Between East and West: Jews from Germany in the Lodz Ghetto
In October–November 1941, 10,000 German Jews, out of 163,000, as well as 10,000 Jews from Vienna and Prague were deported to the Lodz (Litzmannstadt) ghetto. Most of them ended their lives in the gas chambers of Chelmno in May 1942. Similar transports were directed to Minsk, Riga, and Kovno until 1943. At the time of arrival in Lodz in 1941, there were 143,000 Jews living in the ghetto in dreadful, overcrowded conditions. They had come to terms with their circumstances. Unexpectedly, another 20,000 Western Jews, many elderly, were thrust into their reality. The newcomers landed in worse, almost unbearable conditions — little furniture and no heating, running water, latrines, or beds. Chaim Rumkowski, the powerful but controversial Elder of the Jews in the Ghetto, separated the newcomers from the Ostjuden and organized them in communal dwellings based on their cities of origin. He forbad “old timers” to rent rooms to the Western deportees, who were unable to find employment in the factories; their financial allotment was pitiful. Food was scarce, deaths from hunger rose, particularly among the elderly. The locals accused the Western Jews of haughtiness; the Yekkes accused the locals of foisting the hardest tasks upon them. Alienation and mutual suspicion between the two groups increased. Health care was minimal and the mortality of Western Jews was twice that of the locals. Mail money orders (pensions and insurance) from Austria and Germany, from Jewish organizations in Prague and Berlin, and mainly from relatives and friends, helped the Westerners somewhat in their battle for survival. It remains uncertain as to who had the responsibility for selecting those to be transported to Chelmno. Was it in Rumkowski’s hands, decided only by the Germans, or a cooperative undertaking?