Alternate posting, copy of SE discussion item:
While we wait for been-there or another intrepid revisionist to answer the questions asked about Lodz and Wannsee . . . at Bernard’s (may he accept with a calm heart and without bitterness or agitation the unjust punishment meted out in his case) suggestion here are some thoughts on the place of Lodz ghetto in our discussion of the origins of the final solution:
In The Destruction of the European Jews, Hilberg spelled out the steps in the destruction process as follows: definition, expropriation operations, segregation and concentration into ghettos (formal and informal), and finally annihilation (shooting and gassing phases).
Some readings of Hilberg’s framework are overly didactic and schematic and impute a teleology or intent not present in Hilberg’s use of the “destruction process” framework. This problematic reading pertains to the issue of the ghettos, for which it is sometimes argued that the ghettos were a necessary, planned step for execution. Often, the ghettos are taken as a kind of antechamber for the death camps. In fact, the ghettos played a number of roles and certainly, whilst sometimes they were at the doorstep of the extermination phase, sometimes the ghettos had other functions and roles, less straightforward and not leading directly to Treblinka or a killing field.
Dan Michman published a little book, The Emergence of Jewish Ghettos during the Holocaust, on this problem in 2011, arguing even more broadly that “it has become axiomatic that ghettos were an integral part of Nazi anti-Jewish policy. However, a thorough examination of the extensive source materials . . . reveals that this assumption is based on a fallacy: the central authorities of Nazi Germany never elaborated a clear and unequivocal definition of what a ghetto was or should be. . . . On the contrary, the German documents of the period that were written by officials involved in setting up ghettos propose varying reasons and explanations for their establishment and need – which shows that the officials themselves were not sure about the origins or the idea and its precise purposes.” (Michman, pages 2-3)
With regard to the extermination process, Michman’s point makes perfect sense: rather than ghettos serving as a point in a straight line from definition, despoilment, and segregation to annihilation, the first ghettos were indeed established well before the final solution aimed at the physical extermination of the European Jews. That some ghettos eventually served the purpose of concentration for deportation to extermination camps or other killing sites was a case of retrofitting and adaptation, not an initial intention for the ghettos. (see also introductory essays for The Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos of the Holocaust, especially Michman’s essay, pages xiii-xxxix, and the general introduction by Miron with Shulhani, pages xl-lxiii)
In my view, been-there’s fixation on a single, literal, and exact definition for ghettos supposedly stated in the Wannsee protocol is a pathological form of the malaise which Michman has described. As “road-building” is emblematic for many forms of coerced Jewish labor in the East, so too “so-called transit ghettos” is not exhaustive for the manifold forms and roles which ghettos were to play in the final solution.
Which brings us to Lodz.
The ghetto in Lodz, of course, established winter 1940, fits Michman’s argument very neatly. Lodz itself played a number of roles, and Lodz had commonalities with and differences to other ghettos.
The formation of Lodz ghetto was early in German occupation of the East. Michman takes note of a December 1939 confidential memorandum from Uebelhor in Kalisz district, location of Lodz, to Greiser, Reichsstatthalter of the Warthegau, the Party organization in the district, local German police agencies, and others calling for construction of a closed ghetto for Jews in Lodz. (Michman, pages 79-80) At this time, Uebelhor observed that “the creation of the ghetto is, of course, only a temporary measure. I reserve to myself the decision concerning the times and the means by which the ghetto and with it the city of Lodz will be cleansed of Jews. The final aim must be in any case the total cauterization of this plague spot.” (Isaiah Trunk, Lodz Ghetto, document no. 4, pages 19-21; Michman, page 80) According to Trunk, the original plan called for the ghetto to stand only until 1 October 1940, when Lodz was to be made free of Jews. (Trunk, page 11) Michman says that, whilst the decision to establish the ghetto was indeed made by Uebelhor and implemented from February through May 1940, the decision about the longevity of the ghetto, which was located in the impoverished Baluty section of the city, was not ultimately Uebelhor’s (see below); the duration of the Lodz ghetto arose from unique circumstances in the Warthegau along with the course of competing viewpoints and interests of the RSHA, military, Reich construction agencies, and Warthegau civilian administration.
