After Germany’s conquest of Poland in 1939, the northeastern portion of the city of Łódź was sealed off; this 1.5 square mile area became the Łódź ghetto. The Jews of Łódź were forced within the ghetto along with Jews from other conquered lands (and 5,000 Gypsies from Austria) until the population swelled to over 230,000. The ghetto operated as a forced-labor camp from February 1940 – January 1945. Food and fuel were rationed and work was compulsory for those aged 10-65 years. Over 100 factories were established, many of them producing uniforms and other textiles. The novel’s character, Miriam Rosen, worked in just such a “Wasche und Kleider Abtailung” factory as those pictured below.
Lodz ghetto sewing trainees, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Ruth Eldar
Lodz ghetto sewing factory, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Moshe Zilbar
Over the five years of the ghetto’s operation, 20% of its Jews died of starvation & disease. Those who survived were deported to other forced-labor camps or the death camps. After the liquidation of the ghetto in the summer of 1944, approximately 800 Jews remained to sort through the possessions of those who’d been deported. The novel’s character, Miriam Rosen, is one of these 800. Below is a photo of the Marysin Cemetery where the last of a Łódź’s Jews were ordered to dig their own graves.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Robert Abrams
Many of the Łódź ghetto photographs that have survived were taken in secret by Mendel Grossman at great personal risk. His collection of 10,000 negatives was retrieved after the war by his youngest sister, Rozka, who sent them to Israel for safekeeping. During Israeli’s War of Independence, the Egyptian army destroyed this unique visual record, although rumors persist that the negatives were, instead, taken back to Egypt. Below is a photograph of Rozka taken by her brother in 1941-42 in which she holds a cat she kept hidden in her ghetto apartment.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Beit Lohamei Haghetaot (Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum)