A haunting discovery I made this week was a postcard dated October 1941, sent by a woman in the Lodz Ghetto to a relative in Brooklyn, NY. The postcard bears the Nazi emblem on its seal and the stamp of the infamous Chaim Rumkowski, head of the Jewish Council of Elders in the Lodz Ghetto appointed by Nazi Germany during the German occupation of Poland. The writer, Sara Berman writes in desperation to her relative in Brooklyn, describing the horrors she was encountering, the hunger and fear. She writes of their relatives, writing vaguely to avoid the censorship, but stating generally that such and such is not well and such and such is not well, one name after another. Berman writes of her not understanding why no-one reaches out to help them and no one seems to care.
The Lodz Ghetto, the second largest after that of Warsaw was sealed off from the world on April 30, 1940, with the Jews and Roma locked within. Of the 200,000+ Jews interned in the Ghetto, only 877 remained hidden when the Soviets liberated them. Chaim Mordechaj Rumkowski (February 27, 1877 – August 28, 1944) was the head of the Jewish Council of Elders in the Lodz Ghetto appointed by Nazi Germany during the German occupation of Poland. Prior to the Holocaust, Rumkowski was a failed insurance salesman and orphanage director. On October 13, 1939, Rumkowski was appointed as Judenälteste (“Chief Elder of the Jews”) in the Lodz Ghetto.
Believing that creating factories to assist the Nazis in the ghetto would differ their deportment, he transformed the Ghetto into an industrial base manufacturing war supplies for the Wehrmacht army. Rumkowski was ruthless, using his position as head of the Judenrat to confiscate property and businesses that were still being run by their rightful Jewish owners in the ghetto. He established numerous departments and institutions that dealt with all of the Ghetto’s internal affairs, from housing tens of thousands of people, to distributing food rations. “He treated the Ghetto Jews like personal belongings. He spoke to them arrogantly and rudely and sometimes beat them” (Unger, Michael (2004). Reassessment of the Image of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski).
In August 1944, Rumkowski and his family joined the last transport to Auschwitz, and were murdered there on August 28, 1944, by the Jewish Sonderkommando inmates who beat him to death as revenge for his role in the Holocaust.