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1940: Machinery of Hatred
 pg. 185 
    In German-occupied Poland, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, a man in his 60s who had organized and directed a well-known orphanage, became the Nazi-appointed leader of his fellow Jews in Lódz, a major Polish city in territory that the Germans had annexed to the Third Reich. The Germans called the city Litzmannstadt. On April 5, 1940, Rumkowski sent to the German authorities one of the frequent petitions that would characterize his doomed efforts to preserve Jewish life in the Lódz Ghetto. Rumkowski emphasized that the ghetto contained thousands of skilled workers. "I could organize matters," he wrote, "so that these people work for the authorities."

Jews of Lódz, Rumkowski believed, could find salvation through work that made them useful, if not essential, to the Germans. Jews in many ghettos held this belief. For some Jews it bought time, although the terms were set by the Germans, not the Jews. "Salvation through work" did not last for long, however, because the perverse "logic" of Nazi Germany's antisemitic racism contradicted that hope. That logic meant that racial threats to German purity and power could not be tolerated and must be removed.

On April 30 Rumkowski got a reply to his April 5 memorandum. Far from responding to his suggestions, it contained a series of orders. These orders gave Rumkowski nearly dictatorial authority in the ghetto, although he had to exercise them as instructed and required. First and foremost, Rumkowski was told that "all residents of the ghetto are forbidden to leave the ghetto, as of April 30, 1940." He would be accountable for "the strict enforcement of this prohibition" and also for the ghetto's "orderly economic life."

In spite of the latter order's virtual impossibility, Rumkowski took it as his mandate and organized the ghetto's labor force. Nevertheless, the fate of most of the 164,000 Lódz Jews was sealed when the ghetto--its area was only 1.54 square miles--was enclosed by barbed wire. That action indicated that the Lódz Jews, valuable though their work might be for a time, were fundamentally unwanted creatures whose place in the Nazi racial hierarchy made them unfit to live where German interests prevailed. As it continued to unfold, that logic would spell mass murder for European Jewry.

A few days before the sealing of the Lódz Ghetto, another decision revealed the logic of Nazi racism even more decisively. On April 27 Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, decided that a concentration camp should be established on the site of former Polish military barracks near the town of Oswiecim. Like Lódz, Oswiecim stood in territory that the Germans annexed. They called the town Auschwitz. On April 29 Concentration Camps Inspector Richard Glücks appointed SS Captain Rudolf Höss to be the commandant there. Soon, work began to make the camp operational. The workers included 300 Jews conscripted from Oswiecim

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Accompanied by police and guard dogs, SS officers in Poland round up ghettoized Jews.
Photo: Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

1940: Machinery of Hatred
 pg. 185 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.