Carla A. Damiano
Review of Sascha Feuchert, Erwin Leibfried, and
Jörg Riecke, edd., Die Chronik des Gettos Lodz/Litzmannstadt.
Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2007. 5 vols. Pp. 3053. ISBN
It took the editors, along with an
interdisciplinary team of German and Polish scholars, ten years to
bring this momentous and comprehensive work to fruition.
The Łódź Ghetto Chronicle constitutes a unique written and
photographic record of immense historical, testimonial, literary,
and cultural importance, which Feuchert and his colleagues have now
made accessible in toto for the first time to readers and
scholars of many disciplines.
Die Chronik des Gettos Lodz/Litzmannstadt
[hereafter, CGL] 
is divided into five volumes. The first four correspond to the
calendar year in which documents were originally
written: 1941-4. Selected photographs and other additional documents
from the ghetto's Archive are included in each volume. A fifth
volume (Supplemente) contains a selection of writings not
originally included, such as diary
entries by other ghetto inhabitants and various other texts or
fragments of texts by CGL authors themselves. Volume 5
also contains informed commentary and analysis regarding the history
of the Łódź Ghetto, its inhabitants, the history of CGL
itself, and existing scholarship on the topic. A glance at the
scholarly sources listed in the volume shows that this work is not
unique in addressing the persecution and murder of Jews in the Łódź
Ghetto. Rather, what distinguishes it is that it is an unabridged
version of CGL. The full scholarly apparatus makes these
volumes an unprecedented and unequaled tool for study. In volume 1,
for example, which contains the texts written in 1941, approximately
100 of the 463 pages consist of annotations by the editors.
* * *
The persecution of the Jews of Łódź began as soon
as the German army reached the city on 8 September 1939. One-third
of the city's 233,000 inhabitants were Jewish. Initially, thousands
fled the city, but for those who remained life became an unthinkable
hell. The German authorities' ultimate goal was to make the city
judenrein (free of Jews). Since Łódź now belonged to the German
Reich, Jews in the city were stripped of their property and
citizenship, and forced to perform demeaning tasks and to use German
rather than their native Polish or Yiddish; they were beaten,
murered and resettled in the ghetto, where starvation and fear
became their greatest enemies. On 1 May 1940, the Łódź Ghetto was
officially sealed from the rest of civilization. Also sealed were
the fates of the remaining Jews, as well as those of the many
thousands of Jewish prisoners later funneled through the ghetto on
their way to extermination. Of the 204,800 Jews who passed through
its gates, perhaps only 7,000-10,000 survived.
What most distinguishes this ghetto from others of the time
was that it was completely cut off from civilization. Living in an
area lacking an underground system of sewage canals, ghetto
residents had no chance to smuggle from, communicate with, or
escape to the outside world.
From Department of Statistics to CGL
CGL is essentially a record of various
aspects of daily life, secretly written by seven ghetto inmates. The
history of how it came to be is somewhat confusing, as there was
overlap in various departments of the ghetto administration.
In volume 5, Feuchert's article, "Die
Getto-Chronik: Entstehung und Überlieferung--Eine Projektskizze"
[The Ghetto-Chronicle: Origin and Tradition--A Project Outline],
notes that the initial proposal to found an archive in the ghetto a
few months after it had been sealed off was not well received. One
Dr. Szykier, who was standing in for Mordechai Rumkowski (Elder of
the Jews in the ghetto), at a meeting on 8 August 1940, stated that:
"Whoever made this suggestion needs to be sent to a psychiatrist in
order to determine whether he is sane" (5.168).
Nonetheless, several weeks later Rumkowski himself embraced the
Archives--or the Department of Archives, to use its official
name--was founded on the strength of a decision by Mordecai Chaim
Rumkowski, the Eldest of the Jews, on November 17, 1940, as the
fifth in a series of sections of the so-called departments of
population records of the Lodz Ghetto. Aside from the Archives,
these interconnected institutions included the Registration Bureau,
the Department of Statistics, the Department of Vital Statistics,
the Rabbinical Bureau, and the photography workshop, which was set
up somewhat later. All of these sections were headed by Henryk
Neftalin, an attorney who helped organize many of the ghetto's other
administrative branches and who was a confidant of M.C. Rumkowski.
Neftalin's guiding principle from the very
beginning was that the Archives should serve as source material "for
future scholars studying the life of a Jewish society in one of its
most difficult periods."
Feuchert quotes Nachman Zonabend to much the same effect: "Lawyers
and historians should have access to what is likely the most
extensive collection of documents stemming from a Jewish
administration during the Holocaust" (5.167-8).
Technically, the Department of Archives developed
as an off-shoot of the already-established Department of
Statistics. Though separate entities, they were closely
interconnected; as survivor Lucille Eichengreen, former secretary in
the Department of Archives, put it: "Archive and Statistical
Department were essentially one and the same" (5.172).
