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By MYRON LOVE The Lodz Ghetto (or Littmannstadt Ghetto, as the Nazis called it) - the focus of a photo exhibit that was on display at the Ogniwo Polish Museum Society at 1417 Main Street in North Winnipeg (and which was held over until February 20th) - was the first large ghetto established by the Nazis after their conquest of Poland. At its peak in early 1941,the ghetto housed 200,000 Jews reported Dr. Thomas Lutz, at a public lecture at the Berney Theatre on Wednesday, February 11.


Lutz is the head of the Memorial Museums Department of the Topography of Terror Foundation (a relatively new Holocaust documentation centre built on the site of the former SS headquarters in Berlin), and active in Holocaust education and commemoration at the national (German) and international level. He is the photo exhibit’s curator.
Belle Jarniewski, chair of the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre, met Lutz just this past December at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance conference in Manchester. (She was a member of the Canadian delegation.) “I found out that he gave lectures at Osgoode Hall and York University last year,” she says. “I asked if he would be willing to come to Winnipeg.”
His visit here also included talks at the University of Winnipeg –where he spoke to Dr. Jody Perrun’s history class (the Ridd Institute for Religion & Global Policy Institutes co-sponsored Lutz’s visit to Winnipeg) and at the University of Winnipeg to a group of Judaic, German and Slavic Studies students.
Lutz noted that from the beginning of Nazi rule in Germany in 1933, the Nazis viewed Jews as the principal enemy. The pre-war German Jewish population, he noted, was 500,000.
The Nazis weren’t sure what to do with such a large Jewish population. In addition to introducing an increasing number of anti-Jewish decrees throughout the 1930s aimed at isolating German Jews from the larger society, exile to Madagascar was one option that was considered.
With the occupation first of Poland and later the areas to the east (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine and parts of the Soviet Union), the Nazis found themselves with a Jewish population of more than 5 million Jews under their rule.
“There was no central directive ordering the establishment of Jewish ghettos,” Lutz observed. “They were established at the initiative of local commanders as a transitional until the Nazis could decide what to do.”
There were also different kinds of ghettos, he pointed out. Some – such as the Warsaw ghetto (the largest) were enclosed within fences of barbed wire. Other ghettos were not enclosed, but the Jews of the ghetto faced numerous restrictions.Then there were ghettos strictly for workers – largely men.
The Nazis for the most part remained outside of the ghettos, leaving the day to day administration of the ghetto to Jewish administrators, the best known of whom was the infamous Chaim Rumkowski, the leader of the Lodz Ghetto.
The Lodz Ghetto was the role model, Lutz noted. The Lodz Ghetto was the first large scale ghetto, in part because Lodz fell to the Nazis early – and also because 33 percent of the population of Lodz was Jewish.
He noted that the Lodz Ghetto also was a testament to the ongoing debate among the Nazis pitting ideology against economic need. “The Lodz Ghetto was a huge slave labour camp,” Lutz noted. “Unlike concentration camps, the ghetto functioned as a normal community with various administrative services, including medical institutions, a school system, a fire department and a department of statistics.
“The ruling Jewish council (the Judenrat) still had to follow the German orders, but the council tried to maintain normal life as much as possible, while hoping to keep as many Jewish people alive as long as possible.”
Lutz pointed out that the many Jews in the ghetto viewed the members of the Judenrat as collaborators because they received more privileges and were prominently involved in the Nazi roundups.
The situation in the Lodz ghetto became much more difficult in the fall of 1941 when the Nazis transferred 20,000 Jews and 5,000 Roma from other parts of Europe to Lodz. Communication was more difficult because the newcomers generally didn’t speak Polish or Yiddish – and the schools had to be closed to provide housing for the increased ghetto population.
In January, 1942, Lutz reported, the Nazis deported 10,000 Jews and all the Romas to the nearby Chlemno (Kulmhof to the Germans) concentration camp. In May, 55,000 more Jews from the ghetto were sent to Chelmno. And 16,000 – mainly children and the elderly – followed in September.
Throughout 1943, there was a lull in deportation from the ghetto. Chelmno and the deportations were re-activated in the spring of 1944. In August of that year, the last 68,000 residents of the ghetto were shipped out to Chelmno.
“Eight hundred were left to clean up,” Lutz said. “Most managed to hide until the Allies liberated the city on January 19, 1945.”
For decades, Lutz said, no one spoke about what happened in Lodz. It has only been in recent years that the ghetto has been commemorated and plaques put up.
The photos that form the exhibit are part of a collection of 12,000 pictures in 27 albums that were found in the Lodz State Archives. The photos were taken by 11 photographers (only one of whom survived) at the behest of the Judenrat. The purpose, Lutz said, was to present a positive view of the ghetto (so there are no scenes of death and suffering) for the Nazis to demonstrate what hard-working and dedicated workers the Jews in the ghetto were and presumably, to persuade the Nazis to spare the Jews’ lives because they valued their work.
The photos are accompanied by writings from the diaries of ghetto residents to provide background and context.
The exhibit is being held over for another week – until the 20th – on an appointment only basis.
Belle Jarniewski reported that the exhibit has been a resounding success. “More importantly, this exhibition has helped us build bridges with the Polish community and discover how much Jews and Poles have in common,” she said. “This has been a long time coming.
“We hope we can continue to work together with the Polish and other communities.”

 

 

 

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