Early this morning we drove from Warsaw to Lodz, where we began our day. After shacharit in the Riker shul, which was burnt down during the war and later rebuilt. We then drove to the Redergast deportation square. The memorial is set up around the train tracks and train station and included cattle cars, a museum, and a brick chimney with the phrase “לא תרצח” written in multiple languages. We had a chance to learn about Chaim Ruhmkowski, the leader of the Judenrat in the Lodz Ghetto. Learning the story of the Lodz Ghetto led us to discuss the difficult question faced by many Jewish leaders during the Holocaust: is it morally acceptable to select a certain number of our own people to be killed in an attempt to spare a larger number of victims from being killed by the Germans? Can you judge the value of lives by quantity?
On our way out of Redergast, we walked through a train tunnel posted with documents listing the names of the people deported from the ghetto. This tunnel ended in the chimney room, symbolizing the crematorium that was at the end of the line for so many of the Jews deported from Lodz by train.
After this, we stopped at the Lodz cemetery before heading to the Chelmno death camp. Though little infrastructure is left of this site, we first stopped at the “Castle,” where Lodz Jews arrived at the camp. There we learned of the trucks into which they were loaded under the guise of being sent to shower only to be killed by the carbon monoxide fumes that filled the trucks as they drove. We followed the path of these trucks, next driving to the forest where the trucks deposited the bodies of the dead to be buried in mass graves by other Jews. The clearing in the forest was massive, the approximate locations of the pits marked with stones. We ended the day with a ceremony in this forest clearing, reading and singing about the importance of names in Jewish tradition. Though the Nazis attempted to wipe us out, we continue to live on and remember our loved ones by naming future generations in their memories. Standing in the place where hundreds of thousands of Jews perished was incredibly moving. The structure of the day effectively conveyed the complete story of the Jews in the Lodz Ghetto, from their lives in Lodz to their deportation and to the end of so many at Chelmno.