Thoughts on Chaim Rumkowski (the head of the Lodz Ghetto during WWII)?

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
24,557
SoCal
What are your thoughts on Chaim Rumkowski (the head of the Lodz Ghetto) during WWII? Personally, I strongly detest his autocratic ruling style but unfortunately have to conclude that his strategy of cooperating with the Nazis in an attempt to save a part of Lodz Jewry was ultimately a very smart strategy. Had the July 20th Plot succeeded, Lodz would have had about 68,000 surviving Jews as opposed to only 877 surviving Jews. True, the July 20th Plot ultimately failed, but it had a good chance of succeeding and had history taken a different turn, a sizable fraction of Lodz's Jewish population (perhaps a third or a fourth of Lodz's pre-war Jewish population) could have survived the Holocaust.

Now, compare this with the "more principled" actions of Jewish ghetto leaders in other parts of Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII. Would any other Jewish communities in Poland have survived long enough to take advantage of the July 20th Plot if it would have actually succeeded? To my knowledge, No--and the reason for this is because the other Jewish communities in Nazi-occupied Poland were unfortunately already fully exterminated by the time of the July 20th Plot. Rumkowski's strategy, as disgusting and morally questionable as it was, was the only realistic path to survival for a sizable fraction of Lodz's Jewish population. The fact that this gamble ultimately failed does not mean that this gamble could not have succeeded in different circumstances--such as in the event of a successful July 20th Plot. Thus, ultimately, if I would have been put in Rumkowski's population, I would have probably literally felt compelled to act as he did in regards to the question of deportations (with the exception of the final deportations, of course). After all, the strategies of Jewish ghetto leaders in other parts of Poland didn't even give a sizable fraction of their Jewish population a chance of survival like Rumkowski's strategy did.

Anyway, any thoughts on this?
 
Jul 2019
1,205
New Jersey
What are your thoughts on Chaim Rumkowski (the head of the Lodz Ghetto) during WWII? Personally, I strongly detest his autocratic ruling style but unfortunately have to conclude that his strategy of cooperating with the Nazis in an attempt to save a part of Lodz Jewry was ultimately a very smart strategy. Had the July 20th Plot succeeded, Lodz would have had about 68,000 surviving Jews as opposed to only 877 surviving Jews. True, the July 20th Plot ultimately failed, but it had a good chance of succeeding and had history taken a different turn, a sizable fraction of Lodz's Jewish population (perhaps a third or a fourth of Lodz's pre-war Jewish population) could have survived the Holocaust.

Now, compare this with the "more principled" actions of Jewish ghetto leaders in other parts of Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII. Would any other Jewish communities in Poland have survived long enough to take advantage of the July 20th Plot if it would have actually succeeded? To my knowledge, No--and the reason for this is because the other Jewish communities in Nazi-occupied Poland were unfortunately already fully exterminated by the time of the July 20th Plot. Rumkowski's strategy, as disgusting and morally questionable as it was, was the only realistic path to survival for a sizable fraction of Lodz's Jewish population. The fact that this gamble ultimately failed does not mean that this gamble could not have succeeded in different circumstances--such as in the event of a successful July 20th Plot. Thus, ultimately, if I would have been put in Rumkowski's population, I would have probably literally felt compelled to act as he did in regards to the question of deportations (with the exception of the final deportations, of course). After all, the strategies of Jewish ghetto leaders in other parts of Poland didn't even give a sizable fraction of their Jewish population a chance of survival like Rumkowski's strategy did.

Anyway, any thoughts on this?
He was a collaborator of the worst sort, a man who had no compunctions about handing Jews over to certain death just to stay in power. He should have taken a page from Adam Czerniakow's book (Warsaw). But no. His Judenrat was tyrannical, exploitative, and thuggish.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
24,557
SoCal
He was a collaborator of the worst sort, a man who had no compunctions about handing Jews over to certain death just to stay in power. He should have taken a page from Adam Czerniakow's book (Warsaw). But no. His Judenrat was tyrannical, exploitative, and thuggish.
But his Judenrat also achieved results by keeping Lodz's Jewish population alive for much longer than in the other Polish ghettos. This could have really, really paid off had the July 20th Plot actually been successful. As I said, though, I certainly do think that he could have managed the Lodz Ghetto better, but being dealt with an extremely crappy hand, I really don't think that it's unreasonable to aim to save a sizable part of one's community even if it means sacrificing the rest if the only alternative to this course of action is sacrificing everybody in one's community.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
24,557
SoCal
Adam Czerniakow was certainly much more principled and in all likelihood a better person than Chaim Rumkowski was. However, had the July 20th Plot succeeded, Warsaw's Jews would not have benefited from this (due to the Warsaw Ghetto already being liquidated by that point in time) while roughly 68,000 Lodz Jews would have indeed still been alive to benefit from this.
 
