Speeches and letters
When I was asked to speak on behalf of the Survivors at this Anniversary of the Liquidation of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto, I was ready to refuse. I, born an evangelical, a Varsovian, never exposed to the ghetto, would be expected to represent the Jewish Survivors of the Lodz Holocaust? I did not feel qualified.
Upon reflection, however, I decided that - as the sole possessor of special records in memory - I had such an obligation to my Father, his entire family and the victims of the Holocaust. We are witnessing the materialisation of the intention of its perpetrators: survivors are becoming scarce. This is why, 25 years ago, I offered my help to Dr Arnold Mostowicz, President of the Monumentum Iudaicum Lodzense Foundation.
My father's family - the Pinkuses and the Hirszbergs - were members of the second suit of the founders of large-scale industrial Łódź, an example of the assimilated Jewish intelligentsia of Łódź. My grandfather, Mieczysław Pinkus, invested the proceeds from the import of raw materials for Lodz industry and the dowry of his wife Bronisława (née Hirszberg), in the construction of the largest nineteenth-century tenement house.
My Father, Theodore, an engineer for 20 years after his studies, has been working in Tallinn in Estonia. In the 1920s he changed his name from Pinkus to Panusz, was baptised in the Swedish Lutheran Cathedral in Tallinn and ceased to be Jewish. In 1928 he married a widow, Maria Schwarz née Kremm (her father was Estonian and her mother Swedish), in the same church and returned to Poland - to Warsaw.
After the outbreak of war, in November 1939, my grandparents were forced by the Germans to leave their house in Lodz within half an hour with only their hand luggage. They went to Warsaw, to Grandma's niece. Grandfather died at the beginning of 1940. Grandma and her aunt hid, but in 1943 some 'shmalcownik' (a blackmailer) spotted them and started blackmailing them. They escaped and met up with my Father. He called someone, who found them a new hiding place. When he was returning home, someone (probably a blackmailer who was following him) pointed him out to a German patrol. They verified that he was circumcised and he was taken to the prison in Gęsia Street, to the so-called Gęsiówka. There he was murdered in July 1943. His grandmother died in hiding in January 1944. Both were victims of the Holocaust as were over 160,000 Lodz Jews.
After my father’s arrest, I was hiding for six months at an acquaintance's estate. In the autumn, I returned home. I joined the Home Army and continued my education at secret classes. In 1944, I took part in the Uprising. After the capitulation, I left with my mother. Since our Warsaw flat was burnt down after the fall of the Uprising, after the war I moved to Łódź, to my grandfather’s house, and I have lived there ever since. But that is another story.
I would like to point out that, despite the passage of nearly 80 years since World War 2, there are still the following conclusions for us to consider:
1) Poles were murdered for acting against the Germans while Polish Jews were murdered simply for being.
2) Hatred has afflicted humanity since Cain and Abel but its effects have increased with the development of science and technology.
3) The blackmailer epidemic is a global phenomenon, especially when conditions are favourable.
4) It is time for humanity, for its own survival, to replace the principle of competition inherited in evolution with the principle of global cooperation.
This is what we lack and what we must achieve!
Letter from the President of the Republic of Poland
Warsaw, 29 August 2022
Attendees and Organisers of the ceremonies commemorating
the 78th Anniversary of the Liquidation of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto
and the 80th Anniversary of Wielka Szpera
Dear Representatives of the State and Local Governments!
Dear Representatives of the Jewish Community in Poland!
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!
Between the wars, the Jewish community in Lodz numbered nearly 233,000 people. Between February and April 1940, the German occupiers imprisoned most of them in a section of the city that became known in Holocaust history as the Litzmannstadt Ghetto. Slave labour, starvation, disease and violence by the Nazi executioners continually took their toll there.
However, the most tragic moment of this ordeal was the action called the Wielka Szpera (Allgemeine Gehsperre). Between 5 and 12 September 1942, the Germans deported 15,681 people from the Litzmannstadt Ghetto to the extermination camp in Chełmno on the Ner. These included children under 10 years of age, the sick and the elderly, i.e., over 65 years of age.
The very announcement of this bestiality provided the persecuted with enormous suffering. As one of them recalled: A heart-breaking cry came from the breasts of thousands of people, the despair of mothers and fathers was almost physically touchable. On that day, the whole ghetto was crying and this cry to God came from every corner of the ghetto. The Litzmannstadt Ghetto ceased to exist on 29 August 1944, together with the last transport of its prisoners to Auschwitz - where most of them were killed in the gas chambers.
The anniversaries being celebrated today make us aware of the increasing distance of time separating us from the events mentioned here. In the intergenerational transmission of knowledge, Wielka Szpera and the liquidation of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto can be seen as one of many elements in the broad panorama of our continent's history.
In the name of the supreme values, this must be opposed. The Shoah is the enormity of the terrible suffering and death of millions of ordinary people. But it is also an ongoing indictment of the ideologues who create the appearance of factual justifications for blind, irrational hatred. The biographies of the Nazi architects and executors of this genocide contribute to a picture of the moral and intellectual decline of German society in the 1930s and 1940s. This is why the full truth of the Holocaust, guarded against falsification and manipulation, is so important. By itself, it does not have the power to prevent such terrible crimes in the future.
