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Volume 4

July 30, 1993

The riots, and subsequent activities of the political parties, made an impression on the ghetto administration. It was finally dawning on them that tens of thousands of Jews were literally starving. The incoming food and other essentials were sold on the commercial market in a way that was reminiscent of pre-war practices. It was paradoxical in as much as it was tragically odd.

The huge majority of people just didn't have any income. People sold off all that they had accumulated in personal and business transactions through their entire lives. A German decree also made it compulsory to hand over to the authorities all the jewelry, gold, silver and other precious objects. Even fur coats had to be surrendered. Those that had nothing to give up, also had no money to buy necessities. Attempts were made, through the Jewish administration, to draw the Germans' interest towards the creation of production units for various trades and services. Some relief was also offered by the then still functioning foreign relief agencies. Being caught in a desperate situation, the ghetto responded with a desperate appeal for a chance to make out in this prison situation. The argument of working for the German economy found support inside and outside the ghetto compound. The road to push through this proposition was arduous. The ghetto was a very cramped place. There were hardly any factory-size buildings. There was no stock of raw materials for manufacture. Lots of pre-war skilled craftsmen and engineers were scattered throughout Poland and Russia. But in spite of all the obstacles, the idea about production units was gaining momentum. The relief offered through the soup kitchens and team halls as well as the thought of forthcoming work possibilities made life more bearable as the summer progressed.

Amongst my friends and acquaintances who stayed on in the ghetto, who didn't leave before it all closed in on us, there were just a precious few who were about in the same situation as I was. Although they had their parents and the rest of their siblings in the ghetto, we felt a very close kinship of fate. We used to meet often. At first in each other's homes or in the street. As things developed and there was a common meeting place, we met often in the kitchens that the Bund managed. One of my closest friends, Josek Joskowicz, one year younger than myself, came one morning to my house with an urgency in his voice. He heard that youth groups can apply to the newly formed agriculture department of the ghetto. They can plead for a house and adjacent garden in the area of Marysin. That would be a sort of youth camp on a permanent basis. It was already known that some Zionist groups received such houses. We both became excited. We pondered over the immense possibilities such a house could have for our movement. So, we decided to involve a few more young Bundists into that scheme.


July 31, 1993

It didn't take long at all to find very eager supporters for the idea of a wartime version of the SKIF camps. The department of agriculture put the number of needed petitioners at around 35. We had many more that were willing to start a Bundist adventure in the ghetto. We were advised by the agriculture officials as to the heading for the petition. It was to be a neutral sounding heading. Just to call ourselves the SKIF wasn't advisable, according to them. So we chose the "Alumni of the CYSZO schools". CYSZO was in Yiddish the acronym for the Yiddish secular schools in Poland.

By the time we got through the formalities, the whole leadership of the young and adult Bundists was involved. Having been one of the original initiators of the scheme, I became the conduit through which exchanges with the department took place. Together with my good friend Joskowicz, we went in search of a suitable location.

The whole area of Marysin was new to me and Josek. We were ourselves living almost next door to it, before the war. But the area was populated by gentiles only. I just don't know even now of anybody who went there. Only my sister was once invited by our neighbours, who moved there, to visit them. There was a girl of her age that was her friend. Esther told us then stories of the fields and small cottages that made up that area. When we went there, it was an almost empty stretch of land. Sometimes we encountered patrolling policemen. They were keeping an eye on smuggling operations. After having found one place that wasn't acceptable to the department, we found another one. It was even larger than the first one. We finally got our permit. The leadership of our movement took charge of the venture. It became an oasis in the harsh ghetto environment. I was amongst the first group that went there from our homes. For a few months in the summer and early fall of 1940 this house in Marysin was my home. We used to go back to our homes only sometimes. Out of our vast reservoir of comrades, we found an elderly man who turned out to be quite adept at small plot vegetable gardening. Soon we were digging and sowing all kinds of vegetables. The seeds were provided by the agriculture people. The empty rooms got straw sacks to become our beds. We divided the house into male and female sections; soon enough the camp in Marysin became the home for more than 40 young people.


August 1, 1993

We worked right through the summer. In order to qualify for food, we had to supply the agriculture department with a contingent of workers. As one of such groups I used to be sent to gardens, privately owned by members of the huge bureaucracy who ruled the ghetto. We had to till the land and plant seeds. Our own garden slowly became a vegetable plot. All kinds of fresh produce kept on turning up on the dining table. For ghetto conditions, this kind of living was a relief. A fine cultural and social program was laid on. We had the help of many literary and socially conscious persons in getting the series going.

