Ghet­tostadt: Lodz and the Mak­ing of a Nazi City

Gor­don J. Horwitz
  • Review
By – January 30, 2012

We know that the Nazis fan­ta­sized about con­quer­ing the old world and cre­at­ing a new one to myth­ic stan­dards. This city might have been a first attempt at build­ing a mod­el city of the great­est beau­ty and charm, a refash­ion­ing of the city of Lodz, to which they invit­ed eth­nic Ger­mans of the East to reset­tle. It was to be a Ger­man city of enchant­ment — one of urban plan­ning, great beau­ty and the arts. It was as if the Jews who once lived in the city had nev­er exist­ed because in the Nazi scheme of things, they soon wouldn’t. Near­by, Jews, dis­placed from their homes and busi­ness­es, were suf­fer­ing in the Lodz ghet­to ruled by a Jew­ish king” called Mordechai Chaim Rumkows­ki, chair­man of the Jew­ish Coun­cil in the ghet­to, who was both hat­ed and respect­ed. He fash­ioned him­self a great man who tried to save as many Jews as pos­si­ble by pos­tur­ing him­self as an equal to his Nazi mas­ters. He sac­ri­ficed the chil­dren and the elder­ly to save the able-bod­ied. In the end, they were all sac­ri­ficed, includ­ing the king,” but the Lodz ghet­to out­last­ed many others. 

In the ghet­to, despite the crowd­ing, the star­va­tion, ill­ness, suf­fer­ing from the weath­er and con­stant fear of being trans­port­ed else­where, there was also edu­ca­tion, stage per­for­mances, and art. Log­ic told its inhab­i­tants that if they worked dili­gent­ly, if they were pro­duc­tive, they would be safe. To jump from ratio­nal­i­ty and log­ic, to the pure evil of an oth­er­world­ly regime and total­ly evil phi­los­o­phy was not pos­si­ble for most of the Jews. The book is a coun­ter­point between the per­spec­tives of the Lodz ghet­to and the Ger­mans who over­saw and man­aged the ghetto’s affairs. The con­ver­sa­tions, inter­ac­tions, and inter­de­pen­dence with­in the city are revealed, as well as the tech­niques by which the Nazis, bol­stered by their supe­ri­or force and con­science­less decep­tions, maneu­vered the Jews by exploit­ing Jew­ish insti­tu­tion­al tra­di­tions, social divi­sions, faith in ratio­nal­i­ty, and hope for sur­vival, to achieve their wider goal of Jew­ish elim­i­na­tion from the world.” It is a lucid, pow­er­ful, and har­row­ing account of the Lodz Ghet­to and Nazi cru­el­ty as com­pared to their grandiose delu­sions. The author writes facts with a novelist’s flair, which helps the read­er feel the expe­ri­ence. 20 col­or illus., 12 halftones, 2 maps.

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

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