Michman explains how German concerns about the “Ostjuden peril” (Michman, page 82) - in which hygiene and disease (Uebelhor’s “plague spot”) figured prominently in both the formation and evolution of the ghettos - and in this sense Lodz was both influential and paradigmatic.
Another attribute of Lodz ghetto, however, was not prototypical: the ghetto itself evolved over the course of 1941-1942 into a giant workshop supplying the German war machine with a variety of essential goods. Many ghettos evolved into labor pools and even work-camp-like institutions. But no other ghetto matched Lodz in evolution, scope, and importance of its economic activity. Early German policies toward the ghetto impoverished the Jews there. By July 1942, however, a new, exploitative economy had been developed in the ghetto, with 74 workshops, called ressorts, turning out apparel, including uniforms for the Wehrmacht, footwear, carpets, furniture, telephone equipment, paper bags, and even toys: 90% of production at this time was for the military. (USHMM, Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, Volume II, Part A, page 78; Trunk, pages 152-158) By spring 1942 there were 53,000 Jews working in the ressorts – under crowded, unsafe conditions for 10-14 hours per day – and another 13,000 for the swelling Jewish apparatus managing affairs in the ghetto under German control. By spring 1942 head of the Jewish apparatus, Chaim Rumkowski, could declare that officially that a “new rule has been introduced . . . only working people can stay in the ghetto.” (USHMM, Encyclopedia, page 80; see below for strategy of survival through labor)
At the same time, in contrast to other ghettos – Warsaw comes to mind immediately – Lodz was a closed ghetto (Trunk, document no. 22, page 31) with a very tightly controlled border with the rest of the city; exchange of goods, especially food, was virtually impossible. As a result, malnutrition and starvation progressively weakened the ghetto population. German documents and Jewish diaries and journals attest to this situation, which rendered over time even many working Jews unfit for labor. Lodz had been an industrial city, Poland’s textile center, with a tradition of labor organization and activism. Yet under the force of the German occupation, the strategy adopted by Judenrate head Chaim Rumkowski, the Alteste of the Jews, required a quiescent population, obedient to his rule and focused on productive activity. From the point of view of Rumkowski the key to Jewish survival was complete cooperation with the authorities in running a productive, loyal work-camp. Dissent, strikes or other work stoppages, any form of activism, and even malingering or grousing not only undermined Rumkowski’s “survival through labor” approach but also threatened to provoke the authorities and harsh reprisal measures: thus Rumkowski ruled Lodz ghetto with an iron fist, his method serving both the interest of Jewish survival and the Germans’ plans for the ghetto. (Trunk, documents nos. 26, 27, and 29, pages 62-64)
So Lodz ghetto was established well before the extermination plan had been decided, before even the local killing actions of the German police units in the early days of Barbarossa, and before the Wannsee conference. By the time of the Wannsee conference, the ghetto was proving itself a kind of economic miracle. Local authorities, like Biebow, the Lodz ghetto administrator, and Greiser, governor of the Warthegau, thus developed an interest, if not a stake, in the continued functioning of the ghetto-workshop. Thus, Uebelhor’s “temporary measure” became prolonged, the “plague spot” not going away in 1941, 1942, or even 1943, when many other ghettos were liquidated or reduced to minimal camp-like sites. By 1944, Lodz ghetto had over 100 ressorts employing almost 74,000 Jews, about 85 percent of the ghetto’s total population at that time. (USHMM, Encyclopedia, page 80) During these years, other interests, such as Speer’s economic apparatus and the Wehrmacht, also gained an interest in the prolongation of Lodz’s productive capacity. This economic interest combined the ghetto’s war production and schemes for personal enrichment (in the cases of Uebelhor and Biebow). This interest developed by some authorities was noted by Hoppner in his 16 July 1941 memo to Eichmann when he wrote that “There is an impression that District President Ubelhor does not wish to see the ghetto in Lodz disappear since he seems to profit quite well from it,” adding some financial calculations on how much profit was to be made off Jews (quoted in Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, page 37). Biebow, who made the ghetto profitable by early 1942, won out in early debates in his program to keep a permanent labor force, in spite of the deportation/extermination program, in Lodz ghetto.