Being the centre of the SKIF in the ghetto, we had many visitors. Since not all members could be accommodated, we used to entertain many at the house and garden. It was a continuous party. We also had serious discussions and talks on the ongoing war and prospects for peace and ideas of post-war developments.

I remember standing guard outside the house when I. Nirenberg, still alive in Buenos Aires, delivered a fiery speech on the occasion of the Bundist celebration of its 43rd year of existence. Although not present all the time, I heard enough of it to fill me with high spirits.

We had at home an ordered life of sorts. Mother was working in the soup kitchen. Esther was attending some schooling. The ghetto had permission to run such schools as Rumkofsky deemed right. It was the Medem school on a reduced scale. However poor by pre-war standards, it nevertheless was a good thing to have. We used to receive some mail. Both father and David kept on sending postcards. We could not answer, except for the occasional curt postcard. We even received a parcel from David. It was some salted meat and cereals. He was already living in another city. He used to attend school at night and work in the day. Father was working for the Bundist relief effort. Because Skierniewice was close to Warsaw, he took his instructions from there. I know that he travelled also to other places where he brought succor to Jewish war veterans as well as Bundist groups.

We had made contact with uncle Moishe Aron from Belgium. They were living a worried peaceful life. We asked them if they could procure a visa for me. It was still before the German onslaught on Western Europe. They could not help in getting me a visitor's visa. In the meantime the idea about ghetto productivity was gaining ground. Little work units sprung up. The feeling of improvements was getting around.

It might be of interest to note that in as much as the SKIF had its centre in Marysin, the ghetto ruler favoured the Zionist groups. There were many such centres as ours in the Marysin area. But of all the groups out there, ours fared the worst. We were too much of a thorn in Rumkofsky's side. Our allocations of food were cut and we had to watch our steps continuously. The entourage around Rumkofsky did not like the Bund.


August 2, 1993

Most of the plum positions in the ghetto went to personal cronies and Zionists. Rumkofsky was a pre-war character, well known in Lodz. He came to live in Lodz at the end of the First World War. His place of birth was somewhere in Lithuania. His manner of speech immediately betrayed him, once you came into immediate contact with him. He used to prance around through the ghetto streets in a horse-drawn droshka (buggy). He would stop at random and deliver a speech as soon as he saw a few people around a particular spot. Usually it was in front of a soup kitchen or food distribution centre. He didn't tolerate any dissent. He sometimes hit people and other times insulted them. He used to claim indirectly the title of King of the Lodz Ghetto. He boasted about his grand designs of making the ghetto tick like a watch. His manner of dress was one of affront to the poor, impoverished ghetto people. He wore long, shiny boots and spotless clothes. He just made the bystanders feel, or he wanted to make them feel, inferior and powerless. In his mannerisms he copied German usage. So did his cronies, crawlers and henchmen. He used to use his name of CHAIM as an implied conduit to life, that is what the name suggested. He also let it be known that, just as the world-renowned leader of Zionism, Chaim Weitzman, was aiming to lead the Jews into their own land, so would he lead his Jews of the Lodz ghetto to the promised land. In my opinion, based on what I saw and heard through the ghetto period and after, he was a power-crazed man, given to theatricals, pompousness and extreme egotism. Having surrounded himself with his own cronies, he acted out his day in court in a manner befitting a crazed aspirant to greatness. His doings were mostly tragic. But sometimes comic and even benevolent at times.

He became the ghetto eldest by sheer chance. Upon entering the occupied city of Lodz, the appointed German city leader named the first available Jew for that position. His being in the office of the Jewish community headquarters just did it. He had before the war the rare distinction of being a young girls' molester. Having been removed from active Zionist activities because of his scandalous behaviour, he still retained the position of being active in the orphanage of Helenowek. There he acquired his infamous fame. The Jews of Lodz landed up with a very shady character as their representative to the occupiers. Although all the positions of importance were given to his old-time acquaintances, a few crumbs were also thrown to others. Our Bundist standing in the community was high. So, we got a job here and there. It must have been one of those considerations that made it possible to keep the SKIF camp going.

At the same time that we organized our camp activities on a very high cultural level, we also watched the favouritism displayed towards the Zionist camps. We were just barely tolerated. They were pampered and favoured. In spite of it, we became very attached to our spot of tranquility in the ghetto.

