The Nazis gradually transferred all of the Jews of Lodz into a specific area of town. It was no accident that this area was the worst part of the city. By May 1, 1940 all of the Jews of Lodz had been moved into this area, known as the ghetto, and Nazis were ordered to shoot without warning any Jew who tried to escape. The Lodz Ghetto was among the first major ghettos established by the Nazis in large cities during the Holocaust.
Pawel’s family was desperate for a decent place to live in the ghetto, where the population density was much greater than it had been before the war. Every family lived with an average of 5 or 6 people per room. Much of the ghetto had neither running water nor a sewer system. Conditions were appalling.
TESTIMONY: “THE GHETTO”
“The walls would get snowy and glistened from the cold.”
The Nazis set up a Jewish Council, called the Judenrat , and they appointed Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski to be in charge. In his management of the ghetto, Rumkowski believed that he also had the opportunity to protect the Jews of Lodz. Rumkowski believed that if the ghetto had factories that produced useful goods, the inhabitants would be safe from the Nazis.
Pawel’s father got a job in one factory as the head of accounting, and his mother worked at another factory. Pawel, at age 10, began working as a mechanic fixing sewing machines. He also helped his parents take care of Henrik and the household chores. One of his responsibilities was to wait on the long lines to get the food rations for the family. With the little food they received, his parents decided to divide and weigh everything into four portions so that each family member would receive an equal share. But there was never enough food, and everyone was always hungry.
TESTIMONY: “RUMKOWSKI’S GIFT”
“It was pretty much a dictatorship.”
The worst times were during the roundups, which began in January 1942. During the roundups, the Nazis would identify groups of people for “resettlement.”The Nazis promised better conditions to those who were “resettled” but many people had grave doubts about these assertions. Those who were deported from the ghetto went to an unknown fate.
One day in September of that year, Pawel and his family heard the Nazis order everybody down into the yard. Henrik was seven years old and the family worried that he would be taken because the Nazis often removed the young, sick, and elderly during the roundups. Pawel, his brother, and his mother decided to hide in the attic, while Mr. Hodys went down into the yard to give the impression that no one was hiding.
Through a small window in the attic, they could see and hear the women and children being dragged into trucks, screaming. Fortunately, no one suspected that Pawel, his brother, and his mother were hiding, so they were saved for the moment.
As the days passed, Pawel lived in constant fear. He became acutely aware of the terrible reality that the members of his family could be separated at any moment. He watched his mother’s face become drawn, her hair prematurely grey, and her cheeks caved in with worry for her family.
In the summer of 1943, when Pawel turned 13, his family wanted to make him a bar mitzvah in the ghetto. Pawel’s father found a Rabbi to teach him, and his mother managed to make a “cake” out of coffee grinds, potato peels, and jam. Despite the terrible conditions and the knowledge that this occasion sacrificed the little food they had, this was a time when the whole family was together, celebrating their life and survival.