Thursday, July 22, 2010
July 22,2010 activities
It's 95 degrees on this Thursday afternoon in Lodz. We have the majority of the day to ourselves to rest and relax. I actually treated myself to a Polish relaxation massage this afternoon that was truly rejuvenating!A different experience from a massage in the States, but nonetheless wonderful.
Not much survives of the original Lodz ghetto today. There are a few buildings, that you can tell by looking at them they were built before World War II and still stand today. By April 30th, 1940 160,000 Jews were sectioned off in the Lodz ghetto. Within the first few months 15,000 Jews were deported to Chelmno to make room for more people coming into the ghetto. Among these numbers, 15,000 Jews who were skilled laborers were brought into Lodz. Eventually, Lodz became a gigantic labor camp for the goods it manufactured for the German army. The leader of the Judenrat, or Jewish leadership group of the ghetto, Mordechai Cham Rumkowski instilled in the inhabitants that if you are going to live in the Lodz ghetto you must work hard to earn food. Rumkowski was the same man who made the speech for parents to hand over their children in an effort to set aside more food for people he felt were better workers, and essentially more valuable. Rumkowski, who had an inflated opinion of himself even had coins and currency made containing his image. Opinions about him today greatly differ. Some people believe they owe their life to Rumkowski. Others can't find enough vehement adjectives to describe their disdain for the man.
The first place we visited this morning was St. Mary's Church in Lodz. We visited this church because the Nazis used St. Mary's as a gathering place for looted goods, namely blankets. I'm not saying that the Catholic Church in Poland collaborated with the Nazis. They didn't. When the Nazis arrived in Lodz St. Mary's wasn't a functional church. The Nazis evicted the limited number of religious personnel at St. Mary's and used it to store items confiscated from the Jews. The reason that blankets were so commonly confiscated was to send them back to Germany. The Nazis also knew that if the Jews were without their blankets, especially during the Polish winters they would be condemning the Jews to their deaths.
After we departed the Church we visited to Jewish cemetery in Lodz. The Jewish cemetery in Lodz is very beautiful, and it's the largest cemetery in size that we've visited on this trip, (excluding Auschwitz and Majdanek). To give you an idea about the size of the cemetery 180,000 bodies are buried in this cemetery. Roughly 45,000 of these people died in the Lodz ghetto or mass graves. When you immediately walk into the cemetery gates there are grave stones on the interior parts of the wall. These stones commemorate the Holocaust victims. One mausoleum belongs to Israel Poznanski, a major industrialist responsible for building 3 palaces and a factory next to our hotel. This mausoleum where Pozanski and his wife are buried is enormous. Ultimately, it's a pompous tribute to a man who had a very arrogant opinion of himself. This mausoleum was noteworthy to see for its sheer size, but it's an anomaly. Before World War II, roughly 2/3 of Jews in Poland received some sort of welfare or community assistance. An overwhelming majority of the Jewish population was very poor. Steve, one of our group leaders shared with us how his grandmother used to send money to her relatives in Poland before the war to assist them. She would hide the money in toilet paper, so custom officials wouldn't be tempted to steal the money for themselves. As we walked deeper into the cemetery we noticed an incredibly large field filled with endless rows of name plates. In this part of the cemetery 43,527 bodies are buried, all of whom died in the Lodz ghetto. The sheer number of all the plates overwhelmed me. One of the last places we visited in this Jewish cemetery was a set of large ditches, which today are covered on all sides by rapidly growing vegetation. These ditches were supposed to be mass graves. The victims dug the graves, but fortunately, the area was liberated before the Nazis could fill them.
The Rodegast train station we visited after the cemetery was especially memorable. This train station was the arrival point for 45,000 Jews sent to live in the Lodz ghetto. A few years later, 145,000 Jews were deported from Rodegast to various death camps. On the side of the station a train and a cattle car is on some authentic tracks. The car was used to transport Jews to the camps, but which one is unknown. It was very disturbing to stand in the cattle car,where so much death took place.It was very hot, and with only a few of us standing inside it was hard to breath. Unimaginable. In the actual train station officials still keep records of the names of people sent to the various concentration camps. It was hard for me to get my head around this place as I walked around the train station and the platforms.
During the visits to these places we had some great historical discussions. Today's discussions focused on the Soviets during World War II. To give you an idea about the scope of destruction the Soviets experienced, 20 million Soviets died during World War II. 292,000 American soldiers died during World War II. This figure gives you an accurate idea about how brutal the war was on the Eastern front. Among many things, Stalin was a shrewd, tyrannical leader. He didn't want to liberate this area because he knew it was primarily Anti-Communist. Stalin didn't want to waste the manpower and resources to liberate an area whose ideals conflicted with his own.
The first photo is the trench dug by Jews that fortunately was never used, followed by a photo of the inside of the synagogue associated with the cemetery,and two pictures of the cattle cars
This trip is slowly winding down. We have one more day in Poland before flying home to the U.S. We are having a banquet tomorrow night on our last night and plan a little comic relief for the occasion.With the help of Mitch and Linda I have developed a list of superlatives for each person on the trip, that touch on each one's special personalty trait.