Our ill-wishers even spread rumours of all kinds of immoral behaviour in the camp. I spent there many months. I did not see anything of that nature. But those that wanted to discredit the Bund did not need facts. They were and still are guided by bigotry, ignorance and plain hate of everything that is progressive and humanistic in Jewish life.


August 3, 1993

During the course of the summer months, several enterprises started operations in the ghetto. Some tailoring ventures as well as woodworking, metals, paper bags, and a very small experimental carpet and textiles department. This kind of activity boosted people's morale. There were hopeful signs in such developments. People with various degrees of experience started to inquire about job possibilities.

Unfortunately that same summer saw the German offensive against Western Europe. Through all kinds of gaps in the tightening stranglehold on the ghetto, news filtered in of huge setbacks to all of the western allies. Before long, there was the collapse on the whole front. Barely able to save the bulk of its forces in France, the British attempt to stem the German onslaught came to naught. All of Europe except some countries North and South became German-ruled. For England this blow was very traumatic. It regrouped and started a very exhaustive defense of its islands. Soon after this terrible event, bombs started to disrupt the British war effort as well as its daily life. Before any recuperation took place, Scandinavia fell to the Germans. The remaining countries in the South also succumbed soon enough. Europe was almost totally under the German boot. There were only a few neutral countries left.

We heard of all this going on. There started to circulate a clandestine radio listening service. Several experts on wireless kept radio receivers in their homes and in camouflaged sheds. Through their devotion, we were informed of what was going on in the world. It was very dangerous work. Besides the gloomy news that kept being broadcast from Britain, Russia and America, there were also some good news. American policy was swinging towards the allies. War production went into high gear in the industrialized free world.

At about that time, the ghetto was put on a work camp basis. All the German money had to be surrendered. Instead, special ghetto money was given out to the Jewish workers and administration employees. Those that had German marks had to exchange them for ghetto money in a short time. This move also cut off abruptly the little smuggling that was carried out. I saw once how it was being done. Walking along the fenced-off Aleksandrowska street, I suddenly realized that some passing driver of a horse wagon threw a package to a pedestrian walking next to me. In no time a small bundle of what must have been money flew back into the driver's lap. It only lasted a few seconds. But the operation was very efficient and swift. I looked around me bewildered. I caught a glance at the sentry guarding a crossing not far away. He seemed to glance the other way. Maybe it was arranged that way. Some such operations took place at many spots around the ghetto perimeter. The forced exchange of German currency for ghetto money helped the elimination of this activity. Some people paid with their lives for it. Just as the last winter was a very cold one, so the ensuing summer was hot and humid. We still had reasonable food coming in. Meats, butter, milk and other proteins were scarce. We hoped for the strength to endure the oncoming winter.


August 4, 1993

As the fall followed the hot summer, so our stay in the ghetto became an established fact of life. Sickness and malnutrition became frequently talked about topics. Swelling of the legs, stomach and other parts of the body confronted people very often. Their numbers were getting numerous. Now and again a familiar face of an old friend or relative appeared in the streets.

Although the number of employed people kept on increasing, there were very many people falling by the wayside. Our own second cousin and great-uncle got into that category. Many of the sick and emaciated people were simply diagnosed as suffering from avitaminosa. It meant that they were victims of the slow starvation process. I think that the doctors diagnosing their patients, were careful lest their findings were read by Germans. It was not permitted to consider people as starving or undernourished. The Germans had always an eye towards posterity.. They just did not want the outside world to know what kind of life we were leading in the ghetto. The number of doctors was very small. Their equipment and supply of medicines were very primitive and negligible. They generally served the people well. Besides some extra food, they shared the lot of everybody. Hospitals and clinics were few and far between. There was a small number of qualified nurses. But they could be recruited from aspiring students. There were some orphanages functioning in the ghetto. They were the special domain of Rumkofsky.

As the regulation concerning the changing of German marks for so-called Rumkies (ghetto money) was accomplished, the news broke through that a welfare scheme for the destitute was initiated. They were to receive a small sum of money to be able to keep body and soul together. Rents were never a problem of any magnitude in the ghetto. All the houses were declared the domain of the ghetto administration. Some people maybe paid their original landlords some money. A large army of paupers were vying with each other for some sustenance. I managed to find a position for myself in doing something that resembled the textile weaving process.

