941. The majority of the children who signed the album were later deported to the Chełmno death camp. YIVO (YIVO)
More than 145,000 Jews were deported from Łódź to Chełmno (16 January–12 September 1942, and 23 June–14 July 1944) and to Auschwitz-Birkenau (9–29 August 1944). Initially, those taken were alleged troublemakers, criminals, and nonworkers, including children and the elderly. Ultimately, Rumkowski and his own relatives were also sent to Auschwitz when the ghetto was liquidated in August 1944. Biebow selected about 600 people for shipment to labor camps in Konigswusterhausen near Berlin and to factories in Dresden. Among those chosen were Aaron Jakubowicz, former head of the ghetto’s factories, and Marek Kliger, former head of the Jewish police, and their families, as well as numerous physicians, engineers, artisans, and employees of the Bałuty marketplace’s administrative offices.
Several hundred Jews were retained in the ghetto itself for cleanup work in the autumn of 1944, while perhaps 200 remained in hiding. About 12,000 Łódź ghetto residents survived Auschwitz and other camps to see liberation. When the Soviet military arrived on 19 January 1945, they found 877 living Jews.
With liberated Warsaw in ruins, surviving Jews flowed into Łódź where the Provisional Jewish Committee (PJC), headed by Michał Mirski, was formed on 11 February 1945. The PJC established manufacturing and service cooperatives to employ returning Jews, as did several Zionist organizations preparing Jews for work in Palestine. The prewar TOZ Jewish health organization and the ORT vocational training society resumed operations, while Maria Fajngold (Falkowska) managed the reactivated Jewish Children’s Home in Helenówek, among other Jewish social welfare and health facilities established in Łódź. Jewish survivors and repatriates from the Soviet Union increased the Jewish population in Łódź to more than 30,000 by mid-1946, although many soon emigrated. By 1950, Łódź had fewer than 15,000 Jews.
The Central Jewish Historical Commission, based in Łódź from February 1945 under the leadership of teacher and historian Philip Friedman, actively published works on Jewish experiences in Nazi-occupied Poland, and its staff testified at the trial of Hans Biebow in 1947.
Numerous Jewish political parties were reconstituted. Most were Zionist, with Mizraḥi and Agudas Yisroel representing the Orthodox and socialists joining the Bund and the Communist Polish Workers Party (PPR). Zionist programs and preparations were a significant part of Jewish life in postwar Łódź, as thousands emigrated to Palestine and then Israel, or volunteered to join the Haganah.
In early 1945, the Łódź Jewish religious congregation was led by Józef Atlas, while Abram Krawiec from the Białystok region was the city’s first postwar rabbi, assisted by Wawa Morejno (1919–2002). The Jewish congregation operated the surviving synagogue at 28 Południowa Street, as well as a prayer hall with a kosher kitchen and a ritual bath at 66 Zachodnia Street. There was a Talmud Torah school for children and for a time a yeshiva, Netsaḥ Yisra’el. The congregation managed the huge Jewish cemetery. In the early 1950s, the devastated original Jewish cemetery on Wesoła Street was officially seized for street construction and housing.
Jews burying the remnants of holy books and talesim found in nine open graves in the Jewish cemetery, Łódź, Poland, ca. 1945. Photograph by Nachman Zonabend. (YIVO)
Surviving Jewish authors and artists resumed working in Łódź, while numerous newspapers and magazines were published in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish, beginning with the daily Dos naye lebn of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. The first book published by a new Jewish publishing house was Isaiah Spiegel’s Yiddish Malkhes geto (The Ghetto Kingdom; 1947), stories composed in the Łódź ghetto. The Kinor film cooperative produced documentaries about postwar Jewish life. Its members included Natan Gross, Izaak and Saul Goskind, and Adolf and Wladyslaw Forbert. Rokhl Oyerbakh (Auerbach) and Froyim Kaganovski wrote scripts. Aleksander Ford reestablished the Polish film industry as director of Polski Film between 1945 and 1947. Yiddish theater was reborn in Łódź with performances by Dzigan and Shumacher and a professional company directed from 1947 by Ida Kaminska (1899–1980).
Postwar Łódź had two Jewish elementary schools. The short-lived Ghetto Fighters School taught in Hebrew, preparing children for life in Israel. The I. L. Perec (Y. L. Peretz) School used Yiddish for instruction and operated from 1945 to 1969.
District heads of the Hit’aḥadut party in Poland, Łódź, 1946. On the wall are portraits of (left to right) Zionist leaders Chaim Arlozoroff, Aharon David Gordon, and Berl Katznelson. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)
With the consolidation of Communist power, all independent Jewish political parties, organizations, and institutions were closed by the end of 1949. In October 1950, the Towarystwo Spoteczno-Kulturalne Żydow (Social-Cultural Society of Jews in Poland; TSKŻ) was founded under close government supervision. As most Jews emigrated during the Stalinist years, the religious congregation declined and the Perec School dropped Hebrew language and Jewish history while increasing the portion of studies in Polish and reducing Yiddish.
A new wave of Jewish repatriates from the Soviet Union brought a revival after 1956, but most of the arrivals soon emigrated. By the early 1960s, Łódź had fewer than 3,000 Jews. Extensive social welfare and cultural activities by the TSKŻ and the Jewish congregation were again funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee from 1957.
This activity largely ended during the 1967–1968 anti-Zionist purge. More than 1,000 Jews left Łódź after March 1968, immigrating to Israel, the United States, and Scandinavia. By the 1970s, Łódź had fewer than 1,000 Jews, as TSKŻ and the religious congregation declined to the point of collapse. When TSKŻ was revived in Łódź in 1972, it had about 200 members. Although the only rabbi, Morejno, was forced to emigrate in 1974, the Jewish congregation continued to conduct Sabbath and holiday services in the remaining synagogue and operated a kosher kitchen for elderly and needy congregants.
With improved relations between Poland and Israel beginning in the late 1980s, the Jewish community operated more freely. Changes accelerated after 1989 and the collapse of communism. Simḥah Keller began his long tenure as spiritual leader and cantor in Łódź, while the American Michael Schudrich was appointed chief rabbi of Łódź and Warsaw in 2000 before being named chief rabbi of Poland in 2004. The large prewar headquarters of the Łódź Jewish community at 18 Pomorska Street was returned at the end of the 1990s. By 2000, the building housed the Jewish community’s office, a kosher canteen, and a small synagogue, as well as a clinic and a daycare center for the elderly. The branch of the TSKŻ moved there, along with the Monumentum Iudaicum Lodzense Foundation, created in 1995 to preserve Jewish heritage in Łódź, especially the Jewish cemetery. Since 2003, the community has offered lectures and concerts through its Center for Jewish History and Tradition. Also engaged in Jewish programming have been the Lauder Club, focused on religious education at 24 Narutowicza Street, and a branch of the Shalom Association that offers Yiddish courses at the Cultural Center. In 2006, Łódź had fewer than 300 Jewish residents.