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n Those Terrible Days: Writings from the Lodz Ghetto

jan peczkis|Sunday, September 15, 2013

Having read many diaries of the Polish Jews who had been locked in ghettos, by the Germans, prior to their shipment to the death camps, I find that this one stands out. It includes heart-wrenching descriptions, such as that of mothers shrieking for many hours after their children had been taken from them, by the Jewish ghetto police, to fulfill a quota (for the death camps).

5.0 out of 5 stars Editor Michal Unger features an informative introduction to the diary, as well as explanatory annotations as footnotes. He estimates that, of 204,800 Jews in the Lodz ghetto, only 7,000-10,000 survived the war. (p. 29). (The relatively high survival rate owed to the delayed destruction of the ghetto, and especially the continued German exploitation of many Lodz Jews as skilled forced laborers to the end of the war.)

Most of the diary content is mundane. It usually refers to everyday matters.

Mortal fear of the Nazis is a common retroactive exculpation for the 1939 Jewish-Soviet collaboration much further east. Interestingly, diary-author Zelkowicz (1897-1944) not only adds his voice to other Jews who stated that there was no great Jewish fear of the Nazis at the time, but also adds to other testimonies signifying the fact that even the news of Nazi anti-Semitic acts in prewar Germany was not believed. He quips, "Therefore, in our times, we shrugged off and expressed doubt when various newspapers told us what was being done to Jews in Berlin and other cities. Each of us chuckled skeptically, `So, our writers are amply endowed with the spice of imagination...'" (p. 355).

Much has been written, in recent years, by neo-Stalinists such as Jan T. Gross, on such Polish conduct as looting Jews, denouncing Jews for financial gain, housing fugitive Jews only as long as they could pay, etc. Interestingly, Zelkowicz relates Jewish misconduct directly to its Polish counterpart. He comments, "Major felonies were committed in the ghetto, where accepted human rules did not apply... Furthermore, we know, things are no different among the Jews than among the Gentiles..." (p. 132).

Consider the matter of Polish "greed" in the acquisition of Jewish properties, including previously-respectable and not-greatly-needy Poles engaging in this conduct. Zelkowicz describes the same among Jews, as he writes, (quote) Grave crimes were committed in the ghetto. The gravest of them was the transformation of people who had worked for decades to maintain their culture and ways, the fruits of millennia of effort, into predatory beasts after half a year of life under inhuman conditions. Overnight they were stripped of every sense of morality and shame. Ghetto inhabitants pilfered and stole at every opportunity, whether they needed the booty or not...They stole from the community chest, of all places. (unquote)(p. 131).

Note also that this behavior was not the desperation of Jews knowing that they were all to die. In fact, as is obvious from the description above, it had started long before the Nazis began systematically exterminating Jews anywhere in German-occupied Poland.

In common with many Jewish chroniclers, Zelkowicz condemns the Jewish ghetto police. He provides much detail on their motives (pp. 305-306), which included a sense of self-serving elitism, but did not include imminent fear of death, or of family members held as Nazi hostages. In fact, Zelkowicz made the statements (on pages 305-306) in September 1942 (p. 297), at which time the Jewish population of the Lodz ghetto was overwhelmingly still intact, after a relatively small deportation, and was to remain virtually untouched for nearly another two years! (Unger, p. 18).

Interestingly, Zelkowicz makes it clear that the German rewards to the Jewish police were strikingly similar to that given to Poles in order to get them to denounce fugitive Jews. In September 1942 (as noted in the previous paragraph), Zelkowicz wrote, (quote) They bought the Jewish police--got them drunk, and drugged them by exempting their children from the decree...and by giving them a kilogram and a half of bread per day--plenty of bread, plus sausage and sugar--in return for the bloodstained job...Who should do it but the Jewish police, who in one stroke have been bought off, intoxicated, and ideationally persuaded. (unquote)(p. 306). [The rewards of bags of sugar, and self-imposed drunkenness, parallel that seen in the German-driven anti-Jewish conduct of the Polish Blue Police (POLICJA GRANATOWA), as described by neo-Stalinist Jan Grabowski in his recent, much-publicized book, THE HUNT FOR THE JEWS.]

The diarist seems to have a middle view of the controversial Chaim Rumkowski (Rumkovsky). He provides a detailed account of the privileged Jews who, for a time, were exempt from deportation to the death camps. (pp. 349-351).
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