Life in the
by Alter Pisarek
excerpt of an interview conducted by Steven Lasky
The city of
Łódź was captured
by the Wehrmacht on 8 Sep 1939. The ghetto was created and was opened on 8
Feb 1940, closing a few months later, on 1 May 1940. Numerous deportations
took place from the ghetto to extermination camps such as Chelmo. The
ghetto was liquidated from 10 Jun 1944 to Aug 1944. The ghetto was
liberated on 19 Jan 1945. Perhaps 10,000 of the 200,000 Jews who once
passed through the Łódź ghetto survived. After liberation by the Soviet
army, approximately nine hundred Jews were found alive.
The Germans Come Marching In:
the war broke out. A couple of days later, the Germans marched
in, marched in on the main street. They marched in
with—everything was motorized—motorcycles and it looked nice
to me. Everything became like a parade. I was a kid so I
wanted to see a parade. So I went to go look at the parade.
My parents didn’t know that I was going.
had been a shikse over
there, a Polish or a German woman. She said, “Here is a Jude,”
and she pointed to me, “A Jewish boy!” So I saw what was going
on and I snuck back home. Well, it started to come to the
point when they started to grab Jewish people, before we were
all sent to the ghetto. They grabbed Jewish people to work,
to do different things, one being my dad who had been
grabbed to work too. My mother had been worried. He didn’t
come home on time, you know? When he came home, he told the whole
story—they grabbed him to work and they hit him. He didn’t
want to talk about it… A year later, they would surround the
ghetto with a fence. The people would go into the ghetto. The ghetto
was in Baluty, in the northern part of Łódź, in a
"I can’t remember when they closed the ghetto. At that time we
had moved into the ghetto. The Germans looked for tailors,
they looked for shoemakers, they looked for cabinet makers, or
whatever. And Dad (who had worked as a tailor) got a job in
the tailor section. He made German army uniforms. Everything
was made for the military. So he took me along because we
would get extra bread. And we got extra pay. And my dad had
been like a supervisor. They would make different things. And
all of a sudden my dad got sick. I remember my dad got sick.
Something with the throat. He had been a sick man anyway. In
May 1942 he passed away. I lost my job, I couldn’t work
without my dad. I didn’t know much. But when I worked with
him, he showed me what to do. I had to have a job. I had to
work. My mother couldn't work. She had been a homemaker and
my sister was younger than me. I got an extra piece of bread
when I worked. I got paid too.
Rumkowski had been the eldest of the Juden. He was responsible
for the ghetto. So one time he'd been riding in a "droshka"
(horse and buggy), they call it. I had made out an application
because I wanted a job. So when the droshka stopped, I was a
kid, I'd been running (after the droshka). So I got the
application ready, and I gave it to him. He gave me a job in
the "najwisha wizba controli." This handled the transactions between the
Jews and the Germans..."
Left-click on the earphones icon
and listen to Alter sing a song he learned
in the Łódź ghetto about Chaim Rumkowski ("Rumkovski Khayim"),
a sardonic tribute to the head of the Łódź Ghetto Jewish
Council, who was responsible for the distribution of food and
the organization of Jewish labor there.
"So I got a job. The next day I went
to work over there. I went to work. They'd been waiting for me
(his fellow Jewish workers.) Amazing. I had a dream that there
had been a fliegeralarm (air raid/aircraft warning). And
then I came to work on my second day, and they (his fellow workers) had been
waiting for me. So why were they waiting for me? I had been
dreaming about the fliegeralarm, and they pointed the finger
at me. They made me a sacrifice for someone else who had
forgotten to close the light the night before. And they
expected me to take the blame for it because I was new. So
they took me to jail. And I was thinking that I would get
killed because of that, because when there is a fliegeralarm,
you shouldn't have any lights on.
