For anyone who knows me, you know that I study the Holocaust. A lot. It is not a bizarre obsession, though my little sister is convinced that it is and that I am going to go crazy one day because of my studies. Great!
In actuality, I just find the Holocaust extremely interesting. My grandmother was a hidden child of the Holocaust, and survived because nuns in an orphanage risked their lives to save her and other children. I constantly wonder what it would have been like to be alive during the Holocaust: What would it have been like to experience such terror and hopelessness? Would I have fought back? Would I have tried to run away or gone into hiding? If I had the chance, would I have risked my life to save someone else?
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s online exhibit, “Give Me Your Children”: Voices from the Łódź Ghetto, attempts to answer these questions through the lens of the children of the Łódź Ghetto.
The first thing viewers see is a twenty-minute video. There were more than 233,300 Jewish residents of Łódź, the second largest city in Poland. The film went back and forth between voices of children from the ghetto and historical facts about the ghetto.
One of the most moving voices was that of Sara Plagier, a 15-year-old, in the spring of 1941. She spoke about a younger friend who asked if Jews looked different than other people. When realizing that Jews looked the same as non-Jews, she questioned, “So why do they separate us from them?”
This young girl asked the question at the heart of genocide. What is the real difference? Why discriminate against the Jews? Hearing this question from a young girl is incredibly moving, and reminds viewers of the impact of the Holocaust on children.
The video continued to show the despair of children in the Holocaust. Jutta Szmirgeld, age twelve, explained how the yellow badge was a “stamp that distinguished [her] from the rest of the population. Anyone could approach [her], tell [her], do to [her] whatever they wanted.” The yellow Star of David distinctly separated Jews from everyone else. It made them a target for humiliation and brutality. The film effectively shows the effects of the yellow star to the Jews through the emotional voices of children affected.
The film then went on to discuss Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, the Judenrat leader of the Łódź ghetto. His role was extremely complicated: he was to report to the Nazis and also try to protect the Jews. Rumkowski tried to make the ghetto as useful as possible with the goal of saving as many Jews as possible. As he said in a quote in the film in March 1942, “We have seen many times over that only work brings calm…the basic law is that work protects us from annihilation.” Rumkowski did his best to make the Łódź ghetto positive and industrial.
However, something that the film did not really touch on were the controversies surrounding Rumkowski. When he made the ghetto industrial, he grew exponentially in power. Many saw him as power-hungry, especially when he printed special money for the ghetto with his photo on it. At the end of it all, Rumkowski listened to the Nazis and created lists of Jews to be deported. It is thought by some, though, that he tried to fight the Nazis and alter the numbers so that Jews were saved.
I wish that the exhibit and film spoke of more of Rumkowski’s controversies and on his role. However, the film was extremely powerful and informative overall. It gave the same experience and similar format of a film that one would see inside of the USHMM.
The next part of the exhibit is an album created by the school children of Łódź for Rumkowski on the New Year. It had a page from each school giving thanks to Rumkowski for the meals at school, and well wishes for the New Year. The album was really interesting and provided viewers with a concrete first-hand look at the lives of the school children of Łódź. All of the pages were really positive, which is interesting. It allows viewers to question whether the children actually felt this way about Rumkowski or if they were merely saying that to please their teachers and Rumkowski. Furthermore, as one learned from the film, the same afternoon that the children presented Rumkowski with the album, Rumkowski was forced to close the schools to use for housing for more transports to the ghetto. The children no longer got their free meal at school.
The last aspect of the exhibit was a number of interviews from survivors of the Łódź ghetto. These interviews provided viewers with more first hand knowledge of daily life in the ghetto: details on rationing and hunger, school life, youth groups, and more.
Judy Cohen, the Chief Photo Archivist for the museum, discussed two photographers of the Łódź ghetto. She explained the powers of how different photographers could portray the ghetto in very different lights.
“Give Me Your Children”: Voices from the Łódź Ghetto is very powerful. It focuses on the children as well as different aspects of the ghetto. Any look into the life of the Holocaust is important for people to see. In order to promote the “Never Again” and “Never Forget” movements, we must learn as much as possible to work to prevent genocide in every form. This online exhibit provided viewers with new insights and knowledge about the Holocaust.