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Nachman Zonabend Collection

Identifier: RG 241

Scope and Content Note

This collection was donated to the YIVO Institute by Nachman Zonabend of Stockholm, Sweden, in 1948. The donation was acknowledged and described in News of the YIVO, No. 27, June, 1948. The collection bears the name of its donor in recognition of his role in rescuing these documents and his generosity in transferring them to the YIVO Archives. The Nachman Zonabend Collection is registered in the YIVO Archives as Record Group No. 241.

The documents were initially sorted and described in 1950. This arrangement was not satisfactory in several respects, the first and foremost being that the documents were assembled in series by subject rather than by their provenance. Since the origin of almost all the items is clearly indicated, it was feasible to restructure the collection accordingly. The new arrangement was completed and an inventory compiled by Marek Web in May 1987. The re-arrangement of the collection involved, among other things, changing the old folder numbers. Since these numbers were quoted previously in numerous publications (most notably Geto Lodz by Isaiah Trunk), a conversion table reconciling the old and the new folder numbers has been compiled and is kept in the YIVO Archives.

The collection consists of correspondence, printed and mimeographed announcements and circulars, calendars, newspapers, statistical charts, maps, reports, essays, albums, photographs and personal documents relating to the organization, life and destruction of the ghetto in Lódz under Nazi rule, 1939-1944. It occupies eight linear feet of shelving.

Most of the documents are typed. A number of announcements and official publications are printed. Handwritten items include notes and essays written by the staff of the ghetto archives and programs of cultural events. Albums and charts are ornamented with elaborate graphics and photo-montages. The photographs are early-generation prints made (with some exceptions) from master negatives. On the whole, the documents have survived in good condition, except for some posters which were printed on inferior paper. Many items, such as official histories of ghetto departments and labor divisions, were typed on high grade paper, which withstood well the ravages of an adverse environment. Very often packing paper was used for typing. A number of documents (e.g. the calendars) were printed on the reverse side of Biebow’s private stationery from his enterprises in Bremen.

The languages of the documents are Polish, German and Yiddish. Many announcements are bilingual, i.e., Polish and Yiddish or German and Yiddish. On the whole, use of Yiddish in official correspondence was very limited. From 1942 German became the dominant language of ghetto documents.

The collection consists of fragmentary records of the Eldest of the Jews in Lódz, by which name the Jewish ghetto administration was known. There are over 2,000 individual documents and photographs filed in 1120 folders. The remaining part of this record group is located in the Lódz State Archives (until 1967 it was in the possession of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw). In the YIVO collection, degrees of completeness vary substantially from one series to another. Many series representing major departments consist here of a few documents only.

Despite its fragmentary nature, this is an important repository of documentation about the destruction of a major Jewish community during the Holocaust. The annihilation of European Jewry, engineered and executed by the Nazis, is eloquently exemplified in these records of the life and death of the Lódz ghetto.

To the extent that it was possible, the records were organized according to the office of their origin. The collection is comprised of fifteen series which for the most part mirror the organizational pattern of the ghetto administration.

Series 1 to 5 contain the files of Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski. Included are his correspondence with the German agencies, his announcements to the ghetto population and inter-office circulars issued by Rumkowski or by his closest associates.

Records of the departments of the ghetto central administration comprise Series 6 to 8. Thirteen departments are represented in these series. These materials are very fragmentary. Nevertheless, many individual documents and files are of special importance.

Series 9 is made up of documents, mainly circulars, pertaining to the Provisioning Departments.

Series 10 and 11 include discrete records of all other branches of the ghetto administration. The following departments are represented: Labor Assignments, labor divisions and workshops; Agriculture; Welfare; Health and Sanitation; and Schools.

Series 12 and 13 consist of iconographic materials.


  • Creation: September 1939-August 1944, 1945, 1947


Language of Materials

The collection is in Polish, German, and Yiddish.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIVO Archives.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Chief Archivist, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011



The following is the story of the rescue of documents which now comprise the Zonabend Collection in the YIVO Archives.

I was among the group of inmates whom the Germans had left in the ghetto after the last deportation in August, 1944. We were to pack and ship the goods and equipment left behind by those Jews who had been deported. One day, during a moment when the Nazi guards were not paying attention, I slipped unnoticed into the deserted print shop of the ghetto administration and came out with a complete set of Rumkowski’s announcements. Next, I went into the offices of the Secretariat, at 1 Dworska Street, which handled Rumkowski’s correspondence. The papers that I found there, which had once been so meticulously sorted and filed, were in complete disarray. I stuffed them in large glass jars and later buried the jars in a remote spot. I also had another hiding place where I kept photographs, drawings and paintings made by ghetto artists.

One rainy Sunday in October, 1944, as we were marching under escort to the bath, we passed the former post office building, 4 Kościelny Square. I broke away from the group and ran inside. As a former employee of the ghetto post office, I knew the place well. Making my way through the silent corridors and empty rooms, I reached the back door and entered the adjoining house where the ghetto archives were located. Several suitcases bulging with documents stood on the floor covered with scattered papers. Evidently these materials were of special value and were meant to be taken to a safe place.

Not one minute could be wasted. I dragged the heavy valises down the stairs and into a deserted courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard I saw a well which turned out to be completely dry. With great difficulty, I brought the valises over to the well and dropped them in. The ground was strewn with quilt covers and pillows; their former owners were probably either dying in slave labor camps or had already been immolated in the crematoria at Auschwitz (Oświęcim). I gathered the covers and pillows and stuffed them inside the well, hoping that this would keep the documents dry and protect from harm.

