Lodz had the second largest Jewish population in prewar Poland, after Warsaw. German troops occupied Lodz in September 1939. In early February 1940, the Germans established a ghetto in Lodz and crowded more than 150,000 Jews into an area of about one and a half square miles. In 1941 and 1942 almost 40,000 Central European Jews and 5,000 Roma (Gypsies) were also forced into the ghetto. Between January and September 1942, over 75,000 ghetto residents were deported from Lodz to the Chelmno killing center. By the spring of 1944, the Lodz ghetto was the last remaining in German-occupied Poland. During that summer, the Germans deported the remaining Jews, most of them to Auschwitz.
The industrial city of Lodz is located about 75 miles southwest of Warsaw, Poland. With about 220,000 Jews, Lodz formed after Warsaw the second largest Jewish community in prewar Poland.
The Germans occupied Lodz a week after their invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.
In February 1940, they established a ghetto in the northeast section of the city. More than 150,000 Jews were forced to move into the designated area, which was sealed in April 1940.
Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski was head of the Nazi-appointed Jewish council. Charged with implementing Nazi orders, Jewish council officials faced terrible moral dilemmas.
Rumkowski organized the ghetto population as a workforce in factories throughout the ghetto.
He argued that making Jewish labor essential to German production might prevent the destruction of the Lodz ghetto.
In 1941 and 1942, nearly 40,000 Central European Jews were deported to the Lodz ghetto. 5,000 Roma (Gypsies) from Austria were also deported to Lodz and confined in a segregated area of the ghetto.
Hard labor, overcrowding, and starvation were the dominant features of life. More than 20 percent of the ghetto's population died as a direct result of the harsh living conditions.
In January 1942, the Germans began large-scale deportations of Jews from the Lodz ghetto to the Chelmno killing center, 45 miles to the west.
Jews were concentrated at assembly points throughout the ghetto and then forced onto crowded trains.
By the end of September 1942, over 70,000 Jews and about 5,000 Roma were deported to Chelmno where most were killed in sealed gas vans.
Between September 1942 and May 1944 there were no major deportations from the Lodz ghetto, which resembled a vast labor camp.
The overwhelming majority of ghetto residents worked in German factories, receiving only meager food rations.
In the spring of 1944 the Germans decided to destroy the Lodz ghetto, by then the last ghetto remaining in Poland. Deportations to Chelmno resumed in June and July 1944.
The Germans completed the destruction of the ghetto in August with the deportation of some 75,000 Jews, including Rumkowski, to their deaths at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Soviet forces liberated Lodz in January 1945. More than 200,000 Jews had been forced into the Lodz ghetto during the ghetto’s existence.
Fewer than 1,000 Jews survived in Lodz, either in hiding or in forced-labor units.