The First Months of Occupation
Entrance to the Ghetto at Lodz
The persecution of Jews began soon after Lodz was occupied by the Germans on 8 September 1939. The racist Nuremburg Laws of September 1935 which the Nazis had applied to German, Austrian and Czech Jews, were immediately enforced.
From 9 November 1939, Lodz became under the authority of Gauleiter Artur Greiser, who was a resolute advocate of rapid and total Germanisation of the areas, under his command.
In a short time, together with his subordinate Friedrich Übelhör, President of the Kalisz- Lodz region, and Leister, Commissioner of Lodz, Greiser enacted a series of drastic decrees. The Jews of Lodz were subjected to legal restrictions and various orders and bans, many of which were applied for the first time, the laws introduced earlier in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were made more rigorous in Lodz.
Chronologically the first discrimination measures directed against the Jews were orders of the Chief of Civil Administration, 8th Army, published on 18 September 1939, which restricted currency exchange and prohibited trade in leather and textile goods.
The inclusion of Lodz in the Reich intensified the legal terror against the Jews. New instructions constituted typically anti- Jewish legislation. The occupation authorities aimed at the complete separation of Jews from the general population, and limiting their freedom of movement.
The first of these regulations was announced on 31 October 1939 by the Chief of Police of Lodz – an order to mark every enterprise and shop with prominent signs indicating the owners nationality, which made the pillage of Jewish stores and workshops easier by the Germans.
On 14 November 1939 Friedrich Übelhör, announced additional restrictive measures:
“The Jews were to wear on their right arm, directly under the armpit, with no regard to age or sex, an 10cm wide band of Jewish yellow colour as a special sign. Those who violate this order are liable to face the death penalty”.
Übelhör also introduced a curfew, which prevented Jews from leaving their apartments from 5:00pm till 8:00am
Übelhör’s order to mark the Jews was the first of its kind enacted in the Third Reich having no basis in Nazi legislation. Heydrich’s decree concerning the marking of Jews in the Reich was published on 1 October 1941. It did not apply to children under the age of six, and violations were not punished by death, but with a fine of 150 RM or up to 6 weeks arrest.
Less than a month later that directive was amended with a decree published on 11 December 1939, by Artur Greiser the Gauleiter of the Wartheland , Jews were ordered to wear a yellow star of David on the chest and back instead of armbands.
Simultaneously, numerous restrictive police control measures were introduced. Jews were not allowed to walk along Piotrkowska Street or to enter city parks and forbidden to use public transportation. All Jewish workers employed in “Aryan” enterprises were to be dismissed.
Pillage of Jewish property proceeded on a wide scale. In the first days of the occupation the plunder was out of control. On the third day after Lodz had been occupied, armed soldiers and police began to invade Jewish apartments, workshops and stores. Many precious objects were stolen under the pretext of searching for weapons.
These robberies often ended with serious assaults on the owners. The process of plundering was actively pursued by the Germans living in Lodz , who chose to rob wealthier Jews of the best apartments and shops. Jews were often forced to pay a ransom during these actions.
A little later the military, administrative and economic authorities of Lodz began to pursue a policy of officially organised pillage. The military forces authorised the Association of Combing Mills as early as mid-September 1939 to make an inventory of textile raw materials owned by Jewish merchants, and to confiscate them. The plunder amounted to 1.8 million RM in goods.
A few days later on 29 September 1939, according to the degree enacted by the general commander of the Land Forces, all enterprises, workshops and real estate abandoned by their owners went into receivership.
On 1 November 1939 the military authorities rights regarding confiscation and selling of enterprises not belonging to German’s were transferred to the General Receivership Bureau East (Haupttreuhandstelle Ost) established in October 1939.
Pillage and confiscation of Jewish factories proceeded rapidly thereafter, and most confiscated raw materials were transferred to the Reich.
The expropriation of Jewish property in Lodz accelerated in November and December 1939. Raw materials, half –finished goods and products expropriation was from then on joined by the Lodz branch of General Bührmann’s office and the Lodz Trade Society established in the second half of November, which aimed at taking over all the goods in stock from Jewish merchants.