A new industry was being tested in some empty house in Marysin. It was the production of crude carpeting. Using old clothes and cutting them into strips and then converting those strips into spools, made the process of weaving those old clothes into some sort of usable carpet. There was also an experiment initiated to weave some yarns into a darning string spread out on big frames. All this was being done by hand in a very primitive way. As I made my way back home from the SKIF camp, I took very seriously the encouraging attitude of my mother. I applied to the director of the newly formed textile concern. He sent me to the Marysin place of experimentation. How glad was I when my application was accepted. I became an employed worker. A new chapter opened up for me in the ghetto. Mother was still working in the Bundist kitchen. My sister was attending a school. It was a school with a distant echo of bygone days. But a school it was.


August 5, 1993

Our activities in the Bund concentrated mainly on succor for its members and sympathizers. The Bundist periphery was spread across the whole Jewish community. There were many sick people. There was also a considerable number of women with children. There were the old. There were also the young. An extensive network of volunteers covered the Bundist effort. The means to help people came from access to some funds. Those moneys came from better-off members. Some of those that helped out were in certain positions where they could help others. They were the food distribution staff as well as medical and social affairs operatives. The succor offered not only direct help, but also encouragement and assurances of concern and comradely support. After one took the measure of things as they were then, the thing needed urgently was the encouragement to stand up to all the adversities constantly encroaching upon us. To keep up morale, we needed also some discourses on the war situation, on the inner ghetto circumstances and if possible knowledge of the whereabouts of Jews who left Lodz, both voluntarily and by forced means.

To help us in such efforts we made use of our radio listening. We also divided the membership at large into small groups. Such groups of five were served by a leader recruited from among the most active members of the Bund. I was one of those "five-leaders". I had to convey the latest news as it came down to me from the clandestine radio listening service. We the "five-leaders" were constantly in touch with the inner circle of our leadership. Our home served as a storage place for all kinds of supplies. I as well as mother and sister were not allowed to inquire as to the contents of those bags. The keys to our place were also available to the Bund. They could come and go without being asked any questions.

I must say, that I thought of all this clandestine activity with trepidation and with pride. It all looked to me similar to stories told by father in the far off days, about conspiratorial work against the Czarist regime. My father grew up in pre-First World War Poland. Russia was then the occupying power. Their occupation lasted for more than 120 years. For Jewish youth in those times life was doubly hard. They were persecuted as Jews and as subjects of the Czar. Socialist propaganda converted lots of the youth from conservative, religious, traditional Jews into secular and socially-conscious people. He told us stories of fights against the oppressive police. Of course all this was done in a conspiratorial manner. So, now that an era of exceptional circumstance descended upon us, we dug out from our memory bank reminiscences of our father's doings. Some of his contemporaries from those days lived amongst us in the ghetto. They knew by first-hand experience what conspiratorial work was all about. Although there were no overt persecutions in the ghetto against party people on the part of the police, we knew that covert activity went on. Hence all this secret cell network.


August 7, 1993

In the air in Lodz, hung a cloud of apprehension. We knew of the big battle going on over the skies of Great Britain. It would probably be right to say that in the skies a fight was in full fury. We knew it then as we know it now, that this battle was the decisive battle, for the future of Europe. Of course, one can speculate that it also was a fight of prime importance for the future of humankind. The very skies that witnessed this massive onslaught and repulsion, also had the capacity to act as an agent of information, encouragement and sharing of values. The agency of the skies helped us breathe a sigh of relief as the Battle of Britain was victorious for the allies. I think that it was then, in those distance days, that started my admiration and almost love for the gallant airmen of Britain and allies, plus the devotion and steadfastness of the British islanders. Although by no means the end of the very dark days, those events put new life and hope into our already despondent beings.

The ghetto, however, was trudging along with its own life and rhythm. Life on the SKIF camp was going from difficult to hardship. Rumkofsky felt that he was in effective control of the ghetto domain. His overlords were busy creating new avenues for labour for their own enrichment as well as for the German war effort. Those amongst the despised henchmen who were constantly looking for new schemes, were also scheming for their pockets and for their chances to stay out of front line duties. Rumkofsky and his entourage of lick-spittles and the Ghetto Verwaltung (the official designation of the German running the ghetto), were doing an efficient job of squeezing the ghetto population. We were being paid with rumkies which hardly covered the meagre rations that were already the norm for the ghetto.

Our camp in Marysin was starved out of existence. Our group left Marysin in compact marching order. In no time did the beautiful dream of our movement become a sweet memory only. The winter was fast approaching. Whoever could, laid on some supplies for the coming cold and frost. Heating material was available in very short rations. Potatoes and staples were rationed, and also in scarce amounts. On top of it all, movement was initiated by the Germans. People from smaller towns and villages were brought into the ghetto. Also, the first contingents of Jews from Germany proper and from Czechoslovakia, Austria and Luxembourg, started appearing in the ghetto. The provincial Jews brought with them tales of woe. It was almost too much for our psyche to take in all of those stories. They were true, as we found out a bit later. But for us, stuck in the ghetto atmosphere, it was not at first fully comprehended.

