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What were the conditions like on the trip to the ghetto?
It was a regular train compartment with wooden benches. It used to be called "third class" at that time. The doors were sealed from the outside. And the Germans - with drawn guns - rode along on the outside. It was very hot, very stuffy. It was fall, 1941. And it took very,very long. There was a lot of uncertainty. Where are we going? What are we doing? We had no idea.
Can you describe the whole process of how you moved from your house into the transport? What you were being told?
We left the furnished room each with one suitcase, as demanded. We met in a school not far from the railway station. We waited practically the whole day until they made us march to the train. They loaded the trains. The Jewish community brought some food. And at that point, if somebody had wanted to help, one could have walked away. One could go into hiding. But there was nobody who offered. Nobody would dare do it. There were over one-thousand and fifty people on that transport.
Did you know anybody else on that transport?
I had a couple of classmates, I had a couple of acquaintances. The Vice-President of the Jewish community was on that transport. We knew a few people, but not well.
What were your first impressions of the ghetto?
We were turned over by the Germans to a group of men in black uniforms with yellow stars and yellow headbands on their hats. The so-called Ghetto Police. They told us where we were. We had to walk two hours into the ghetto from the rail siding. We saw men and women in ragged clothing. We saw parts of the ghetto which was really the slum of the big city. We couldn't figure out what this place was because it wasn't fit for a human to inhabit this place. It was called the Balut, which was the poorest section of the city at large. It used to house people of the underworld - thieves and other unsavory characters. We saw pumps and courtyards which indicated that there was no water line inside the houses. We saw as we came into the part of the city itself - which was partly paved and partly not - the run-off from the sewage between the sidewalk and the street. There was no underground piping. There was no sewage disposal. It was on the surface. There were no manhole covers. You could not go underground. You saw barbed wires. You saw red and white Sentry Guards and German soldiers.
We were housed in a school for about a month before they found a room. Not in the main section of the ghetto, but over the bridge on the other side of the ghetto. The room was occupied by eight people. It was smaller than this room. Food was rationed at irregular intervals. You never knew when you would get a new ration or what you would get. And hunger became very evident after a few weeks, after we had sold most of our belongings to buy bread. And there was just nothing else to be done. I looked for work and it took me about three or four months to find my first job.
My mother was already too sick to work. And eventually I found a hat factory and in the back room they had about thirty children. They were taught a little bit of Polish and a little bit of Hebrew. I managed to get her [sister] into the so-called school.
You saw a black wagon every morning with a gray horse, going through the ghetto streets, picking up the dead. And there were many dead. There was no news coming in from the outside and no news from us to the outside. It was just not feasible. Some people tried to escape. If you came close to the barbed wire you were shot. If you were caught otherwise - in "illegal activities" as the Germans considered them - there were hangings in an open place. It was like no other place I had ever seen. I had ever read about. It did not even resemble Les Miserables of the French book. It was worse. It is hard to describe it if you haven't lived through it. It was filthy. There were outhouses. There were no bathrooms. I didn't see a shower or a bathroom for four years.
There is only one thing positive I can say about the ghetto. I had a couple of very good friends. Everything else was corrupt, from the ghetto administration all the way down to the policeman on the street. There were the haves and the have-not's. The elite did not lack for food, but the common people did - and most of us were common people. We did not belong to the administration.
Can you describe how you met friends?
I met both of them in an office. One died in the meantime and with the other one I'm still friendly. She lives in Israel.
You mentioned that you did not see a shower or bathroom for four years. What were the techniques you used to take care of yourself?
We had a little bowl - a little metal bowl - and we would bring up water. And the bowl served as a sink, bathtub or whatever. We didn't have any soap. There was no hot water, ever, unless you happened to have wood and could warm it up. And ultimately we were plagued by lice because if you went into a store or you went over the bridge you just picked them up from the person next to you. And lice carried typhus. So there was really nothing to be done. We knew, but we could not avoid it.
Mother's Death in the Ghetto
Can you describe the day of your mother's death?
I was not at home. She died in the morning, I was at work. When I had come home the neighbors told me. They had called the black wagon and the next morning they picked her up. And we waited two weeks to hear - my sister and I - about a burial. We didn't hear. We walked to the cemetery, it was a two hour walk. In the house next to the cemetery we found hundreds of dead bodies. Some were between two planks of wood, some were not, tied with rope. It took us almost all day to find my mother with a name tag. And we carried her out into the cemetery and found a small lot and a shovel. We dug a grave and buried her.
What were your feelings at this point?
Numb. No feelings. No prayer. No tears. No feelings.
Were other people doing the same thing?
Not the day we were there. But I believe some people did and some just waited for the burial call to come around to it, if they ever did.
When your sister was taken away, how did you feel?
I tried to go with her but the Germans did not let me. I felt that I had failed her. I did not know where they were taking the people. I know now that they were taking them to Chelmno an hour away. They were all killed and buried in mass graves. I believe there are about 120,000 bodies buried there.
When you first got to Lódz did you go to school?
No, I was not allowed to go to school. There was no more schooling.
During the pre-interview you told us that you saw an intellectual resistance in the ghetto instead of a physical resistance?
People talked resistance but they did not have the means to resist with guns or any kind of sabotage. The Germans had the guns, we had nothing. People were writing, people were keeping a diary, people were painting. And I consider that an act of defiance, of resistance. Some of the things have been saved and found after the war.