In January, 1945, after the liberation of Lódz by the Red Army, I went back to Kościelny Square. Plunderers were already at work in the former ghetto, looking for treasures abandoned by the Jews. Despite the threat they posed, I pulled the suitcases out of the well and carried them to my apartment. Later on, I dug up the glass jars. I was relieved when everything was finally secure. An important record of the history of the Lódz ghetto had been saved.

On many occasions I have been asked to explain why I took all these risks to secure these documents, whose contents I did not even know, in a place as desolate as the ghetto was then, and at a time when the rest of us inmates were looking for places to hide themselves rather than a batch of seemingly worthless papers. Furthermore, what motivated me in the first moments of freedom to return to the abandoned streets of the former ghetto, now overrun with dangerous looters, in order to bring these moldy papers to safety?

From my first days in the ghetto I was close to a small circle of people who strove to document for posterity all that was happening around us. As the ghetto mailman, whose special task it was to deliver relief payments to welfare recipients, I used to come to the homes of poverty-stricken families. I will never be able to describe the destitution, starvation, sickness, despair, injustice and loneliness which I saw there. Fortunately, there were others who have done it, such as the photographers Mendel Grossman and Henryk Rozencwajg-Ross, who preserved images of the ghetto on film. I was a close friend of both men and was intimately familiar with their work as well as that of their colleagues, Rubiczek and Borkowski. I knew about the daily chronicle which was being meticulously compiled by scholars working in the Department of Statistics. I was involved with artists, writers and poets whose common goals was to preserve the evidence of the horrendous crime we were all witnessing, and I often participated in their discussions and meetings. Shortly before the liquidation of the ghetto I was able to hide some of their photographs and art works. I also made a mental note of the location of other materials to which I had no access at the time.

This, then, is my answer to the questions about my motives, which in those days were indeed anything but practical. This, too, should be the end of the story: as it happens there is an epilogue.

Soon after Lódz was liberated, a Jewish Historical Commission was organized there by people whom I trusted. I decided to turn some of the rescued documents over to this institution. At the same time I was approached by the poets and former partisans Abraham Sutzkever and Shmerke Katcherginski, who suggested that I give the remaining materials to the YIVO Institute in New York. We even worked out a plan for safely transporting the collection abroad, but, for various reasons, we had to postpone its realization.

In 1947 I left Poland and settled in Sweden. I was able to take the Lódz ghetto documents with me. Then I transferred the collection to YIVO, where it was received with full appreciation of its priceless value and historical importance. My donation was later described in the News of the YIVO of June, 1948, in an article entitled “ A Great Jewish Community in the Fateful Years: The Lodz Ghetto in the Light of the Zonabend Collection."

The news about the transfer of the collection to YIVO provoked a livid response in certain Jewish circles in Poland. On December 1, 1948, an article was published in the Warsaw Yiddish daily, Dos naye leben, the organ of the Central Committee of the Polish Jews, under the headline, 'How YIVO Hailed Gestapo Agent as Martyr.” The article, which was signed by A. Klugman, was then reprinted in the New York Yiddish daily Morgnfrayhayt and in Yiddish newspapers in Canada and France. The article cited a long list of crimes committed by me in the ghetto, including working for the Sonderkommando, organizing orgies and generally living well while others starved. As for the documents, the author maintained that I found out where ghetto archivists had hidden them, and that I had simply stolen them after the war. I challenged the author several times to present supportive evidence for these allegations or to explain the reason for writing such an ignominious piece. Mr. Klugman chose not to respond at all.

I am proud of saving the Lódz ghetto documents, and it gives me great satisfaction to see how widely this collection has been used as a record of the life and destruction of the Jewish community of Lódz.


The Lódz ghetto was established on February 8, 1940, by order of the Chief of Police in Lódz, Schutzstaffeln (SS)–Brigadeführer Johannes Schäffer. From a historical perspective, this order was the first practical step taken by the Nazis towards the total physical annihilation of the Lódz Jewish community.

The history of the Jews in Lódz under Nazi rule can be divided into five time periods, which are summarized here in chronological order.

September 8, 1939 to May 1, 1940

This period begins with the German army’s entry into Lódz and concludes with the sealing of the ghetto. Prior to the outbreak of the war, there were about 250,000 Jews in Lódz - the second largest Jewish community in Poland after Warsaw. As conditions deteriorated rapidly, the Lódz Kehilla (Jewish community board), much reduced in size by the flight of its leading members, convened on September 12 and elected Abram Lejzor Plywacki as its chairman and Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski as his deputy. A week later, on September 18, the Nazis issued the first ordinance specifically concerning the Jews, banning all services in the city synagogues during the High Holy Days.

On September 21 Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Reich Security Main Office (Reichsicherheithauptamt – RSHA) issued two orders to the Einsatzgruppen (mobile units charged with establishing a police regime in the occupied territories) regarding the Jews: that they were to be purged from the annexed territory of Western Poland and temporarily confined to special Jewish districts – the ghettos; and that councils of Jewish elders were to be established in the communities to carry out the orders of the occupation authorities regarding the Jews.