Yet Lodz’s place in the final solution was not simply that of a persistent sore spot/labor provider. In fact, Jews from Lodz were the first to be gassed in a permanent facility dedicated to extermination operations. Large-scale extermination actions – basically the selection principle instituted at the level of the ghetto and adjacent countryside – took place while the ghetto functioned at its peak productivity as an economic contributor. Finally, in 1944, when the internal differences between Himmler’s “empire” and the alliance of Biebow-Greiser-Speer-Wehrmacht were resolved in favor of the former, the ghetto was liquidated, with a large minority of the inhabitants siphoned off urgently in the end-war emergency, as able-bodied, to work camps across the territory still controlled by the Germans and the majority of the residents of the ghetto shoved into the gas vans at Chelmno or the gas chambers at Birkenau. By war’s end, estimates are that about 10,000 of the 200,000+ Jews who’d lived in Lodz during 1939-1944 survived.
The death camp for the region around Lodz in the Warthegau was initially located in Chelmno, a village in Kolo county and about 60-70km from the city. It is clear that this camp was planned and “opened for extermination” prior to the decision in mid-December 1941 for the European-wide annihilation of the Jews. Chelmno began its murder operations in early December, with a transport of 700 Jews from Kolo. (Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, page 185) The camp itself, embracing facilities including “the castle” or mansion in the town of Chelmno on the Ner and a forested killing and burial area in the Rzuchow and Ladorudz forest several km from the town, had been readied, with on-site inspections beginning as early as October 1941 when leaders of Sonderkommando Lange arrived in town to inspect the area and prepare for their work there. (Krakowski, Chelmno: A Small Village in Europe, pages 31-35; Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, pages 50-54; Trunk, page 229) The first residents of Lodz to be murdered at Chelmno were from the ghetto’s “Gypsy” camp when 4,300 Roma were killed in the gas vans between 2 January and 9 January 1942. It was during the 4 days just prior to the Wannsee conference that the German killing units at Chelmno exterminated the first 10,000 Jews from Lodz of nearly 70,000 to be gassed there during 1942 (and 77,000 by 1944).
If the initial extermination actions at Chelmno preceded the final solution as it was discussed at the Wannsee conference, then how did these operations come about and what was the point of these December and January murders? To understand what was going on in the Warthegau and Lodz during winter 1941-1942, we need to step back a bit and look at the situation there in summer 1941 and the evolution of Nazi Jewish policy through that fall. In the summer, around the time Barbarossa was launched, the Warthegau faced a min-demographic crisis, with forced “sorting” of population groups there stalled: ethnic Germans meant to be given new homes were stuck in temporary camps; Poles meant to be deported were still in the region for labor purposes; the territorial solution the Jewish problem hadn’t panned out, and Frank was successfully opposing forced resettlement of Jews to the General-Gouvernement (conflict dating back to the 2nd Nahplan in 1940, see Montague, page 33; Peter Longerich, Holocaust, pages 155-159; Phillip T. Rutherford, Prelude to the Final Solution: The Nazi Program for Deporting Ethnic Poles, 1939-1941, pages 113-117, 130-136). Greiser’s charge was to make his region a “model Gau,” demonstrating in a region where 90% of the population were Poles or Jews (Montague, page 32) the benefits of aggressive Germanization. Party leaders in the Warthegau themselves were impatient with the failed resettlement efforts; they wanted the Jews out of their areas, just as Gauleiter in Germany were pressuring Hitler back home to expel Jews from the Reich.