By contrast, the so-called foreign Jews looked well fed and carefully groomed. Soon enough, though, they were forced to share our living conditions. By the same token of movement, the first contingents of ghetto Jews started to be deported. No one knew where they were being taken to. No news was arriving from those deportees. Some, we found out later, were taken to road works that the Germans laid on in Poland. It was probably the intent of the war planners to have good, modern roads. We did not know then yet of the German designs for the East.

Mail and occasional packages kept on arriving in the ghetto, from the people who fled to the Russian side of Poland. It looked peaceful enough, as far as Russian-German relations were concerned. Russia was supplying on a massive scale all kinds of foodstuffs and raw materials for the Germans. The German propaganda was not openly attacking the communists. The Russian propaganda did the same. No news of the by then known atrocities were published by the press or broadcast on the radio. I don't know if the Russians knew what was going on on the borders. After all, the Germans had a huge army along the entire, long border. The Russian intelligence, plus the intelligence services of the Western allies, was usually not asleep. Maybe it was an ostrich type of attitude. Pretend not to be aware.

Although sickness was already taking a big toll on the worn-out ghetto population, our family managed to stay reasonably healthy. I worked in the carpet factory. I became proficient as an assistant weaver. Mother still worked in the Bundist kitchen and the ghetto version of the Bundist Medem Shule was open for those who attended the school before the war. From father we only had one first-hand account, through a Bundist who managed to get into the ghetto. He came from Warsaw and saw father in Skierniewice. It was nice to speak with somebody who had only a few days earlier spoken to father. My father was deeply worried over our fate. That friend, who is now still alive in Buenos Aires, promised then to keep an eye on our welfare. From my brother we kept getting some mail. He studied and worked at the same time. He lived in a home for people who were creative writers. It sounded good to us. At least he was doing the things that he always wanted to do.

The beginning of the winter of 1941 was a slow starter. But soon enough the fury of the Polish, windy snow and frosty weather made itself felt. Just as the winter was setting in, we still managed to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the Bund. It was memorable, this gathering of young Bundists, amidst the ongoing battle for survival. We were told by our leaders not to lose hope. A better Poland and a peaceful world were looming on the horizon. With devotion and zest, did the young crowd receive those reassuring words. It was soul lifting.


August 8, 1993

With the progression of cold weather, there also appeared more frequently manifestations of hunger and debilitation. Emaciated men, women and children were seen on the streets of the ghetto. Rationing of basic foods and heating matter was tightened. We were feeling already the approaching starvation. Hospitals were getting overcrowded with undernourished people. The older people and the young were suffering and weakening in their limbs and arms. New terms were established for the changed looks that people presented. Terms like musulman, klapsedra and other similar epithets were getting to be the new additions to our daily language. The terms just mentioned meant a dying person or a skinny person.

I don't know whether any real effort was made to alleviate such people's lot. Rumkofsky's factories were humming with increased speed. New industries like snowshoe making, leather belts for transmissions, metal bindings of all sorts, feather products, embroideries, dressmaking and many others made their appearance. People were being brought into the ghetto. Others were being sent out. The newcomers from other countries were being reduced from looks of comparative well-being, into poor, rag-clad individuals. Amongst those that came in from abroad, there were many non-Jews in the religious sense. They were in the ghetto because their ancestors were Jews. They even had their church services. The new year brought no relief. The war was not being actively pursued. The front was not an active one. England was getting ready for big switches in her war effort. The United States were being constantly pressured by the allied to join the war on their side. The British and French colonies and other nations were also approached to join ranks with the anti-fascist bloc. New loans and war bonds were being flouted. African shores were becoming the terrain of war activities. Jews were being pushed around in all the conquered lands. The avenues of escape: Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden and Turkey, were put into tightly guarded security zones.

In spite of all the calamities befalling the Jews of Europe, there was a lot of hope for an imminent betterment. We thought that the U.S. could exert strong pressure on the Germans to normalize our lives.

The ghetto in the meantime was going through swings of upbeat and downbeat moods. That depended on the availability of food and the tightening or loosening of the screws on our lives. The fortunes of the war and the success or failings of each battle or other actions by the West, determined the general state of mental strength and inner resistance.

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