The Lodz Judenrat

Mayra Cruz

In 1939, Lodz, Poland held the second largest Jewish community in Europe next to Warsaw, with a population of 700,000, of whom 233,000 were Jews. Captured by the German Army on the 8th of September 1939, violence against the Jews was widespread; homes were looted, property destroyed, and people were recruited into labor battalions (Katz 62). On Rosh Hashanah, six days after the seizure of Lodz, the Nazis ordered all the synagogues to be closed and businesses to remain open. Finally, on November 7, 1939, Lodz was incorporated into the Third Reich as the Nazis changed its name to Litzmannstadt, named after a German general who tried to conquer Lodz in World War I ( 

On February 8, 1940, the order to establish the ghetto was announced, the sites were the two most neglected districts of Lodz. The ghetto consisted with a total of 31, 721 apartments, most of them were a single room, and only 725 had running water. More than 160,000 Jews were moved in. The use of electricity was forbidden between eight in the evening and six in the morning (Gilbert 116). On April 30, the ghetto was ordered closed and by May 1, 1940, it was officially sealed. 

Creating the Judenrat

In 1933, Nazi policy makers discussed the establishment of Jewish-led institutions to carry out anti-Jewish policies. As the Germans swept through Poland, the order of S.S. leader Heydrich of establishing local Jewish populace to form Jewish Councils as a liaison between the Jews and the Nazis was carried out. The council of Jewish elders was responsible for organizing the orderly deportation to the death camps, for detailing the number and occupations of the Jews in the ghettos, for distributing food and medical supplies. Many viewed these councils as a form of collaboration with the enemy. Others saw the Judenrate as necessary evil, which would permit Jewish leadership a leeway to negotiate for better treatment (
Jews were grabbed off the streets and pulled out of their apartments for forced labor, in order to ameliorate the situation, the Jewish leadership community proposed to German authorities to deliver the required number of workers. Among these leaders was Moderchai Chaim Rumkowski former official of the Kehillah, the Jewish community council. On the 13th of October 1939, he was appointed as the Alteste or Eldest of the Jews in Lodz by the head of the Civilian Administration, Commissioner Leister (Adelson & Lapides 18).

As the head of the Judenrate, which consisted of twenty-four members, Rumkowski assumed the leadership of the ghetto, and became a dictator (Katz 62). His responsibilities were to overlook the Jewish community, dissolve the Advisory Council (formed to negotiate with German authorities to compromise on the seizure of the workers) and all other agencies, and to organize new offices for which he would be responsible. Penalties were introduced for disobeying his orders (Adelson & Lapides 19). The Jewish population was to pay levies in order to finance his activities.

The ghetto was in a sense a small state. Rumkowski believed on the autonomy of the ghetto, he replaced the German currency with his ghetto money that bore his image and signature, even the postal stamps included his image ( However, the Germans denied him the right to issue the stamps since they did not see the ghetto as a Jewish state (Adelson & Lapides 107). On March 1, 1940, the Order Service, the Jewish ghetto police, was created. Rumkowski was obliged to enforce the boundaries of the ghetto. Although contact with people on the other side of the fence was banned, smuggling did not stop; in this respect the task of the Order Service's task was very difficult (Adelson & Lapides 44). Special administrators were named to organize the management of buildings. Janitors were given the responsibility to clean the ghetto, lawns and garden plots soon sprung up. An Address Registration Bureau was organized; it was a department to supervise the ghetto's economy. The office of the Chairman was at 4 Plac Koscielna (Adelson & Lapides 45).

As the ghetto established a new school system was formed. There were thirty-one elementary schools with 17, 962 students, plus twelve Yeshivot with 1,112 students, forty-three high schools with 1,278 students and one trade school with ninety-two students (Katz 66).

The Getto Zeitung was the official publication of the ghetto administration. It dealt with internal problems from the Judenrat's point of view. The paper appeared regularly from March 7, 1941 to September 15, 1944. The first section covered ghetto news; the second, world affairs, Polish-Jewish relations, and Nazi policies toward the Jews. The third covered literature and sports (Katz 67).

The Economic Problems

Questioned by the authorities as to how he was going to maintain the ghetto and feed the Jewish population, Rumkowski had two options; either provide the authorities with a work force for labor needed in the city or even farther away or, it would manufacture goods in exchange for food. Through the authorization of City Commissioner Scheiffer, Rumkowski issued on May 1, 1940 the registration of tailors, dressmakers, seamstresses, etc for future jobs. 14, 850 workers registered. He also submitted a list of articles that could be manufactured in the ghetto (Adelson & Lapides 48). This marked the beginning of Rumkowski's making use of Jewish labor a valued commodity. 