Before your sister was enrolled in school, what was she doing?
At first nothing at all. She sat at home with my mother. She stopped talking and it wasn't good for her - not that the school really helped. She had lost both her parents in a year's time and it was very, very difficult.
What did you feel your role was when both of your parents died?
It hit me very hard when my father was buried. I had an idea that my mother would not survive. She was sick for a long time. I only hoped that my sister would survive. But it was a big responsibility for a seventeen year old.
Life in the Ghetto
You were in a hat factory? What was the work like?
My sister was in a hat factory, I was not. I worked first in an office. I couldn't type. I couldn't take short hand. But I stayed in the office until Rumkowski decided to liquidate this department. I fairly soon found a second job in an office. And this office was completing the forms for the coal rations for the Germans in Germany. It ran quite a few months and it employed probably three or four hundred people. I had two very good bosses. And one day I got a phone call from Rumkowski - there were very few phones in the ghetto - that I should report to his office. He was opening an evening kitchen and I was to work in the kitchen. That was my third job. The fourth job after food ran out in the kitchen, I worked in a leather factory sewing leather by hand. Those were the jobs I had in the ghetto.
When Rumkowski called you into his office, what was it like?
It was frightening. He sat on his chair and he had taken off his hat and his coat. He held onto his walking stick and for a moment I found it comical, like a king sitting on his throne. But it was intimidating.
Did you have any other experiences with people who were elite?
I met the Minister of Labor who ultimately came to New Jersey or Connecticut and he died there a couple of years ago when he threw me out of his office. I met Henrik Niftalin who was a lawyer, a very decent human being. I met Moshe Karo who was in the ghetto administration - he was a teacher before the war. His daughter is a friend of mine. I met some people that probably, under normal circumstances, I would have never met. And some of them were very decent human beings. They tried to help but they were powerless. But to have known them, looking back, made a difference.
What was a normal day like for you in the ghetto?
I went to work at seven in the morning. Around noon time we got the watery soup. And we worked until seven or eight or nine at night, sometimes later. And then I walked back home - there was no public transportation - into that shared room. And if there was food we would prepare an evening meal depending on what was available. And then probably go to bed because it was cold most the time. And then start the day all over again, six or seven days a week.
What was your biggest concern?
As long as my sister was in the ghetto she was the biggest concern. And after that, the only thing I knew is I didn't want to leave the ghetto. I knew the misery and I didn't want to find out about another place. Otherwise, I had no concerns. I had no hope. I had no plans for the future. And I knew between '41 and '45 that very few of us would survive.
Did information come into the ghetto about what was happening outside?
Nope. Nothing. We didn't know of the existence of Auschwitz. We didn't know of the invasion of Normandy. We did not know about England and the war. We had no idea. Even the well informed people didn't know.
Can you describe what you saw in terms of who was keeping control in the ghetto.
The Germans, basically. And the head of the ghetto was a German civilian who was used to merchandising before the war who got the contracts for the ghetto factories. And above him was Himmler and he gave the orders to Rumkowski. And Rumkowski found it useless to object or to argue or to sabotage. He followed the orders, unlike Czerniakow in Warsaw. And his motto was, "Our only way is work." Whether he really believed it or not I don't know. He told me once, "If I can save 100 souls, it will have been worthwhile." I found that unacceptable. To sell your soul to save 100 people, no way. History now regards him in two extremes. There are those who say he saved the ghetto until '44, and those who are alive, are alive thanks to Rumkowski. And then there are those who consider him a collaborator. And it is very difficult to find common ground between these two opinions. There is not much he could have done, other than take his own life, which he did not do.
It's interesting to see German historians discussing the Jewish Elders of the various ghettos, how they acted, how they behaved, and how they didn't behave. And the Germans tend to think that all the Elders, practically without exceptions, had no choice and they did the best they could. So this problem, I think we will have to work on for another 60 years before we come to a conclusion.
Did you witness or experience any opportunities for actions to take place within the ghetto?
There was a woman who organized a strike in a factory. And her slogan was "No bread, no work." The first day we all marched. And she was taken away and beaten by the ghetto police and warned. The second day we did not participate, she walked alone, and she didn't come back for two weeks. She came back very badly beaten up. That was the end.
What did you consider Rumkowski?
I consider him a child molester. I consider him a corrupt human being. I would not want him to be part of my family. But that's only my opinion.
Were you there when he gave his famous speech, "Give me your children?"
I wasn't there, but I heard it within minutes, because it wasn't far from the area where I worked. And I found that statement unacceptable at seventeen. And I still find it unacceptable. He should have never made the speech. I mean, 'give me your children so the rest of us may live?' It's unheard of.
How did people react to the speech?
Well most people had an outcry or most people were just appalled. But in the end they obeyed. In the end the Jewish police partly took the children, or the Germans came into the ghetto. It is an immoral request. And if you want to quote Maimonides, he is supposed to have said, "if your enemy demands one of your people, it's either all or none". And I stand by that quote.
Did you ever have direct experience with some abuse by Rumkowski?
Yes I did. It was unpleasant. It was shocking. I had been warned but not in clear terms. And to say something, or to do something, or to talk to somebody was not an option. You played with life or death.
[The Lódz Ghetto was liquidated in August 1944 and nearly all the Jews were shipped to Auschwitz]