However, it is and will remain a conscience-shaking warning against ignoring chauvinism and imperialism in any of their forms.
Eternal memory and eternal peace to the victims of the Holocaust!
The President of the Republic of Poland
Wicemarszałek Piotr Adamczyk
Members of Parliament, Excellencies, City Mayors,
but above all the Survivors
It is with pain that we are commemorating today a horrific anniversary. 78 years ago, the last transport from the ghetto established in our city and liquidated by the Germans, left Łódź.
By order of Heinrich Himmler, on 23 June 1944. 77,000 people living inside the Litzmannstadt Ghetto set off in cattle cars to the death camps in Kulmhof on the Ner and Auschwitz. There they were murdered - without mercy, without a wink, dispassionately.
As I stand here before you, I want to firmly remind you - the Holocaust was not a manifestation of the actions of some Germans seduced by Adolf Hitler's insane idea of racially pure citizens of the great Third Reich. It was a planned genocide to which the German state and its agencies were committed for one purpose only - the murder of three million Polish Jews.
What remains for us for posterity is to open our minds to the memories of our neighbours murdered in the name of the insane idea of a racially pure nation. Therefore, from this place I appeal - we do not passively watch the tragedy as it is unfolding before our eyes in Donbass, Kiev, Kherson or Bucha, or anywhere in the world.
I Salute the Memory of the Murdered.
Prezydent Hanna Zdanowska
Ladies & Gentlemen,
The 78th Anniversary of the Liquidation of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto and the 80th Anniversary of the Allgemeine Gehsperre, but also the events of recent months make me reflect deeper also in contemporary dimension. The topic is not easy, as it concerns the Holocaust and the response to real threats when confronted with violence, aggression and the threat of death.
The question is how genocide on an unprecedented scale could have occurred and why was the world's reaction to the crimes committed at the time not effective enough to stop the annihilation? - becomes relevant also today.
The very meaningful and dramatic words of the poem written by a teenager from Łódź, the young poet Abram Cytryn, who from Litzmannstadt Ghetto was sent to the death camp in Auschwitz, were as follows:
‘Am I capable of all the pain of the ghetto
To enclose in my heart's incomprehensible depths?
Is there such an end in the madness of life,
To which my spirit will peacefully flow?’
History, as well as current times, have shown that, unfortunately, there is no such limit, and the broader context of this thought is also emerging today at a time of another threat to Europe and the world, with the war in Ukraine. This greatly broadens the discussion and makes us more sensitive to all manifestations of intolerance, hatred and violence. The situation shows how important, imperishable and universal human values of solidarity, empathy, assistance in times of need, friendly neighbours, timely response to aggression and firm opposition against all forms of evil.
Remembrance of the past alone is probably no longer enough, as it is necessary to stand firmly on the right side, which was apparently missing for almost 200,000 victims of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto.
We pay them once again our due tribute, but at the same time we cry out in warning for peace for future generations to be able to realise their plans and dreams, about which another young poet of the Lodz ghetto, Abram Koplowicz, wrote:
‘When I am twenty years old,
I will start viewing our beautiful world.’
Our world is beautiful, but we must fight for it on behalf of the victims as well as with an eye to the future....
Przewodniczący Rady Miejskiej w Łodzi Marcin Gołaszewski
‘I desire to live, though my wings are broken
Though life has captured me in a terrible hold
The moment of my farewell is not yet here
A spark of youthful continuance still flickers within me
A gloomy life still glows within me
Which flows invariably and steadily.’
These are the words of the 17-year-old Abram Cytryn, who, in connection with the liquidation of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto, was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he died. Together with the boy, a part of multicultural Lodz vanished, our history was thus wiped out by an alien hand.
With the end of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto, Jewish Lodz ceased to exist - but it has not gone into oblivion. The memory of the former inhabitants of Łódź lasts and will last. Łódź owes them a lot, an awful lot, and their absence is like an open wound, inflicted by strangers. This scar, however, hurts as this day, today comes, the 78th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto, which was a judgment on the lives of over 70,000 Jews deported to Kulmhof and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
It is impossible to talk about the past of Lodz without mentioning this event, as the Jewish culture was one of the pillars on which this city was built. We, who are present here, have also been shaped by this experience. Walking along the streets of Łódź, we can see traces, as if faint breaths of the life of that city, we sense and experience those past moments.
The remembrance that lives in us is a deeply rooted memory. We remember out of respect for the victims, out of respect for our fellow citizens, out of respect for the enormity of the suffering that happened on this earth. We remember because no one is an ideology - because everyone deserves a dignity.
Our remembrance, however, is also a warning and a testimony:
- it is a warning against hatred, against dividing and humiliating another human being, against nationalism that triumphs over dignity.
- it is a testimony that our love and the desire for freedom overcome the chains of death and enslavement - that the determination to transmit the truth about those days continues to this day. The young Abram Cytryn wanted just one thing: "for future generations, to leave a reminder of the bloody years, the depths of despair, tears and blood. To hit to the heart and tear out the soul of the ghetto even if it drips with blood..."
This desire was common to the fate of so many in war-obsessed Europe.
Anne Frank on 15 July 1944 wrote:
‘I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness,
I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too,
I feel the suffering of millions.’
Let us never hear the thunder that heralds Evil!
Let's honour the memory of the murdered! They live on in us!