Department of Statistics deals now also with public health
statistics and with workers and worker production in the ghetto
workshops. At the beginning of 1941 its agenda had grown so
extensively that a division into various departments became
necessary: demography, employment and workshop production, public
health, educational system, social welfare, provisions for the
ghetto population, justice, security, and later, the department of
control for incoming goods and materials, the department of testing
and the department of secondary processing of tabulated materials
The principal purpose of CGL, beginning
with its first entry on Sunday, 12 January 1941, was to portray the
most important daily events in the ghetto. Its main authors over the
four years of its existence were a team of seven inmates: Józef
Klementynowski, editor of the first phase in Polish; Oskar Singer,
editor of the German-language phase beginning in January 1943; Oskar
Rosenfeld, Peter Wertheimer, Bernhard Heilig, Bernard Ostrowski, and
Alice de Buton. As members of the above-named institutions, under
the umbrella of the Department of Statistics and/or Department of
Archives, the chroniclers' access to various aspects of ghetto
statistics enabled them to compile records so far as the reliability
of the available data allowed. They reported, for example, on the
weather, the number of suicides, deaths from infectious diseases,
the type and amount of food that arrived in the ghetto, etc. Various
factors made the authors' task overwhelmingly difficult. The
first--which only adds to their amazing accomplishment--is that they
were writing for an audience of the future. This was not a
publication that contemporary ghetto inhabitants had the privilege
to read, but rather a dangerously-guarded secret from the Nazi
Ghetto Administration. Lucille Eichengreen characterized the project
as: "a daily newspaper without readers …. Everyone contributed, i.e.
if you heard a rumor or had any kind of info you told Dr. Singer,
Rosenfeld …. Sometimes they used the material, or reworded it, or
thought it best to ignore it" (5.173). The frequently-appearing
column heading--"Man hört, man spricht" [people hear, people
say]—suggests the type of reports the chroniclers often had to rely
on. In addition, they were also writing under extreme,
in part self-imposed censorship. Though, according to Feuchert, it
is not clear whether the Nazi Ghetto Administration had any
knowledge of CGL, Rumkowski, of course, did to some extent;
the very existence of the authors, as well as of the project itself,
depended on their remaining in his favor. Although the
writers were subjected to the same extreme conditions as all other
ghetto inmates, that is, hunger, sickness, cold, fear of
deportation, they did receive a regular additional soup ration.
Up through January 1943, CGL had been
written in the language of the native ghetto inhabitants--Polish and
some Yiddish. But thereafter, when the Westjude (western
European Jew) Oskar Singer took over as editor, the language became
German. Due to Singer's experience as a professional journalist, the
texts took on a more journalistic format, nature, and style.
development was certainly not only determined by the journalistic
(research) techniques of the authors, but apparently arose out of a
certain routine of dealing with the daily horror. The longer the
ghetto existed, the more routine it became for the chroniclers, the
more they strived to make a historical illustration of the Ghetto
Litzmannstadt comprehensible to future generations. Ever more
frequently the authors tried to imagine themselves in a future
situation in which the existence of such a ghetto would be as
unimaginable as it once was for them. Their portrayals become
noticeably more empathetic and more exemplary, clearer and--to a
certain degree--also more conceivable…. The fear on the part of the
chroniclers to be unable to make a future reader understand what
they went through due to the limited means available to them, is
always present (5.178).
The Final CGL Entry (4.454):
Report for Sunday, July 30, 1944 Daily
Chronicle Nr. 211
Weather: midday 22-38 degrees [Celsius], sunny, hot.
for various reasons: 2
Admitted: 1 / Man from outside the Ghetto
Today was also very quiet.
[Rumkowski] held various discussions. But all in all peace and order
prevails in the ghetto. Hohensteiner street has a new appearance.
The traffic is unusually lively. One notices that the war is also
advancing towards Litzmannstadt. The Gettomensch [ghetto
neologism for ghetto inmate] curiously watches the hastening motored
vehicles loaded with various types of weapons. But the most
important thing for him is still: "What is there to eat?"
On this Sunday only 7,160 kg of potatoes, 46,210 kg of white
cabbage, and 13,790 kg of kohlrabi arrived. No other foodstuffs
If tomorrow, Monday, no flour arrives, the situation could become
It is said that the flour provisions for the ghetto are barely
sufficient for 2-3 more days.
Beginning today 1 kg of new potatoes will be given out at the
food distribution centers.
Today's reported infectious diseases: none
Cause of today's deaths: 1 suicide.
