Fear and despair in the Lodz ghetto

Propaganda pictures taken by the Germans in 1941 showed relatively benign conditions in the workshops.

The Jewish leaders of the Lodz ghetto believed they could protect themselves by making themselves useful to the German war effort. Negotiations with the Germans led to the establishment of a huge number of workshops making goods for the Wehrmacht. It was a cruel lie – no matter how useful they made themselves it would not alter the ultimate fate that the Nazi’s had in store for them. Nor were they concerned that they had enough food to sustain them in their work.

Fragments of a young girls diary have survived to describe conditions in the Lodz ghetto in March 1942. Little is known about the author or her family – her father, mother and sister who were working in workshops. They were all on starvation diets and the central pre-occupation of the diary is hunger – the constant search for food and the long hours spent queuing for it.

Monday 16th March 1942

When I went to the co-op, I heard the news that the bread ration is now for 7 days. I shivered. We stood in line in the bitter cold a long time before we were let in. Finally I got 2 breads…. At 3 pm I went to the [coal] depot to get the briquette ration.

At the Balut Market, German workers were repairing the electric wire and were pitching a tent. A woman passed by the tent. One of the workers pushed her to the ground and started beating and kicking her. People ran, scared, in every direction. Nobody said a word. For each word not to their liking, hundreds of Jews could perish.

How tragic is our life, how humiliating. We are treated worse than pigs. We Jews of the ghetto, we work so hard, we help them in the war, making beautiful things from rags – military uniforms, rugs, everything a person needs. They treat us worse than slaves. And this is life. Isn’t death better? I had to hold back with all my strength so as not to scream insults at them. We have to keep silent, even if our hearts are broken.

See Lodz Ghetto: Inside a Community Under Siege.

Over 2,244 people died in the Lodz ghetto from starvation, malnutrition, disease and ill treatment in March 1942. There were suicides on a daily basis. In addition around a thousand people a day were being deported for 'resettlement' – 24,687 in total during the month, out of a total population of 142,079 at the beginning of the month. Those who had been selected for resettlement war forced to sell all their worldly goods – their furniture, linen, everything, just to raise enough cash to buy some food for the ‘resettlement’ journey.

As yet people still believed that those selected were being sent work in the east. But this belief was growing very thin – as no word had ever been received from those sent away.

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