These orders set the pace in Lódz for stripping the Jews of their rights and property and separating them physically from the gentile population. On October 13, the Stadtkomissar (City Occupation Commissioner) Leister, appointed Rumkowski as the Eldest of the Jews of Lódz, ordering him to disband the Kehilla and select an Ältestenrat (Council of Elders). Subsequently through May 12, 1940, a succession of forty-eight ordinances against Jews were issued by the following officials: the City Commissioner, who was later replaced by the Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) of Litzmannstadt (Lódz was incorporated into the Reich on November 7, 1939, and its name changed to Litzmannstadt), the President of the District Administration (Regierungspräsident) in Kalisz, the Chief of Police in Lódz (Polizeipräsident) and various departments in the Lódz German muncipality. This legislation included: blocking Jewish bank accounts, a ban on travel, wearing the yellow patch displaying the JUDE sign in Jewish stores, forced labor, a ban on all pre-war Jewish organizations and institutions, the confiscation of Jewish property, a ban on the use of municipal transportation, the establishment of the ghetto and the forced resettlement of the entire Jewish population therein and, finally, a ban on contact with gentiles.

At the same time, terrorizing the Jews became a fact of daily life. Roundups on the streets and apprehension of people for forced labor did not stop even after Rumkowski reached an agreement with the Germans and organized a special department which delivered daily contingents of laborers. Physical abuse soon evolved into murder, when on October 18, the SS raided the café Astoria frequented by Jews, arrested over one hundred persons and subsequently killed most of them. On November 11, the Nazis destroyed all the synagogues in Lódz except for some which were located in the Jewish quarter. In November, the first Ältestenrat came to a tragic end when the Gestapo arrested and murdered twenty two of its thirty members. Assaults on Jews became particularly vicious during the time of resettlement to the ghetto (February – April, 1940). Dissatisfied with the slow progress of this operation, the Nazis intensified roundups and arrests. Thus, for instance, a murderous action known as “Bloody Thursday” (March 7, 1940) resulted in the killing of several hundred Jews on the streets and the execution of another 160 in the Zgierz forests near Lódz. Those Jews who still remained in the city were ordered to vacate their apartments and were given five minutes to do so.

Yet another plan regarding the Jews was being carried out by Nazis which paralleled the preparations for the ghetto. In November, 1939, Heinrich Himmler issued a directive that the Jews of the Wartheland, now incorporated into the Reich, should be promptly deported to the General Government. Accordingly, an agreement was concluded on November 7 between the chief of the police in the Wartheland, SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe, and his counterpart in the General Government, Friedrich Krüger, for the deportation of 200,000 Poles and 100,000 Jews. Up to 30,000 Jews were to be deported from Lódz alone, and they were to leave the city between November 15, 1939, and February 28, 1940. The matter of deportation was obviously debated at length by the Nazi leadership, and in the end resettlement was altogether stopped by order of Hermann Göring on March 23, 1940. It seems that besides the difficulties in transporting the mass of deportees and organizing transit centers for them, the Nazis had already arrived at a different blueprint for the solution of the Jewish question. Local ghettos were to serve as points of concentration for the Jewish population until the method of their total annihilation was decided.

The organization of the ghetto in Lódz was first mentioned in a memorandum of December 10, 1939, by Friedrich Ubelhör, the chief of the police in the Kalisz regency (which initially also included Lódz). He revealed there that “...our ultimate goal is to bum out this pest altogether.” Eventually, the order to establish the ghetto was pronounced by the local authorities in Lódz, who ultimately became the principal overseers of the ghetto.

The sequence of steps that led to the final closing of the ghetto was as follows:

On January 19, 1940, the chief of police in Lódz, Schäffer, issued a warning to non-Jews not to enter the Jewish quarter because it had become a nest of infectious diseases (a common practice of the Nazis in all occupied territories). On February 8 the establishment of the ghetto was ordered. On March 1 the Eldest of the Jews, Chaim Rumkowski, issued his Announcement No. 1: the Jews who live in the “Jewish quarter” are to remain there or face reprisals for leaving illegally. In Announcement No. 4 (March, 1940) he further informed “the Jewish population of Lodsch” that he had been instructed by the authorities to “regulate the transfer of Jews to the new quarter.” In April the ghetto area was enclosed with a wire fence, and on April 19 Rumkowski was ordered by the police to have the Ordnungsdienst (the Jewish police) guard the fence inside the ghetto. On April 30 Schaffer ordered the closing of the ghetto. On May 1, the ghetto was sealed off from the outside world.

May 1, 1940 to January 5, 1942

This period is characterized by the consolidation of Rumkowski’s power over the ghetto and the development of the internal ghetto administration. It is also marked by an accelerated impoverishment of the ghetto population, organized confiscation of personal property and widespread starvation. Rumkowski’s tasks and prerogatives as the Eldest of the ghetto were outlined in a letter from the Oberbürgermeister (signed by City Commissioner Schiffer) of April 30, 1940. Rumkowski was to organize and maintain “orderly community life” with respect to economy, provisioning, labor, health and welfare; to submit to the German administration weekly statistics of all ghetto inhabitants; to list and secure all Jewish assets for the purpose of confiscation except for vitally needed clothes, food and dwellings. In return, he was authorized to organize his own police, to confiscate and distribute all food and to enforce work without pay. All ghetto contacts with the German authorities were to be maintained exclusively by Rumkowski or his deputy.

The ghetto which Rumkowski took over was confined to an area of 4.3 square kilometers (in February, 1941, after the Germans cut off several blocks of the ghetto, the diminished area equalled 3.8 square kilometers). The ghetto was located in the poorest neighborhood of prewar Lódz, the Baluty and the Old Town (Stare Miasto), where basic accommodations were generally lacking and sanitary conditions were dismal. In this enclosed and tightly guarded place there lived 160,423 Jews according to a census taken on June 6, 1940. In the overcrowded dwellings there were an average of 3.5 persons per room. Most of the ghetto inhabitants lost all or most of their property when they left their city homes in panic. The economy was nonexistent. The community welfare system, heavily burdened even before the creation of the ghetto, was in shambles.