Volume 5—Editors' Contributions
Andrea Löw, "Das Getto Litzmannstadt--Eine
historische Einführung" [The Ghetto Litzmannstadt---An Historical
Introduction], concisely documents the historical events that led to
the official founding of the ghetto (1 May 1940), and follows
through to its ultimate liberation by the Red Army (19 January
Sascha Feuchert, "Die Getto-Chronik: Entstehung
und Überlieferung--Eine Projektskizze" [The Ghetto Chronicle: Origin
and Tradition--A Project Outline], comprises accounts of Nachman Zonabend's miraculous
preservation of the Jewish Archive documents, the founding of the
Archives and the history of its various departments, and postwar
efforts to publish it. Feuchert pays tribute, for example, to efforts by
the Polish team of Lucjan Dobroszycki und Danuta Dabrowska, who
tried to publish a complete edition of CGL in Polish in the
early 1960s, but whose efforts were stifled ("plötzlich und geradezu
brutal abgebrochen"--suddenly and quite brutally terminated) after
the first two volumes appeared (1965/1966). The other two volumes,
ready for print at the time, were destroyed due to the then current
political environment in Poland. Feuchert also praises Dobroszycki's
abridged English-language publication (see note 3 supra) for making
CGL available for the first time to an international audience
and thereby prompting numerous research projects (5.187). On the
other hand, he criticizes the 1984 publication for including
only one-fourth of the original texts and, in some instances,
shortening them without notice, thus obscuring a truly complete
picture of ghetto life. Overall the article takes into
account the research history on the topic of the Łódź Ghetto
Archives and, more specifically, CGL, adding commentary based
on Feuchert's own research.
In "Zur Sprache der Chronik" [On the Language of
the Chronicle], Jörg Riecke, a linguist as well as Germanist,
concerns himself with the "Wie des Textes" [How
of the Text]. He analyzes linguistic devices, taking
into consideration, for example, the circumstances that dictated the language of composition--initially
Polish and Yiddish, ultimately German. In addition to various
language-dependent stylistic traits, the Chronik eventually took on
the style of its main contributors, Oskar Singer and
Oskar Rosenfeld, two west European journalists. Riecke also focuses on the problems of
translation of the early volumes from Polish and Yiddish into
German. He emphasizes that the editors attempted to remain true to
the original text as much as possible, but points out particular
problems where there is no high German equivalent, as in the case of
neologisms derived from ghetto life itself (5.192).
The final scholarly contribution in volume 5 by
the editors is Erwin Leibfried and Elisabeth Turvold's "Zur Edition"
[About the Edition]. They sketch the guiding principles of the
edition, the history of the Archive documents after they were first
rescued by Nachman Zonabend, and their re-collection from archives
in the United States, Germany, Poland, and Israel. An extensive
chart comparing names and dates of original
documents and their current archival locations demonstrates
how the editors reconstructed the order of CGL. Rounding out
the section and completing volume 5 are: archival photographs; a
complete bibliography of primary sources; a list of historic Łódź
street names in both Polish and German; a registry of names; a
registry of names of artists and historical figures who appear in
CGL; a registry of scholars cited.
* * *
The fact that we, a small fraction of the
targeted future generations of readers, now have access to these
texts through Feuchert, Leibfried, and Riecke's German-language
edition, adds a sense of eeriness to the reading process. Not only
does this publication help to accomplish the original mission of
CGL, namely, to offer firsthand insights into the very daily
life of a Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust, it goes well beyond
this, as we, the contemplated future readers, feel called to act
upon this knowledge.
These five volumes are a major contribution to the
scholarship of World War II and the Holocaust. Wallstein Verlag is
to be congratulated for publishing such an important and complete
account of the horrors of the Łódź Ghetto. The seven main writers of
CGL were scholars, journalists, and trained professionals
with a fine sense of history and literary style. This at times lends
their work the qualities of a feuilleton--the cultural
section of major German-language newspapers.
Literary historians, social and political
theorists, and scholars of World War II and the Holocaust alike will
find this publication of immense interest. Present and future
generations of scholars are provided with a description of daily
life in the Łódź Ghetto in all its minutiae, a small but precious
glimpse of the miseries of that existence. These volumes should be
made available in the research collections of all major
Eastern Michigan University
 A parallel, unabridged edition in Polish is
also in progress, the first volume of which has appeared
simultaneously with this German-language edition. The present
review addresses only the latter.
 Łódź (pron. "Wooch") is
a large city in central Poland. After its annexation to the
Reich in November 1939, German authorities renamed it
Litzmannstadt, after Gen. Karl Litzmann, who had won the Battle
of Łódź in 1914.
 For non-specialists in World War II and, more
specifically, Holocaust studies, The Chronicle of the Łódź
Ghetto 1941-1944 (New Haven, CT: Yale U Pr, 1984), ed.
Lucjan Dobroszycki, trans. Richard Lourie and Joachim
Neugroschel, containing roughly one-fourth of the original
documents, is the most complete English-language edition to
date. Another useful reference is the YIVO Institute's Guide
to the Records of the Nachman Zonabend Collection 1939-1944, RG
241, processed by Marek Web <link>.
The YIVO Institute in New York houses many original CGL
documents in German and Polish; the website offers English
summaries of their individual contents.
 See Josef Zelkowicz, In Those Terrible
Days: Writings from the Lodz Ghetto, ed. Michael Unger,
trans. Naftali Greenwood (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2002) 29.
 English translations herein from the book
under review are my own.
 Dobroszyski (note 3 supra) ix-x.
 See Jörg Riecke, 5.191-2.