It was in this context that Hoppner, a man described by Browning as “the chief ethnic cleanser in the Warthegau,” wrote the memorandum on the Gau’s demographic problem (so kindly quoted by been-there, although there is that pesky word “allegedly” introducing the memo but also the conclusion that the “alleged” memo cannot refer to “systematic extermination” – which causes me to think that Il Re de Convoluzione doth protest too much). Hoppner prefaced his survey of options for dealing with the Jewish problem with the note to Eichmann that “These things sound in part fantastic, but in my view are thoroughly feasible,” referring, most likely, to the option to “finish off those of the Jews who are not employable by means of some quick-acting device.” (Montague, page 37) Here we can see, at the onset of the final solution, before the Wannsee meeting, one possible solution to the “problem” of “unfit” Jews, or those not needed for labor – finishing them off, the solution adopted by the time of the Wannsee deliberations but unstated in the protocol. Also discussed among those at the Wannsee conferences was the idea Hoppner presented in his fifth point, sterilization. But mass murder of the “unfit” Jews was not yet Reich policy, nor was sterilization of course.
Greiser, according to Hoppner, had by mid-July “not yet voiced an opinion on this matter,” yet, as noted above, the policy of murder might expect opposition from Ueblhor. (Montague, page 37) Around this time, Greiser interrupted a trip during which he met with leaders across the Warthegau. Why? To meet with Hitler, a meeting he described two days after it took place in these terms: Hitler, Greiser said, in their discussion of Germanization of the Gau, had told him that he had “at [his] disposal much greater powers than [NSDAP leaders in] other Reich areas.” (Epstein, page 183) By September, however, the radicalization of Jewish policy within the Reich was complicating the situation that Greiser faced in his Gau. On 18 September 1941, Greiser was sent a telegram by Himmler, who delegated the details of the following proposal to Heydrich: “The Fuhrer would like the Altreich and the Protectorate from the West to the East [a phrase picked up in the Wannsee protocol, in a slightly different context, of course to be emptied and liberated of Jews as soon as possible. I am therefore trying - hopefully still in this year - to transport the Jews of the Altreich and those from the Protectorate - at least as a first stage - into the Eastern territories, which had been acquired two years earlier [e.g., Greiser’s domain]; this is in order to push them further East in the coming spring. I intend to place about 60,000 Jews of the Altreich and the Protectorate in the Litzmannstadt [Lodz] ghetto, which I understand has enough room to accommodate them, for the winter. (http://www.hdot.org/en/trial/defense/pl1/16.html
, see also Epstein pages 184-185) With Lodz ghetto authorities opposing any actions sending Jews into Lodz ghetto, a position alluded to in an October document quoted by Il Re de Convoluzione, Greiser managed to get Himmler to reduce the number from 60,000 to just 20,000, along with 5,000 Roma.
This is where the correspondence so badly mangled by Il Re de Convoluzione, in his attempt to negate the final solution, becomes significant: In late October Greiser wrote Himmler about prior approval, given by Himmler and Heydrich, for “The operation of special treatment of some 100,000 Jews in my governmental area.” According to Epstein, this wording, which has Himmler approving a request, indicates that the initiative for the “operation of special treatment of some 100,000 Jews” in the Warthegau was a local initiative, a proposal made by Greiser regarding Jews in his region being okayed by the RFSS (see also Montague, page 34). In July and again in August 1941, Uebelhor told Lodz district officials that efforts to “insettle” sick Jews to Lodz were discontinued, explaining to them Greiser had ordered sick Jews be left where they were (presumably these sick Jews were to left in place to await planned extermination actions). (Montague, page 35) On 9 December, the day after the first murder action at Chelmno, Epstein continues, a conversation consistent with Greiser’s taking initiative was picked up by an air-force listening post: Uebelhor told the Lodz state police office that “on the orders of the Gauleiter [Greiser] those sick in the ghetto were to be brought away” but “an evasive answer was given” when Uebelhor was asked if Berlin had been notified (air-force listening post pickup of conversation, in Epstein, page 185) Eichmann’s trial testimony seems to confirm the views of Epstein and Montague: “this is what Greiser did - for those from Litzmannstadt who were unable to work to be killed. Section IVB4 had nothing to do with that.” (http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/e/eic ... 94-01.html
The purpose of the murders that began at Chlemno in December 1941, then, was two-fold: to "make room" for western Jews being deported into the Warthegau, to get rid of Jews who could not be used for coerced labor. The decision was a local decision, requested by Greiser to deal with "his" problems and approved by Himmler for the Warthegau, in summer-fall 1941, before the European-wide extermination program was decided. It was part of the escalation in Jewish policy taking place after Barbarossa and including the eastern campaigns of the police units, which by August 1941 were targeting all Jews in regions of the occupied USSR.