Rumkowski entered the ghetto with an ideology of survival, which entailed making the ghetto productive and thus useful to the Nazis, especially to the German war industry. On April 5, 1940, he submitted to the Oberbürgermeister a plan to organize industries in the ghetto which would serve economic needs of the Nazis. Later he would allude in his speeches to this plan as giving the Nazis a virtual gold mine - meaning thousands of cheap Jewish laborers. The first tailoring shop with 300 workers opened on April 20, and on May 13 Rumkowski reported to the Oberbürgermeister that 14,850 tailors and seamstresses registered for work, and he asked for production orders. From these beginnings, an industrial complex developed in the ghetto with 117 enterprises and 73,782 workers by the end of 1943.

Meanwhile, a ruthless campaign to confiscate work tools and raw materials was conducted in order to open other workshops and force people to work in ghetto industries rather than on their own. In time, private enterprise in the ghetto was completely eradicated, and Rumkowski became the sole employer for the entire ghetto population.

At the same time confiscations of other personal property such as clothes, valuables (gold, silver, jewelry, currency) and housewares continued. Thinly veiled “purchasing agencies” set up in August, 1940, for various kinds of goods, and the population was repeatedly ordered to exchange their last property items for virtually worthless ghetto currency. In addition, a ban was in effect after June 3, 1940 forbidding the trafficking of food and valuables to and from the ghetto with the exception of old clothes. On December 17 Rumkowski ordered that all owners of furs and coats sell them or face reprisals. Rumkowski would appeal and again to those who had left valuable property in the city to inform him “in confidence” about its whereabouts because it was in his power to recover it.

The confiscation of Jewish goods was conducted in accordance with Nazi policy as expressed Göring’s order of September 17, 1940, which deprived Jews of their property. To justify confiscations, Rumkowski came up with the slogan that no one in the ghetto should have the privilege of owning private property.

The earliest consequence of this deprivation and impoverishment in the ghetto was unremitting hunger, which was to pervade the lives of ghetto inhabitants throughout its existence. The Nazis set the level of provisioning in the ghetto at 30 pfennigs per person per day, which was lower than the per capita norms in prisons (40-50 pfennigs). In addition, a principle was established by the German ghetto administration that the ghetto Jews would have to pay for provisions with their productivity and by selling off their property to Rumkowski’s “purchasing agencies.” No other means of obtaining food, such as smuggling (very wide-spread in the ghettos within the General Government) existed in Lódz, and thus the ghetto was forced to depend entirely on handouts from the German administration. Also Rumkowski, being the sole distributor of provisions within the ghetto, conducted a provisioning policy of his own, rewarding some with better rations and punishing others. In time, a provisioning pyramid was created in the ghetto, where the few at the top had enough to eat while the overwhelming mass of ghetto inmates starved.

The system of food rationing (except for bread) was introduced in the ghetto on June 2, 1940 and from this day ration cards regulated life in the ghetto. In 1940 the population tried to resist. Hunger demonstrations and disturbances marked the first year of the ghetto. Demonstrators took to the streets on August 10 and 11 and again during the first week of October. The last known disturbances occurred on January 11 and 12, 1941. They were put down by the Ordnungsdienst and German police.

Trying to stabilize the situation in the ghetto, Rumkowski appealed to the German administration, and on September 19 received a loan on 2,000,000 Reichsmarks. He used the 1oan for relief payments to over 70,000 destitute ghetto inmates. At the same time he was moving towards the total rationing of provisions. This was announced on December 15, 1940, with rationing of bread as well. On December 27 Rumkowski announced the takeover of all private food stores, restaurants and home kitchens and assigned the distribution of food to his own stores. By 1941 the rationing system was firmly in place, and provisioning was fully regulated.

Notwithstanding the rapid deterioration of living conditions in the ghetto, communal, and social institutions and organizations were still active in the years 1940 and 1941. The school system was fully operative; child care was provided by a network of children’s homes, orphanages, summer camps and a free meals program; religion and religious institutions enjoyed a temporary reprieve from Nazi persecutions; there were important social programs for ghetto youth such as the hakhsharas and kibbutzim in Marysin; theatre performances, literary and musical events arranged in the Culture House and in halls and kitchens maintained by various political groups.

For a while the Nazis seemed content with this situation and interfered little in the ghetto’s internal affairs. Reckless killing did not stop altogether, to be sure, and many took place at the ghetto fence where the Schupo (Schutzpolizei - Protective Police) guards shot at anyone who came too close. An especially ignominious incident involved a Polish Volksdeutsch nicknamed “Red-haired Janek,” who, angered over a black market deal which fell through, shot and killed thirty-five Jews over a period of three weeks in July, 1940. In 1941, an insane asylum in the ghetto was liquidated, and over one hundred of its patients were killed. A sedative, Scopolamin, was administered to them before execution.

The general situation of the ghetto changed radically in the fall of 1941, when a mass of almost 20,000 Jews from Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, Germany and Luxembourg (including the district of Leslau-Leszno in the Wartheland) - generally called “Western Jews” – was deported and resettled in the ghetto. In order to accomodate them, Rumkowski ordered the closing of ghetto schools and the conversion of school buildings into reception centers. The schools were never to open again. For the deportees the reality of the Lódz ghetto was a shattering experience from which most never recovered. They felt foreign among the Lódz Jews, they could not adapt to the horrid living conditions and could not comprehend the purpose of this resettlement. Many of them readily went to their final deportation in 1942 to the death camp in Chelmno, convinced that nothing worse than their life in the ghetto could happen to them.

