In the latest of a series looking at eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust, CARR Senior Fellow, Mr Chris Webb presents David Sierakowiak’s account of the Lodz Ghetto, describing the horrific conditions under Nazi occupation and Chaim Rumkowski’s leadership.
Dawid Sierakowiak was born in Lodz on July 25, 1924, and graduated from the Lodz Ghetto’s Gymnasium in 1941. Weakened by malnutrition, he contracted tuberculosis and died in the ghetto on August 8, 1943, at the age of nineteen.
His diary which was discovered after the Second World War ended, suggests that he was a remarkable young man: he possessed a strong character, talented as a writer and a caricaturist. He was personally exuberant, intellectually ambitious and socially conscious. He was an active Communist and a member of the ghetto’s political underground.
His father Majlech died of hunger in the Lodz Ghetto on March 6, 1943, and his mother Sura, probably died in mid-September 1942, possibly at the Chelmno death camp. His sister Natalia, (Nadzia) probably died in Auschwitz-Birkenau during August 1944.
Here are some extracts from David Sierakowiak’s Diary:
Lodz, March 21, 1942
This evening there was suddenly news that another 15,000 are to be deported immediately, in groups of a thousand a day. Everyone is saying that now all the ghetto’s inhabitants will go.
Lodz, March 25, 1942
I feel very sick. I read but can’t study at all, so I am working on English vocabulary. Among other things, I was studying Schopenhauer. Philosophy and hunger, some combination.
Lodz, March 26, 1942
Again, total confusion. The deportations are continuing, while at the same time the shops are receiving huge orders and there’s enough work for a few months.
Lodz, March 28, 1942
Today we bought an etagere (my pre-war dream) and a kitchen table with drawers from our neighbours who are being deported. These – and some other household items – all for two packs of local cigarettes.
Lodz, March 30, 1942
Aside from the deported, a number of people have left in the last few days, taken out by relatives (for big money).
Lodz, April 9, 1942
Rumkowski made a long speech today but said nothing of importance. It’s the demagoguery of a meglomaniac.
Lodz, April 19, 1942
Mother cried when I came home today. She’s the only one in our family who as unemployed is in danger. Father, whose rage intensifies all the time, revealed his true nature today. He wants to get rid of Mother, as he has not even lifted a finger to do anything for her. All he does is scream at her and annoy her on purpose.
Oh, if only things with Mother were different: the poor, weak, beloved, broken, unhappy being. As if she didn’t have enough trouble, she has to put up with these noisy quarrels – which according to my father are due to my ‘indifference’ toward the family, or rather toward him. If we could only save her! We’ll settle with Father after the war.
Since Mother isn’t feeling well, she’s decided to give my father only 25 dkg. of bread from her loaf – rather than the 50 dkg. she used to. He doesn’t like it , but he’s probably figured out that if she were not around he’d have even less.
Lodz, April 20, 1942
The ghetto is going crazy. Thousands of those at risk are struggling every which way to get jobs, mostly through influence. Meanwhile, the German commission started its work. All those examined by the commission get an indelible letter stamped on their chests, a letter whose significance nobody knows.
Lodz, April 23, 1942
Last night the police went through the apartments. Those who had not reported to the commission and could offer no excuse had to give up their bread and food ration cards. Today there were round-ups in the streets. There’s talk that soon the entire population of the ghetto will be stamped. Another group of people left today by bus, to join relatives in Warsaw. They say that things in Warsaw are wonderful. The ghetto is open, and one can buy anything for money; work is paid for, and it’s easy to get. Meanwhile, we perish here.
Lodz, April 24, 1942
A commission came to our shop today, and they stopped by our room. These people come from another world – these rulers, these masters of life and death. Their look doesn’t in the least suggest a quick end to the war.
Lodz, April 29, 1942
Again I have no desire, actually no strength to study. Time is passing, as is my youth, my energy and enthusiasm. The devil knows what will be rescued from this pogrom. I’m gradually losing hope that I shall come back to life, or be able to hold on to the one I am now living.
Lodz, May 7, 1942
Things in the ghetto are ever more scandalous, but we are now in such a state of exhaustion that I truly understand what it means to lack the strength to complain, let alone protest.
Lodz, May 18, 1942
In the last few days, with frightening speed, my legs have become weak. I almost cannot walk because it tires me so. Still I can’t avoid it, since my unit works on the third floor.
Lodz, May 21, 1942
Again, life has been extended for a time: on, from day to day, from one food ration to the next, more deportations and more new arrivals into the ghetto, until……..
Lodz, Saturday, May 30, 1942
Our situation at home is again getting extremely tense and awful. Father, who for the last two weeks was relatively peaceful and divided his bread into equal daily portions, lost his self-control again on Thursday and ate my entire loaf yesterday and today finished the extra half kilo of bread he gets from Mother and Nadzia. He also stole another 10 dkg. from them when he weighed the bread.
I don’t know why he hoards all the money, or why he takes Mother’s and Nadzia’s wages. He doesn’t want to give us any money to buy rations. Today he went to get the sausage ration and ate over 5 dkg. on the street – Nadzia saw him, so that we were all short-changed. He also managed to borrow 10 dkg. of bread from Nadzia (Foolish Girl). I took tomorrow’s portion of bread and half of Monday’s with me to the shop. I’ll do so every day from now on.
Father bought meat today, and with the litre of whey he got for the whole family, he cooked and guzzled it all up. Now there is nothing left for us, so we’ll go to bed without supper. Mother looks like a cadaver, and the worrying is finishing her off.
Lodz, May 31, 1942
In the evening when I returned from the shop I was missing a few teaspoons of honey- which we received instead of marmalade, and mother was missing even more honey.
Lodz, June 11, 1942
The days pass imperceptibly, and no change is visible. The food supply has improved; however, the spectre of next winter is confronting everybody. Everyone realises all too well that he won’t last through the winter – I’m not talking about those who gorge themselves, of course – and pessimism is getting worse all around. ‘Either the war will end before the winter, or we will.’ It’s true: we’re pushing on with our last strength.
Lodz, June 26, 1942
Today I heard that two people went to Warsaw. Apparently, one of them ate so much the day he got there that he was in bed with a high fever for a week. At least he felt full, something I haven’t experienced in two years.
Lodz, Monday, July 14, 1942
It seems that last year Rumkowski said that he couldn’t save everyone and, therefore, instead of having the entire population die a slow death, he would save ‘the top ten thousand.’
Lodz, July 27, 1942
Apparently, they’re deporting a huge number of Jews – ten thousand a day – from Warsaw. Accompanying this, of course, were pogroms, and those being deported were shot. The Eldest there committed suicide. However, they didn’t go through the kind of extreme suffering we have had, and there is no end for us yet.
Mr Chris Webb is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Founder at Holocaust Historical Society. See his profile here.
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