The Nazi authorities aimed at weakening the Jewish population by destroying its financial base. Thus, as well as the pillage of property, Jews were also ejected from economic life.
Harry von Craushaar, Chief of the Military Administration of the 8th Army on 18 September 1939, issued an order blocking all Jewish bank accounts, deposits and safes. Jews were not allowed to withdraw more than 500 zloty a week from their bank accounts, and no more than 250 zloty a week from their savings accounts. They were also forbidden to have no more than 2000 zloty at home.
On 13 October 1939 the same authority ordered all factory owners, shipping and transport companies and store owners to report all raw materials and goods produced after 10 September 1939, to the special receiver dealing with textile raw materials. All reported goods were confiscated, leaving the Jewish workshops and factories without raw materials for production.
Five days later on 18 October 1939, Jews were forbidden to trade in textile goods, leather goods and raw materials by order of the Border Guard Middle Section Commander. Failure to comply was subject to an unlimited fine, arrest or even the death penalty. As a result, Jewish handicrafts, which had flourished in Lodz were seriously undermined and eventually destroyed.
On 2 December 1939 the deputy president of Police issued an order which excluded Jews from work involving road transport, a restriction which prevented approximately a thousand Jews from earning a living.
Intellectuals, lawyers, teachers, artists and doctors were also ejected from economic life. The boycott of Jewish doctors forced 40 physicians who lived in the city centre, to move to the Jewish district – The Old Town – in January 1940.
The Jewish community were thus imprisoned in their own apartments by the above measures, and were thus prevented from supporting themselves. The Jews of Lodz, especially the poor, were left without means to survive.
Already from the first months of the occupation, constant round-ups of Jews in the streets became a massive danger. They were violently dragged from houses and streetcars and forced to do hard work by the Germans.
Jews began to hide in cellars and attics. They sat there from dawn to dusk, often for several days, in constant fear of being caught and assaulted. The streets in the Jewish districts stood empty.
To protect people from round-ups, the Jewish Congregation, who self-governed the Jewish community offered co-operation with the German authorities regarding recruiting workers. The offer was accepted and on 7 October 1939, a Labour Recruitment Office(Arbeitseinsatz 1) was established and located at 18 Pomorska Street – later at 10 Poludniowa Street.
The office delivered contingents of labourers to the occupation authorities. At first the authorities were supplied with 600 workers a day – later the number increased to 2000 a day. Jews received no payment for their work, although they were forced to do the heaviest labour. Until the ghetto was sealed off, tens of thousands suffered from the degradations accompanying forced labour.
From the very beginning of the occupation the Nazi authorities used terror against the Jewish population. Jewish politicians, social activists and intellectuals were seized according to lists prepared in advance, and imprisoned in a concentration camp created without delay in Glaser’s factory in Radogoszcz.
They were tortured and subsequently shot or transported to Dachau and Mauthausen concentration camps.
On 2 November 1939, the Germans executed in Lagiewniki Woods 15 men arrested a day earlier in the Astoria Café. Many others were savagely beaten and tortured. Ten days later on 10 November, two Poles and a Jew named Radner were hanged in public. Their bodies were left hanging for several days.
On the same night all four great synagogues of Lodz were blown up and burned, and on 11 November the Jewish Kehillah premises were surrounded and nearly all members of the Council of Elders were arrested. Of the 30 only 6 councillors were released – the rest were tortured and shot in Lagiewniki Woods.
Simultaneously with organised terror, numerous individual murders and “spontaneous” pogroms of the Jews were taking place. One pogrom took place on 8 October 1939, carried out by the local Germans on the occasion of Josef Goebbbels visit to Lodz.
In September 1939 thousands of Lodz Jews decided to become refugees, some managed to escape to Russia, others especially the wealthy ones, to neutral countries. Many Jews fled to the General-Government.
On 12 December 1939 the occupation forces commenced the deportations to the General- Government, to fulfil the Nazi plans of removing Jews and Poles from the territories annexed into the Reich. These actions were carried out with extreme cruelty and pillaging of property.
Many Jews were shot and many froze to death, according to estimates more than 71,000 Jews either left or were deported from Lodz, during the first few months of the occupation.