Yesterday morning, we left Warsaw and headed back south to the city Oświęcim. Along the way, we stopped in Łódź to see a few locations related to our studies. Prior to the Holocausat, Łódź had the second largest Jewish population in Poland – second to Warsaw. In February 1940, the Germans established a ghetto in this city. Jews from all over Europe were deported to Łódź. There were also an estimated 5,000 Roma/Sinti people were deported here as well. By the spring of 1944, Łódź was the last remaining ghetto in Poland. As the ghetto was liquidated between June and July 1944, the remaining Jews were deported to Chelmno and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Our first stop on our day tour of Łódź was the Jewish cemetery. It is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world, containing more than 225,000 graves. It is still an active site, serving the small Jewish population in Łódź. The matzevah are so diverse, varying based on the time period in which it was created, the wealth of the family, and the maintenance over time. Unfortunately, much of the cemetery is in a state of disrepair with broken headstones and overgrown vegetation. It is a difficult task to be sure, given the sheer size of the space. There is an interesting dynamic created by this combination of life and death, hard stone and organic growth, that is quite beautiful.
We made our way through the cemetery until we came to “The Ghetto Field.” This section of the cemetery was actively used to bury Jewish individuals who died in the Łódź Ghetto. It is interesting that this practice was permitted by the Nazis, given the much more common use of mass graves. One of the markers said that there are 43,527 graves in this section. Standing in “The Ghetto Field” is overwhelming. Some of the graves are marked with simple placards and others have concrete borders. They seem to stretch endlessly in all directions. As we made our way back to the entrance, we noticed several pits along the cemetery wall. As the final deportation left Łódź The Jews left after the final liquidation of the ghetto were ordered to dig these pits. The Nazis intended to use these pits in which to murder the remaining Jews, however, they fled the advancing Soviets. Along the cemetery wall, there are dozens of plaques dedicated to victims who either died in Łódź Ghetto or who were deported from this site.
Just outside of the cemetery, there is a memorial installation in remembrance of the Jews of Łódź. The memorial is a combination of traditional Judaic symbols and images from the Holocaust. The base of the memorial depicts a tree on which the trunk and branches are broken. Representing the tree of life, a broken tree in a symbol that it commonly used in Jewish cemeteries as a symbol of death. A menorah sits atop this base with a plaque that reads, “The light of memory of innocent Jews from around the world, murdered by Nazi war criminals in ghettos and camps in 1939-1945, the memory of you will remain forever in our hearts.” The tall pillar on the left hand side of the memorial is meant to represent a crematoria chimney.
Our next stop was the Radegast Memorial. Like the Umschlagplatz in Warsaw, this location was the major site of deportation of Jews from the Łódź Ghetto to Auschwitz. The inferior of the memorial was inaccessible to our group, because it was closed for renovations. The exterior still gave us a lot to consider. The first think that I noticed upon arrival was a long concrete tunnel with years written in Gothic style characters that culminated in a tall tower with the message “Thou shall not kill” written in multiple languages. Like the one in the cemetery, the tower represents a crematoria chimney. Further into the space is a restored train station building with a train and box cars replicated from those used during the Holocaust. The end of the Radegast Memorial complex is a series of massive tomb stones listing the various locations to which the Jews from Łódź were deported.
Our final stop before having lunch at the Famulas of Poznanski Textile Factory Complex, the site of a former factory complex owned by Izrael Poznanski, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Łódź, was the the Survivor’s Park. In addition to the actual park are, this location also includes the Monument Honoring Poles who Saved Jews During the Second World War, the Memorial Mound, and the Marek Edelman Dialogue Center. In this space, there was a beautiful public garden with trees that were planted by local survivors and their families. The Memorial Mound featured a statue of Jan Karski overlooking the park and the installation honoring Polish rescuers. At first, the Monument Honoring Poles who Saved Jews During the Second World War seems like a series of randomly angled walls with the names of Polish Righteous Among the Nations listed on them. However, the walls are arranged in a way that forms a Star of David visible from above. Irena Sendler and Irene Gut Opdyke are two women that I have featured in some of my research, so it was special to find their names.
After our short visit to Łódź, we returned to the bus to begin our descent into southern Poland where we will spend the final week of our program in Oświęcim.