January 5 to September 12, 1942

On December 7, 1941, the first Nazi death camp located in Chelmno, some seventy kilometers from Lódz, began its experimental run. Several Jewish communities from the neighboring towns were annihilated there between December 7 and January 14, 1942 – altogether some 6,400 people. The killing vans in which the victims were suffocated by means of exhaust fumes replaced the execution squads of the Einsatzgruppen as both more efficient and less “disturbing.” Even when supplanted by the gas chambers of other death factories, the vans remained in use until July, 1944. Over 250,000 Jews from Wartheland were annihilated in Chelmno. Of this number over 70,000 came from the Lódz ghetto.

Deportations to and from the Lódz ghetto in 1942 were in step with the Nazi policy of disposing of all unproductive groups including children and old people. The Lódz ghetto was to become a labor camp where nothing mattered but work. Those few survivors of the destroyed communities who were deported to the Lódz ghetto in 1942 had been spared because they were skilled workers.

The first hint of an impending deportation came in a speech by Rumkowski on December 20, 1941, when he announced that a contingent of 10,000 persons had been requested by the Germans for deportation. He further stated that this contingent would be filled with criminal elements, welfare recipients who did not participate in the public works program and black marketeers. On December 30, an announcement was issued that until further notice all ghetto residents were strictly forbidden to shelter strangers or relatives not registered as members of the household. Finally, on January 5 the Resettlement Commission nominated by Rumkowski began compiling lists of deportees.

The first transport left Lódz for Chelmno on January 16, 1942. From this day the ghetto was obliged to deliver a contingent of 1,000 persons daily until the quota set by the Nazis was filled. The deportations were halted on January 29 after 10,103 people had left the ghetto.

This proved to be no more than a short respite. The process resumed with an even greater intensity on February 22 and continued until April 2. During this phase of deportations, 34,073 lives were extinguished.

Finally, on May 4 the deportation of the “Western” Jews was announced, notwithstanding the fact that they had come to the ghetto only six months previously. Excluded from this deportation were the former recipients of German or Austrian military awards earned during World War I and a number of professionals employed in the ghetto administration. By May 15 another 10,161 persons had been deported from the ghetto.

The total number of deportees between January and May was 54,990 persons, more than one-third of the ghetto population.

To force deportees to come to the transport point the Nazis used the weapon of hunger, curtailing deliveries of food to the ghetto and at the same time providing meals for those who came to the train. This tactic was repeated in all subsequent deportations.

In the middle of it all Rumkowski urged prospective deportees time and again to sell furniture and other property to his “purchasing agencies,” or to deposit their belongings until they returned. Nor did he forget to demand that the families of the deported surrender their ration cards.

In May groups of Jews from the liquidated ghettos in the Wartheland began to trickle into the Lódz ghetto. These survivors from Pabianice, Zdunska Wola (Zdunskaya Volya, Zdun’skaya Volya), Belchatów, Lask, Ozorków (Ozyurkov) and other towns brought with them stories of atrocities committed by the Nazis, which heightened the sense of despair and doom in Lódz. Some of the accounts are related in the Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto. Altogether some 14,441 Jews were resettled in the ghetto between May and August of 1942.

The next wave of deportation from Lódz was directed against children, the aged and the infirm. This time though, the ghetto Jews had a hint of what was to happen, and an attempt was made to hide some of the children among the ghetto work force in the summer months of 1942. By July 20 there were about 13,000 children and adolescents employed in the workshops and factories. However, younger children and old people were left defenseless.

This deportation began on September 1 with the removal of the sick from five ghetto hospitals and two preventoriums. On this day 374 adult patients and 320 children were taken to their death.

On September 5 a general curfew (Gesperre in German, shpere in Yiddish) was announced “until further notice.” The residents of old age homes and orphanages were the first to be taken to the train. After that, the Ordnungsdienst had to make house searches in order to find children and take them away from their parents. The results of the first day’s searches were so meagre that the German ghetto administration and the Gestapo decided to take matters into their own hands, and the ghetto became the scene of a vicious manhunt. By September 12 it was all over. There were 600 dead in ghetto streets and homes. 15,859 victims had been taken to the transports.

On September 12 the curfew was lifted. Rumkowski announced the opening of all kitchens on September 13 and promised an improvement in the food situation.

September 13, 1942 to June 14, 1944

After the deportations of 1942 there were almost two years of relative stability in the Lódz ghetto. At a time when there were no more ghettos in the Wartheland and all the ghettos in the General Government were being liquidated one after another, the Lódz ghetto continued to exist as a giant labor camp. During 1942 and 1943 its usefulness to the Nazi war machine was beyond doubt, so much so that all attempts by Himmler and the SS to liquidate the ghetto were successfully frustrated by the manpower-starved Nazi armament authorities. Himmler’s plan to convert the ghetto into a concentration camp (which would bring it under the control of the SS) and to transfer its much diminished population to the Lublin district, where they would become part of the slave labor complex under Odillo Globocnik, was never realized.