Montague places Greiser’s decision, based on approval from the RFSS, for extermination of a large number of Warthegau Jews (about 400,000 Jews lived in Greiser’s domain when the Warthegau was formed), sometime between mid-July, when Hoppner made his proposals, and September 1941 (when mass executions of Jews in the Gau first took place, see Trunk, pages 229-230, for execution action against Konin Jews in Kazimierzow forest) – “probably closer to the former than the latter date.” In late September, Mehlhorn (an official in Greiser’s administration in Poznan was appointed lead for resolving “all issues necessary connected with accommodating and employing the Jews and Gypsies of the Wartheland.” (Montague, page 35; see also Trunk, page 229, placing Greiser’s “decision for physical mass extermination” a bit later, “no later than October 1941,” page 229) Also at Greiser’s disposal was Sonderkommando Lange, mentioned above, which would take up residence at Chelmno in late fall 1941, after more than a year of action carrying out murders, by gas and shooting, of mental patients across the Warthegau as part of the “euthanasia program” (this work is covered extensively in Montague, briefly in Krakowski). To SK Lange Greiser’s men attached troops from an Orpo unit commanded by Willi Lenz, who would oversee the forest camp. (Krakowski, page 23; Montague, pages 52-52)
What of the deportees from the Reich, Vienna, the Protectorate, and Luxemburg? Egged on by his Gauleiter, especially Goebbels in Berlin, Hitler made his decision in favor of deporting Reich Jews on 17 September 1941. (Christopher Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution, pages 375; Montague, page 39) While the decision to deport the Jews was welcomed by Nazi leaders in the Reich, it would cause consternation and confusion in the “reception areas,” which included Minsk, Riga, Kovno, and, of course, Lodz. Indeed, as to the reception of the deported Jews and Roma from the West, Lodz authorities were displeased. Nonetheless, between mid-October and early November 1941, 19,837 Jews from various cities in the Altreich, Prague, Vienna, and Luxemburg were deported to Lodz ghetto. (Epstein, page 187, Browning, Origins, pages 375-398; Beate Meyer, A Fatal Balancing Act, pages 107-221, Hilberg, Destruction, pages 433-500; Longerich, Holocaust, pages 286-288, 297-300, 308, 428) Epstein believes, in contrast to Browning but in line with what we’ve argued concerning the Wannsee meeting, that in fall 1941 the western Jews in Lodz were “expressly excluded from” (page 189) the initial gassing actions at Chelmno, which, commencing on 8 December 1941, continued with very few pauses until August 1942. (Epstein, page 389, where Epstein nevertheless questions Gerlach’s thesis in that western Jews in Lodz ghetto were not murdered until May 1942)
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Part II under construction: the arrival and situation of the Reich and Protectorate deportees in Lodz, fall-winter 1941-1942; Rumkowski’s iron rule and issues in the ghetto during this period; the selection principle (those not needed for work, mischief makers, etc.) and the early deportations out of Lodz ghetto; where the deportees from Lodz were sent – Chelmno; the deportations to Chelmno and the Wannsee protocol; what the deportations out and the selection principle say about been-there’s attempt to articulate a revisionist case and il caso del Re di Convoluzione; the fate of the Germans in the ghetto by spring-summer 1942; the Germans taken to Chelmno
Questions and comments welcome as we pause for a bit!