Wednesday, July 23, 2008

So this morning, after again sleeping badly I woke and headed out on my bike to the grocery store. You see, I just found out that there is a kitchen I can use across the courtyard on campus. I am significantly short on money--because I have had to eat out for two weeks straight. I only have something like 100 z left after I take train fare to Warsaw out....

So here I am, after eating AMERICAN style toast (yea!!). BTW The coffee most easiest found in Poland is instant, and terrible!! So here is what the Lodz former Ghetto is all about:

At the end of the 18th century Jewish people began to settle in Lodz. As industry increase, so did the number of Jews. Many were well known musicians, activists, and many participated in political and social venues. Lodz was the second largest city in Poland at this time (actually- till fairly recently, when Krakow took the title). By the beginning of the 20th century, Lodz had the second largest Jewish population in all of Europe (Warsaw was first). There were around 231,000 thousand Jews at the start of WWII, and by the end there were only 800 people who were alive- those who hid, or those who were left to clean up the area.

The Ghetto was originally all of 4.13 square meters, (1.6 square miles) and then cut to 3.82 meters (1.4 Square miles). In addition, there were certain streets that were thoroughfares the Germans needed in this small part of town, thus, the Ghetto had three foot bridges over these Aryan Streets. The Ghetto area was fenced off from the rest of Lodz, and anyone who approached it was shot dead. No questions were asked. Basically there were some 2330 buildings comprised of about 28,000 rooms for 160,000 people. That divides up to about 7 people per room.

The tour allows one to see the various buildings that are still left and to know what there were used for during this time. I did not take pictures of the buildings, but I will bring back a book that explains each. Despite every bit of this being very very horrible- there was one thing that was never known to me (Nor would I bet to a great number of Americans- history on this subject as taught in schools is not that specific). There was a camp within the camp. More than 5000 Roma people were caged up in this camp within the camp, and even the Jews did not know what or who was in there. A double barber-wire fence marked the boarder and there was a moat around it. Still today know one knows for sure who was in there--it is believed it was the upper class of the Roma (Gypsy) people that were there. Disease killed 600 of them, and the rest perished at a extermination camps.

Equally unsettling (as if any of this was not) was the camp for Polish kids and teens. Also a camp within a camp, these kids were up to the age of 16. over 1600 kids were in there. These were POLISH kids, not Jews, and were put there because their parents were arrested or killed- usually for being a part of the resistance.

The Jewish Cemetery is the largest in Europe. over 180,000 thousand grave are found here. Great Jewish industrialists ( of which Lodz owes its existence--see pictures of their homes earlier in Lodz Day II), musicians and artists are here.

 Additionally there is Ghetto field, which holds over 45,000 victims of the ghetto. To get in, men must cover their heads. When entering the area you pass about half a dozen large pits at the cemetery wall. Remember the few hundred Jews left behind? The Germans ordered them to dig these holes in the graveyard, apparently intending to shoot them and bury them in them, but in their haste to flee the advancing Soviet troops, these Jews were left alive to be liberated, and the holes, meant to be their graves, were kept as they were as a memorial.

After leaving the cemetery, I made my way to Radogaszcz (or, as it was known in German, Radosgast) Station. This was the main train terminal for the ghetto, and the place where supplies or new deportees were unloaded, where goods made in the ghetto were shipped out, and ultimately as the umschlagplatz -- the deportation square -- for the 200,000+ Jews who were sent to the death camps (mostly Chelmno and Auschwitz-Birkenau).

As you approach the memorial at the station, what you see first is a brick smokestack that has been cut off in a diagonal. At its base, a small square brick structure meant to resemble a gas chamber with heavy black-barred gates and a star of David. Above the door is an inscription in Hebrew, Polish, and English: "Thou Shalt Not Kill." 

To its right stretches a long concrete wall with years written in Nazi gothic script: 1945 1944 1943 and so on up to 1939. he wall ends to reveal a large vacant space within. Entry is barred by locked gates and the rails enter and disappear into the darkness, as if it is a black hole from which there is no escape (I did not take pictures of tunnel). 

At the end of this wall there are train tracks with three Nazi boxcars, a train engine, the small station building, and more memorials. This is most sobering. The railway station has been redone to look as it did during the Nazi use. I did go into one of the boxcars. I was struck silent, and it took me a while to be able to think again-and not just feel.

On the far end from the chimney, there is a concrete memorial in the shape of gravestones bearing the names of the various concentration camps to which Lodz citizens were deported. In the concrete surface, one can make out shapes of heads and outstretched arms. The effect is of people crying. There are also memorials from many cities along the wall- one of which I took a picture of to give you the feeling of being there. I cried. In fact--it is very hard to write this, I am tearing up even now.

After leaving the station, there are nice paths through fields- it was an area known as Maryinsin in the ghetto. The fields were used to grow food. I believe this area was where the camp with in a camp for Polish youths was. Now this area is a pleasant place to write bikes over dirt paths, through trees and enjoy the quite world of nature. I did just that.

Overall, this area is clean and pleasant...filled with children, prams, mothers, bikes and parks. The apartments are well kept and often sit alongside of park land. There are bike trails, and fountains. It is served by bus and tram. The nicest area I have seen, due to the parks. Also very near the big mall and attractions.

Also you might find this interesting:

Born in Paris, 1933, to Polish parents, Roman Polanski and his family returned to Kraków, Poland two years before the outbreak of war. Having been incarcerated within the Kraków Ghetto, both his father and mother found themselves herded to concentration camps. Whereas his father survived Mathausen his mother died in Auschwitz, four months pregnant. Polanski himself managed to escape the ghetto, climbing through a hole in the wall, surviving the war by living off his wits in the countryside and relying on the charity of catholic families. Following the war he scraped a modest living as a stage actor, and also attended Łódź Film School (touted as the best in Europe).
I can't write anymore.... Later I will go into what I saw in Warsaw with my German friend, Tom.


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