So they took me to jail and my mother didn't know anything
about it. Nobody knew nothing. A couple of hours later, they
let me out. Some women had interceded for me. I don't know who
it was, I didn't see the women. But I figured that it was an
angel who interceded for me. And when I came home, I didn't
tell my mother anything. Quiet. I didn't say anything. Six
months later, after the death of my dad, my mother started to
get sick. She got pneumonia. We three dummies, me, my sister
and my cousin. We looked at our mother suffering. We couldn't
do anything. All of a sudden, she calls my cousin over to her
bed. Herschel was his name. He was two months older than me. I
don't know what she said to him. Then she called me. And she
said, 'Good angels have been watching over you.' That's what
she said. And she fell asleep and never woke up. So this
happened seven months after my father had died."
Herschele, Food, and
the Work Project in Czestochowa:
"My mother had five sisters and two
brothers. They all went into the ghetto except my grandfather
who had passed away probably in the late thirties. I don't
know how she got word to my mother, that my mother should come
and pick up one of her boys. She had typhus. We went to the
place where they had been living, that had been quarantined.
So my mother went and tore the quarantine tape away and went
in and took Herschel. His mother--I don't know what one sister
told the other--but Herschel went home with us. My mother had
an acquaintance where they served food, and they gave Herschel
a job as a cook. A short time later, my mother passed away. So
we were stranded, three kids, not knowing what to do.
Herschele had been working in the kitchen. And the Germans
caught him and other people who were able-bodied, to send them
away to work. I can't remember exactly how it happened. I
figured that I should go instead of Herschel. It was better
that Herschel stay working in the kitchen, that my sister
would have extra food to eat. I told my sister that Herschel will
take care of you. If not, you go to my aunt Adele, my mother's
youngest sister. So I went in where the people were waiting
together for the transport to look for my cousin Herschel. I
couldn't find him, but I couldn't get out anymore. So the
others in the group teased me, that I should volunteer. I
didn't volunteer. I had the idea to switch with him.
Well, I didn't have what people had who were scheduled to go
on the transport. People took a lot of suitcases, tallises and
tefillin. They took a lot, like they were going on vacation.
They took along a lot of stuff. I didn't have anything to
carry but myself. So we came to Chenstochov. And when we
arrived it was the evening and they had bread ready for us. So
I stayed in line and grabbed one portion of bread. Then I
waited a little longer and went again on line and got a second
portion. It tasted so good, I said I have to go back for
another. We were just supposed to get 250 grams of bread. I
wasn't the only one who took two or three portions of bread. I
didn't get caught, and the others didn't get caught either.
Who knows how many people didn't get bread because of this.
Well the people in charge started to curse, and they had to
send out for more bread.
After that, we went into the barracks. There were bunk beds
filled with straw to lie on. People with belongings put it
under their head when they lied down. I didn't have anything
to put under my head. I didn't think... When I woke up in the
morning, I noticed spots of blood on my body, like some things
had sucked by blood, lice or whatever. I washed my shirt and
put it back on because I didn't have a change of clothing.
Well, we had been assigned to unload cement from the railroad.
And it was fifty pound bags of cement I helped unload. It was
lunchtime and we sat down because we didn't get any food for
lunch. And not far from where we'd been standing there was a
Polish factory. I don't know what kind of factory, but
something came into my mind, that I should get myself into the
factory. I watched the SS as they marched around, back and
forth. As soon as they turned around, I went down to the
Polish factory. And right away they gave me food. A bowl of
soup (with pork). And it was so good. And they gave me another
bowl. And I was sick. I was full, my whole stomach. I felt
like I was carrying a ton of stuff in my stomach. Then I had
to look carefully when I went back, so I shouldn't be
recognized. So I succeeded in making it back, but I became as
sick as a dog. So we got a Czechoslovakian doctor, a Jewish
doctor. And a dispensary. They had a dispensary. He said, "All
I can give you is an aspirin." He gave me the aspirin, but I
still was sick. I couldn't even eat my own portion of bread. I
had to give it to my friend beside me. He ate it.
One day, the railroad wagons came. They were full of feed for
the animals. We all had to go into the wagons. And they closed
the wagons, and we were on our way to Buchenwald."