On Rumkowski's report to the Nazi authorities about the mood of the ghetto on 12th of June 1940, he writes about the concern of unemployment among the ghetto population. He writes, "I have explained to the workers that if they work hard and deliver, many thousands will get jobs" (Adelson & Lapides 49). The community treasury was almost empty when the ghetto was sealed. The only way to get money was from the outside, which was only possible through exports of valuables or work. The Chairman started to sell franchises for bakeries, grocery stores, and other enterprises. Anyone willing to open a store was to pay between a hundred to a few thousand marks as a down payment for provisions like flour, meat, sugar, beans, etc (Adelson & Lapides 42).

However, these deposits were the capital for the community administration.  Rumkowski set up factories and all those able and willing to work found jobs. Most of the factories required them to be over fourteen but older people and children often worked in mica splitting factories. Adults worked in factories that produced everything from textile munitions (

An indirect tax was introduced to pay for administrative costs such as electricity, social welfare, etc. In the middle of May 1940, under the Department of Economics supervision, the Department of Garden Cultivation was created as new departments and new workplaces multiplied. Rumkowski sought to create cooperatives for young people in agricultural work named Wilede. He also recruited workers to be sent to Germany where they were used for draining swamps, regulating rivers, and building bridges and tunnels. Their employer in the Reich was the Reich Autobahn (R.A.B.) (Katz 65). According to the Office of Statistics, the percentage of working Jews was proportionately high in relation to the population (Adelson & Lapides 55).

The Opposition

By January 1941, the Jewish political parties resumed their functions after the arrest of their leaders. The Zionist parties, the General Zionist, the Revisionists, the Right Poalei Zion, and Hitachdut formed an Executive against Rumkowski and his Jewish police (Katz 63).
The ghetto population began to starve on the summer of 1940, which led to the rise of demonstrations and the use of firearms against the demonstrators by the German authorities to keep peace. Demonstrations continued with great vigor. Seeing himself against the wall, Rumkowski promised to open public kitchens. This also lead to the creation of the Department of Relief, which allotted 9 marks a month for every member of unemployed person's family and children below 14 received 7 marks. By 1941 Rumkowski had spent 4,500,000 marks of his budget for public welfare, 45% of the ghetto population received full relief and 25% of them received partial relief (Adelson & Lapides 109).

The Hunger Problem

The Rumkowski's officials confiscated the food delivered to the ghetto by the Nazis. The amount of food delivered in the ghetto was mostly spoiled. Ration cards were put into effect for food distribution on June 2, 1940 by December of that year all provisions were rationed ( The amount of food given, starved people and its distribution depended on their work status. Suspicions of Rumkowski aroused, while ghetto residents became thinner and afflicted with tuberculosis, typhus, and dysentery, he and his officials remained healthy. On a bulletin, which appeared the 20th of February 1941, a remark about provision was the following: "First, the products were received by the committee. Then they were distributed...our ruler rode around in the streets, speechifying, insisting that things were getting better. Maybe he'll parade his wagons in front of the stores and their long lines, to show people how much he has accomplished" (Adelson & Lapides 110)! Those who voiced their opinions against Rumkowski were considered a threat to his work ethic and punished them by deportation. In his "Give Up Your Selfish Interests" speech, he mentions deportations committed by his staff, " I've decided to use the most radical measures with them: I will deport all thieves from the ghetto by using them for forced labor assignments...And exactly the same punishment will be meted out to a delivery boy and a high official" (Adelson & Lapides 108).


The rumor around the winter of 1941-42 was that the Lodz ghetto would be deported. Those that made the deportee list of December 10, 1941, were those who were not working, had been "individuals harmful to the ghetto", or a family member of anyone in the first categories. 

The Resettlement Commission was established 5 January 1942 by Rumkowski whose purpose was to prepare a list of deportees. Those who received summons of deportations were taken to Chelmno death camp and gassed by carbon monoxide (

The Lodz ghetto ordered to be liquidated by Heinrich Himmler on June 10, 1944. Only a few workers remained to finish confiscating materials and valuables out of the ghetto, even Rumkowski and his family deported. At the liberation of the ghetto by the Soviets (January 15, 1945) only 877 Jews remained out 230,000.

Works Cited

Adelson, Alan and Robert Lapides. Lodz Ghetto. New York: Viking Penguin, 1989.

Gilbert, Martin. The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War. New York: Henry Holt, 1985.

Katz, Alfred. Poland’s Ghetto’s At War. New York: Twayne Publishers Inc., 1970.