CHAIM MORDECHAI RUMKOWSKI (February 27, 1877 – August 28, 1944) was
Polish Jew and wartime businessman appointed by
Rumkowski is remembered for his speech Give Me Your Children,
delivered at a time when the Germans demanded his compliance with the
deportation of 20,000 children to
Chełmno extermination camp
* 1 Background
* 1.1 Ghetto history prior to the "Final Solution" * 1.2 Administration
* 2 Deportations
* 2.1 Give Me Your Children
* 3 Personality
* 3.1 Death at the hands of the
* 4 Debate over Rumkowski\'s role in the
Rumkowski served as director of Helenówek orphanage at Krajowa Street in Łódź before World War II
Before the Nazi German invasion of
On October 13, 1939, the Nazi Amtsleiter in Łódź appointed Rumkowski the Judenälteste ("Chief Elder of the Jews"), head of the Ältestenrat ("Council of Elders"). In this position, Rumkowski reported directly to the Nazi ghetto administration, headed by Hans Biebow . When the rabbinate was dissolved, Rumkowski performed weddings. The ghetto's money or scrip , the so-called Rumki (sometimes Chaimki), was derived from his name, as it had been his idea. His face was put on the ghetto postage stamps.
By industrializing the
Łódź ghetto, he hoped to make the community
indispensable to the Germans and save the people of Łódź. On April
5, 1940, Rumkowski petitioned the Germans for materials for the Jews
to manufacture in exchange for desperately needed food and money. By
the end of the month, the Germans had acquiesced in part, agreeing to
provide food, but not money. Although Rumkowski and other "Jewish
elders" of the Nazi era came to be regarded as collaborators and
traitors, historians have reassessed this judgement since the late
20th century in light of the terrible conditions of the time. A
survivor of the
Łódź ghetto, Arnold Mostowicz, noted in his memoir
that Rumkowski gave a percentage of his people a chance to survive two
years longer than the Jews of the
GHETTO HISTORY PRIOR TO THE "FINAL SOLUTION"
The ghettoization of Łódź was decided on September 8, 1939, by an order of SS-Oberführer Friedrich Uebelhoer . His top secret document stated that the ghetto was only a temporary solution to "the Jewish question" in the city of Łódź. Uebelhoer never implied the long-term survival. The ghetto was sealed on April 30, 1940, with 164,000 people inside. On October 16, 1939, Rumkowski selected 31 public figures to form the Council. However, less than three weeks later, on November 11, twenty of them were executed and the rest disappeared, because he denounced them to the German authorities "for refusing to rubber-stamp his policies." Although a new Judenrat was officially appointed a few weeks later, the men were not as distinguished, and remained far less effective than its original leaders. This change conceded more power to Rumkowski, and left no one to contest or restrain his decisions. Rumkowski had the Jewish Ghetto Police under his control also.
The Germans authorized Rumkowski as the "sole figure authority in managing and organizing internal life in the ghetto ". Rumkowski gained power because of his domineering personality in as much as his words and actions. Biebow, at first, gave Rumkowski full power in organizing the ghetto, as long as it did not interfere with his main objectives: absolute order, confiscation of Jewish property and assets, coerced labor, and Biebow's own personal gain. Their relationship seemed to work effectively. Rumkowski had leeway to organize the ghetto according to his wishes, while Biebow sat back and reaped the rewards. In trying to keep Biebow happy, Rumkowski obeyed every order with little inquiry, and provided him with gifts and personal favors. Of his willingness to cooperate with the German authorities, Rumkowski is said to have boasted in a speech, "My motto is always to be at least ten minutes ahead of every German demand." He believed that by staying ahead of German thinking, he could keep them satisfied and preserve the Jews. Łódź was the last ghetto in Eastern Europe to be liquidated. However, only 877 inhabitants survived in the city until liberation by hiding with the Polish rescuers , and Rumkowski had nothing to do with it.
Because of the confiscation of cash and other belongings, Rumkowski proposed a currency to be used specifically in the ghetto - the ersatz . This new currency would be used as money, and by this alone, a person could buy food rations and other necessities. This proposal was considered arrogant and illustrated Rumkowski’s lust for power. The currency was, therefore, nicknamed by ghetto inhabitants as the "Rumkin". It dissuaded smugglers from endangering their lives to get in and out of the ghetto with goods, as people could not pay for them with regular currency. Rumkowski believed that smuggling of food would "destabilize the ghetto with regard to the prices of basic commodities" and prevented it from taking place.
Rumkowski did not allow public protests expressing dissent. With the
help of the Jewish police, he violently broke up demonstrations. On
occasion, he would request the Nazis to come and break up the
commotion, which usually resulted in protesters being killed. The
leaders of these groups were punished by not being allowed to earn a
living, which in effect meant that they and their families were doomed
to starvation. Sometimes the strikers and demonstrators were arrested,
imprisoned, or shipped off to labor camps. By the spring of 1941,
almost all opposition to Rumkowski had dissipated. In the beginning,
the Germans were unclear of their own plans for the ghetto, as
arrangements for the "
Final Solution " were still being developed.
They realized that the original plan of liquidating the ghetto by
October 1940 could not take place, so they began to take Rumkowski's
labor agenda seriously. Forced labor became a staple of ghetto life,
with Rumkowski running the effort. "In another three years – he said
– the ghetto will be working like a clock." This sort of "optimism"
however, was met with a damning assessment by Max Horn from
By the end of January 1942 some 10,000 Jews were sent aboard Holocaust trains to Chełmno based on selections made by the Judenrat. Additional 34,000 victims were sent there by 2 April, with 11,000 more by 15 May 1942, and over 15,000 more by mid September, for the total of an estimated 55,000 people. The children and the elderly as well as anyone deemed "unfit for work" in the eyes of the Judenrat would follow them.