The situation inside the ghetto was different from previous years. By 1943 there were 87,000 Jews in the ghetto, and eighty-five percent of this total number were working in the ghetto plants or offices. Many communal services were discontinued. There were no schools, orphanages or summer camps. Relief activities were discontinued. The Rabbinate and all religious institutions were liquidated. The Sabbath and all religious holidays were abolished. There were few children and almost no old people in the ghetto.

Nazi supervision of the ghetto was now even more evident than ever. Many of Rumkowski’s prerogatives were gradually taken from him. The most important instrument of his power, the distribution of food, was personally taken over by Hans Biebow, the chief of the German ghetto administration, in October, 1943. The administration offices were reduced or altogether liquidated, and their employees transferred to ghetto plants. The Sonderkommando - a special unit of the Ordnungsdienst which was in charge of expropriations, operations against the black market and political espionage - now gained strength because of their close ties to the Germans. Further, Rumkowski now had to share much of his power with the managers of labor workshops and plants, whose role in the ghetto increased immensely.

June 15, 1944 to January 19, 1945

On June 10, Himmler ordered the Nazi chief of the Wartheland, Arthur Greiser, to begin liquidation of the ghetto without further delay. In view of the Allies’ continuing military offensives and victories, the usefulness of this labor force became debatable, and thus the fate of the ghetto was sealed. On June 15, the Gestapo chief in Lódz, Bradfisch, informed Rumkowski that workers were needed inside Germany to repair the damages inflicted by the Allied bombings. He demanded a weekly contingent of 3,000 persons. The next day Rumkowski announced the new deportations and appealed for voluntary sign-ups. The Inter-Divisional Commission, which included top ghetto officials, was to draft the deportation lists. The deportees were allowed to take along 15 kg. of luggage and were to receive food rations for three days.

The first transport in this wave of deportations left the ghetto on June 23. By July 15, 7,196 people were deported. The destination was, as before, Chelmno.

On July 15, the deportations were suddenly halted. At that time the Red Army was already advancing through ethnic Polish territories in an offensive which eventually brought it to the banks of the Vistula. The Nazis had decided to liquidate the death camp in Chelmno and obliterate its traces, so that it would not fall into the hands of the Soviet forces, which reached the outskirts of Warsaw in the last week of July.

After two weeks the deportations from the ghetto were resumed. This much time had been needed to re-direct the transport traffic to Oświęcim (Auschwitz), where the remaining mass of Jews from Lódz were to perish during the month of August. The Soviet offensive was halted some 130 kilometers east of Lódz and was not resumed until January, 1945.

On August 2 Rumkowski made public, in Announcement No. 417, that “on the instructions of the Mayor of Litzmannstadt” the ghetto would be evacuated to an undisclosed location. “The plant crews will go together as units, and the families of workers will join them.” Five thousand ghetto residents were to show up daily at the processing centers.

During this last month of the Lódz ghetto, Rumkowski wrote a total of twenty-six announcements and warnings in order to ensure an orderly deportation. As his appeals for voluntary submission fell on increasingly deaf ears, he resorted to threats of reprisal, should the Germans “take the course of the deportation into their own hands.” Indeed, after a week of almost futile efforts to get the ghetto Jews to come to the trains, several German police units entered the ghetto on August 8 and began to drag people to the railroad station. On August 9 all plants in the ghetto were ordered closed. That same day the western part of the ghetto was closed off, and all residents were ordered to move to the eastern part. Such a reduction of the ghetto area was an especially effective method to speed the deportation, because residents lost their homes and food rations. They were thus an easy target for police once they entered the smaller ghetto. By August 24, after two further reductions, the area of the ghetto had been diminished to four streets and eighty-three houses.

By the end of August over 68,500 Jews from the Lódz ghetto had been sent to their deaths in Auschwitz. Rumkowski and his family boarded the train on August 28. The Lódz ghetto, the last concentration of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, ceased to exist. When the Soviet and Polish army units entered Lódz on January 19, 1945, they found only 877 Jews, who had been left in the former ghetto by the Nazis to carry out clean-up operations.


Most of the documents in this collection were created in the offices of the Jewish administration of the Lódz ghetto. It is therefore necessary to outline the origins and development of this administration and its relations with the German occupation rulers.

As mentioned in the preceding essay, official Jewish representations under Nazi rule had their origin in Heydrich’s order of September 21, 1939, which stipulated the creation of ghettos and nominating councils of Jewish elders wherever Jewish communities existed. In Lódz an Ältestenrat, or Council of Elders, was established on October 14, 1939, but it never gained full authority over the Jewish community. Real power was quickly seized by the chairman of the council, Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski. In fact, Rumkowski’s official title, the Eldest of the Jews, later became synonymous with the name of the ghetto administration, while the Ältestenrat (also called, more accurately, Beirat) existed as an advisory group only.

Exactly why the Nazis decided on such a configuration remains unanswered; the view generally held is that Rumkowski wanted the position and was able to impress the Nazis with his energy and willingness to carry out his unenviable duties. His avowed program was to make the ghetto useful to the Nazis by turning the Jewish population into a labor force for the German military machine. His autocratic regime over the ghetto was matched by his total submissiveness to the German authorities.

The administration of the Lódz ghetto developed into a highly hierarchical structure with Rumkowski alone at the top, holding the reigns of power. Beneath him was a maze of departments and offices with thousands of employees. This situation was symbolized by Rumkowski’s penchant for frequently using the possessive forms “my” and “mine” with orders in all matters concerning the Lódz Jews, and to strive to meet the enormous needs of the ghetto despite highly insufficient means supplied by Nazis. Very soon after its founding, all private commercial enterprise, as well as independent cultural, educational, social and religious institutions, ceased to exist within the ghetto, and private property was declared illegal. Thus, the administration became the sole provider of everything from food to jobs to education.

The very first department that Rumkowski was compelled to create was the Arbeitseinsatz (Labor Assignments). This department was established on October 15, 1939, in order to procure a daily contingent of 600 forced laborers from among the Lódz Jews as demanded by the German occupation authorities. By taking the initiative in settling the problem of forced labor, Rumkowski sought to prevent a recurrence of brutal daily roundups of Jews in the streets.

In these early days of Nazi occupation it became immediately evident that the organizational resources of the pre-war Kehilla of Lódz were insufficient for dealing with the desperate situation of the Lódz Jews. The new administration was forced to establish a network of offices which would fill the void that had been created by barring Jews from most municipal services such as public order, fire prevention, mail service, provisioning, relief, housing and education. On October 15, 1939, the Relief Department was established in response to the rapidly deteriorating economic situation of the Jewish population. Subsequently other departments were organized: Provisioning on October 16, Health Care on October 20, and Schools on October 26. In November the Finance Department was created for the purpose of procuring financial resources for this administration, mainly through the collection of taxes and rents. The Cemetery Department and the Rabbinate (or Rabbinical Council) of the old Kehilla continued to exist without interruption. A number of new administrative units were created between February and the end of April, 1940, i.e., during the establishment of the ghetto. The Housing Department (sometimes called the Resettlement Department) was given the task of finding quarters for the Jews driven out of their apartments, deprived of their possessions and herded into the ghetto. The Jewish police, whose official name was the Ordnungsdienst (literally, ‘Order Service’), was initially assembled to assist in resettlement to the ghetto. It was officially recognized as a permanent task force on March 1, 1940. The Brigade of Fire Fighters and Chimney Sweeps began its work on April 15. The Economic Department (in Polish, Wydział Gospodarczy), which was organized in February, was primarily responsible for maintenance and sanitation services in the ghetto. Following the discontinuation of mail services by the general post, in February the Ghetto Post Office assumed the responsibility for mail traffic within the Jewish quarter. Finally, the Agricultural Department was established to use plots of land in the suburban Marysin area to grow potatoes and other vegetables.

In the beginning, all these departments did not function independently but as components of the Office of the Chairman (in Polish: Sekretariat Prezydialny). The decentralization of this office and the creation of separate administrative units was decided on April 30, 1940, when the ghetto was declared officially closed off.

The spread of the ghetto administrative network continued at a quick pace throughout the year 1940. In the second half of that year the ghetto administration was composed of seventy-three departments and offices which were grouped in seven administrative branches: general administration, provisioning, finances and economy, requisitions, ghetto industry, health care, and education and welfare. In February, 1941, the administration personnel numbered 5,500 employees. In July, 1941, there were already 7,316 office workers, and by August, 1942, this number had grown to 12,880. Rumkowski was obviously telling the truth when, trying to stop the flood of job applications, he publicly announced “...In order to alleviate the misery of several hundred applicants, I have made every effort to find job positions which in fact are not needed. I have filled positions requiring only one person with three workers ” (Announcement No. 66 of 6/20/1940, folder 194).

Among the records of the Lódz ghetto administration there are several documents which list or chart the administrative network at various times. These are:

  1. “List of Departments” compiled probably at the end of 1940 (folder 4).
  2. “Graphic Representation of the Organization of the Eldest of the Jews in Litzmannstadt,” September, 1941 (folder 5).
  3. “Graphic Representation of the Organization of the Labor Divisions and Internal Administration of the Ghetto,” August, 1943 (folder 6).

Comparison of the two earlier items with the third illustrates the tortuous change which the ghetto experienced within these three years. In 1940 and 1941, the network of departments covered a wide variety of communal services, and the administration supported schools, children’s homes, summer camps, day camps, hospitals, clinics, old age homes, etc. Tens of thousands of ghetto inhabitants were regularly receiving welfare support. The system of government included its own police, court, rabbinical authority, post office, ghetto currency, telephone system, transportation, etc. Indeed, on the surface it looked as if the ghetto had total autonomy over its own affairs.

This picture changed rapidly in the second half of 1942, the year of murderous deportations actions. With the ghetto population reduced by almost half its initial size of over 160,000, departments such as Education, Health Care, the Rabbinate and Welfare disappeared. At the time the industrial complex in the ghetto grew to enormous proportions, with 117 enterprises in which over eighty-five percent of the population were employed.

The final year of the ghetto’s existence passed without major administrative changes. Symbolically, the very last office which was created in the ghetto was the Interdepartmental Commission, which began its work on June 16, 1944. Its task was to compile lists of people who were to be deported during the final months of the Lódz ghetto.

Internal autonomy never really existed in the Lódz ghetto. On the contrary, the ghetto was relentlessly watched by various Nazi agencies, and the Jewish administration was obliged to report to these agencies on ghetto affairs at frequent intervals. In fact, an entire branch of the administration was created out of a need to collect data and prepare reports. This branch, commonly known as Population Records, was started when a census of the ghetto population was ordered by the Nazis after the sealing of the ghetto. It included the departments of Address Registration, Statistics, Civil Registry and the Rabbinical Bureau. Of special importance was Department of Statistics which had the task of assembling the data for these reports. In time a photographic laboratory was added to the department, and a ghetto archives was organized.