Rumkowski actively cooperated with the German demands hoping to save the majority of the ghetto inmates. Such behaviour set him at odds with the Orthodox observant Jews, because there could be no justification for delivering anyone to certain death. Following the creation of the extermination camp at Chełmno in 1941, the Nazis forced Rumkowski to organize several waves of deportations. Rumkowski claimed that he tried to convince the Nazis to reduce the number of Jews required for deportation and failed.
GIVE ME YOUR CHILDREN
On German orders Rumkowski delivered a speech on September 4, 1942
pleading with the Jews in the ghetto to give up children 10 years of
age and younger, as well as the elderly over 65, so that others might
survive. "Horrible, terrifying wailing among the assembled crowd"
could be heard, reads the transcriber's note to his parlance often
referred to as: "Give Me Your Children". Some commentators see this
speech as exemplifying aspects of the
A grievous blow has struck the ghetto. They are asking us to give up the best we possess – the children and the elderly. I was unworthy of having a child of my own, so I gave the best years of my life to children. I've lived and breathed with children, I never imagined I would be forced to deliver this sacrifice to the altar with my own hands. In my old age, I must stretch out my hands and beg: Brothers and sisters! Hand them over to me! Fathers and mothers: Give me your children! — Chaim Rumkowski, September 4, 1942
Rumkowski was ruthless, using his position as head of the Judenrat to confiscate property and businesses that were still being run by their rightful Jewish owners in the ghetto. He established numerous departments and institutions that dealt with all of the ghetto's internal affairs, from housing tens of thousands of people, to distributing food rations. Welfare and health systems were also set up. For a time, his administration maintained seven hospitals, seven pharmacies, and five clinics employing hundreds of doctors and nurses. Despite their effort, many people could not be helped due to the shortage of medical supplies allowed in by the Germans.
Rumkowski helped maintain school facilities. Forty-seven schools remained in operation schooling 63% of school-age children. There was no education in any other ghetto as advanced as in Łódź. He helped set up a "Culture House" where cultural gatherings including plays, orchestra and other performances could take place. He was very involved in the particulars of these events, including hiring and firing performers and editing the content of the shows. He became integrated in religious life. This integration deeply bothered the religious public. For example, since the Germans disbanded the rabbinate in September 1942, Rumkowski began conducting wedding ceremonies, and altering the marriage contract (ketubah ). "He treated the ghetto Jews like personal belongings. He spoke to them arrogantly and rudely and sometime beat them".
Due to Rumkowski's harsh treatment, and stern, arrogant personality, the Jews began to blame him for their predicament, and unleashed their frustration on him instead of the Germans, who were beyond their scope of blame. The most significant display of this frustration and resistance was a series of strikes and demonstrations between August 1940 and spring of 1941. Led by activists and leftist parties against Rumkowski, the workers abandoned their stations and went to the streets handing out fliers:
Brothers and sisters! Turn out en masse to wipe out at long last, with joint and unified force, the terrible poverty and the barbaric behaviour of the Kehilla representatives toward the wretched, exhausted, starved public... The slogan: bread for all!! Let's join forces in war against the accursed Kehilla parasite... – Demonstration Leaflet
DEATH AT THE HANDS OF THE SONDERKOMMANDO
There are conflicting accounts regarding Rumkowski's final moments.
According to one contemporary source he was murdered upon his arrival
DEBATE OVER RUMKOWSKI\'S ROLE IN THE HOLOCAUST
Token money in the ghetto with Rumkowski's signature
In his memoirs, Yehuda Leib Gerst described Rumkowski as a complex person: "This man had sickly leanings that clashed. Toward his fellow Jews, he was an incomparable tyrant who behaved just like a Führer and cast deathly terror to anyone who dared to oppose his lowly ways. Toward the perpetrators, however, he was as tender as a lamb and there was no limit to his base submission to all their demands, even if their purpose was to wipe us out totally. Either way, he did not properly understand his situation and positing and their limits."
Historian Michael Unger in his Reassessment of the Image of Mordechai
Rumkowski took an active role in the deportations of Jews. Some
historians and writers describe him as a traitor and as a Nazi
collaborator. Rumkowski aimed at fulfilling the Nazi demands with the
help of their own Orpo Security Police if necessary. His rule, unlike
the leaders of other ghettos, was marked with abuse of his own people
coupled with physical liquidation of political opponents. He and his
council had a comfortable food ration, and their own special shops. He
was known to get rid of those he personally disliked by sending them
to the camps. Additionally, he sexually abused vulnerable girls under
his charge. Failure to succumb to his abuse meant death to the girl.
Primo Levi , an
* ^ A B C Carmello Lisciotto (H.E.A.R.T 2007), "Chaim Rumkowski".
* Horwitz, Gordon J. Ghettostadt: Lodz and the Making of a Nazi
City. Cambridge, Mass:
Belknap Press , ISBN 067402799X
* Lebovic, Matt. 'King Chaim', ruler of the Lodz Ghetto, exposed in
Boston exhibit. The Times of Israel, March 28, 2017.
* Löw, Andrea Juden im Getto Litzmannstadt: Lebensbedingungen,
Selbstwahrnehmung, Verhalten. Wallstein: Göttingen, 2006
* Trunk, Isaiah (2006).
Łódź Ghetto: a history. Robert Moses
Shapiro, transl & ed (alk. paper ed.).
Bloomington, Indiana : Indiana
University Press (in association with United States
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* United States