Nazi control over the ghetto was exercised in the first place by the Gestapo. The Gestapo, together with the police units of Schupo (Protective Police) and Kripo (Criminal Police), was in charge of maintaining the total isolation of the ghetto and implementing the annihilation of the Jewish population. Civil and economic supervision of the ghetto was in the hands of the Oberbürgermeister (Mayor) of the German municipality, who established a special department to deal with ghetto affairs. This department, first called the Ernährungs-und Wirtschaftsstelle-Getto, was renamed in October, 1940, as the Gettoverwaltung (Ghetto Administration). The Gettoverwaltung controlled the flow of supplies into the ghetto and procured raw materials for the ghetto factories. In exchange, it received all the goods confiscated from ghetto inmates and collected the profits from ghetto industry. The head of this department was Hans Biebow, a merchant from Bremen who played a central role in developing the ghetto’s industrial complex and in refining the system of its total exploitation.


8.55 Linear Feet


The collection documents life inside the Lódz Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. It consists predominantly of the records of the Eldest of the Jews in the Lódz ghetto, Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski, and of his administration. Included are original correspondence, announcements, circulars, charts, publications, reports, essays, albums and photographs.


This collection is divided into seven subject groups, each of which is further divided into series. There are fifteen series, arranged as follows:

  1. A: The Eldest of the Jews, Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski
  2. Series I: Organization of the Ghetto, 1940-1943, undated
  3. Series II: Correspondence with the German Administration, 1939-1940, undated
  4. Series III: Announcements Issued by Rumkowski, 1940-1944, undated
  5. Series IV: Circulars by Rumkowski and his Staff, 1940-1944
  6. Series V: General Correspondence of Chaim Mordecai Rumkowski, 1940-1942
  7. B: The Central Administration
  8. Series VI: Departments of the Ghetto Administration, 1932, 1940-1944, undated
  9. Series VII: Publications
  10. Series VIII: The Ghetto Archives, 1940-1944, undated
  11. C: Provisioning
  12. Series IX: Provisioning Departments, 1940-1944, undated
  13. D: Labor
  14. Series X: Labor Departments and Divisions, 1940-1944, undated
  15. E: Various Departments
  16. Series XI: Various Departments, 1940-1944, undated
  17. F: Iconography
  18. Series XII: Albums, 1939-1942, undated
  19. Series XIII: Photographs, 1940-1947, undated
  20. G: Miscellaneous
  21. Series XIV: Personal Documents, 1940-1944, undated
  22. Series XV: Miscellaneous, undated


The collection was donated to the YIVO Institute in 1948 by Mr. Nachman Zonabend of Stockholm, Sweden. Mr. Zonabend, a former inmate of the ghetto in Lódz, Poland, assembled and secured these documents prior to the liberation of Lódz from Nazi rule between October, 1944 and January, 1945.

Preface by Dr. Lucjan Dobroszycki

The history of the life and destruction of the wartime Jewish community of Lódz – the second largest in Europe after Warsaw – can be reconstructed with unusual precision and in terrifying detail.

On the basis of contemporaneous documents that survived the war records concerning issues such as habitation, employment, daily food supply, mortality rates, and deportations into and out of the Jewish quarter to concentration or extermination camps – it is possible today to trace not only the history of the ghetto as a whole, but also the lives of its individual inhabitants.

The records of the Lódz ghetto can be numbered in the millions of pages. They constitute an extraordinary resource, and it would be difficult to find anyth0ing comparable in the vast documentation of the destruction of European Jewry. The abundance of materials on the wartime Jewish community of Lódz was the product of both the intricate ghetto bureaucracy and of the conscious and systematic efforts of a group of Jewish archivists and chroniclers working within the archives of the Jewish ghetto administration. Equally important is the fact that, unlike Warsaw, Lódz – including the site of its ghetto – survived the war physically intact.

By far the largest collection of the Lódz ghetto documents outside Poland may be found in the archives of the YIVO Institute in New York. They are kept as a distinct collection, named in honor of Nachman Zonabend, who, as one of the mere 877 Jews left in the ghetto after the last deportation, undertook to safeguard materials collected and compiled by the staff of the archives of the Jewish administration. Shortly after liberation he decided, out of a combination of prescience and instinct, that the ghetto materials he had rescued belonged both to the surviving Jews of Poland and to world Jewry, and that they should be made easily accessible to scholars everywhere. With this in mind, he divided the material into two parts. One was to be turned over to the newly created Central Jewish Historical Commission (later known as the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw), founded by the prominent Jewish historian Philip Friedman. The other part was divided between YIVO, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and Beit Lohamei Hagetaot near Haifa. The wisdom of Zonabend’s decision to disseminate these materials in the Free World became especially apparent during the 1967-1969 anti-Jewish campaign in Poland, when all the documents from the Lódz ghetto were removed by order of the authorities from the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute. Transferred to the Lódz Municipal Archives, to this day they remain separated from the largest center for Jewish historical studies in Poland and are no longer easily accessible to scholars.

This inventory of the Nachman Zonabend Collection, compiled by Marek Web, the Head Archivist of YIVO, is the first annotated list of documents from the Lódz ghetto ever published. Although it contains only YIVO’s holdings, the inventory will undoubtedly be of great assistance to researchers around the world working on one or another aspect of the vanished Jewish community of Lódz.

Guide to the Records of the Nachman Zonabend Collection 1939-1944, 1945, 1947 RG 241
Processed by Marek Web
© January 2004.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from Nachman_Zonabend2.xml

Revision Statements

  • January 2006.: Entities removed from EAD finding aid.

Repository Details

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