Jul 2019
1,205
New Jersey
But his Judenrat also achieved results by keeping Lodz's Jewish population alive for much longer than in the other Polish ghettos. This could have really, really paid off had the July 20th Plot actually been successful. As I said, though, I certainly do think that he could have managed the Lodz Ghetto better, but being dealt with an extremely crappy hand, I really don't think that it's unreasonable to aim to save a sizable part of one's community even if it means sacrificing the rest if the only alternative to this course of action is sacrificing everybody in one's community.
Regardless of calculation, you can't just go and murder children. If that means everyone dies, than so be it. You can't murder to save your life. As the Talmud says, "Who says your blood is redder than your brother's?"

When those in Warsaw realized that the Nazis were planning on killing them all, they resisted, including most of the Judenrat. Rumkowski just tried to curry favor with the Nazis.

Besides, he was a thug in general. If someone offended him or spoke against him, he responded with extreme brutality, sometimes even murder. He was a quisling, not a leader.
 
Jul 2019
1,205
New Jersey
I should add that I've read memoirs from Lodz accusing him of using his power over life and death to sexually molest young women. He deserved his ultimate fate - he was beaten to death by fellow inmates in Birkenau.
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
24,557
SoCal
Regardless of calculation, you can't just go and murder children. If that means everyone dies, than so be it. You can't murder to save your life. As the Talmud says, "Who says your blood is redder than your brother's?"
Jewish law forbids being an accessory to murder even if you'll be saving lives in the process that you can't otherwise save? That's certainly an interesting way to view things.

Also, off-topic but sort-of related to this: Do you think that Hungarian Regent Miklos Horthy made the right decision in trying to make a separate peace with the Allies? Basically, this resulted in the Nazis occupying his country and murdering most of the Jews in Greater Hungary. Had Horthy remained Allied to Hitler up to the very end, Greater Hungary's Jews would have probably survived WWII largely unmolested.

When those in Warsaw realized that the Nazis were planning on killing them all, they resisted, including most of the Judenrat. Rumkowski just tried to curry favor with the Nazis.
Are you sure that Rumkowski never actually had any desire to save a part of Lodz's Jewish population?

Besides, he was a thug in general. If someone offended him or spoke against him, he responded with extreme brutality, sometimes even murder. He was a quisling, not a leader.
Oh, sure--as I said, I certainly disapprove of his general authoritarian and autocratic leadership style within the Lodz Ghetto.

I should add that I've read memoirs from Lodz accusing him of using his power over life and death to sexually molest young women. He deserved his ultimate fate - he was beaten to death by fellow inmates in Birkenau.
That's certainly interesting. :( The molestation part, I mean. :( Was he so sex-deprived that he had to resort to those measures? Or was he simply corrupted by the vast amount of power that he had?

I'm well-aware of how he was murdered at Auschwitz. Honestly, I don't really blame the Jews there for murdering him.
 
Jul 2019
1,205
New Jersey
Jewish law forbids being an accessory to murder even if you'll be saving lives in the process that you can't otherwise save? That's certainly an interesting way to view things.
Yes.

Also, off-topic but sort-of related to this: Do you think that Hungarian Regent Miklos Horthy made the right decision in trying to make a separate peace with the Allies? Basically, this resulted in the Nazis occupying his country and murdering most of the Jews in Greater Hungary. Had Horthy remained Allied to Hitler up to the very end, Greater Hungary's Jews would have probably survived WWII largely unmolested.
Well, in hindsight it turned out to have unfortunate consequences, but I don't think he thought Hitler would really steamroll him like that. You know how else the Hungarian Jews would have survived? If their leaders (like Kastner) would have warned them about what they knew of the Nazis' intentions, many of them, possibly a majority, could have fled over to Romania or hid for the remainder of the war. The Holocaust is as much a story of betrayal by the Jewish elite as it was of German anti-semitism.



Are you sure that Rumkowski never actually had any desire to save a part of Lodz's Jewish population?
He had a desire to save himself, his family, and his friends. Therefore he needed an economically productive ghetto. Hence his participation in the murders of the children and elderly. If he really cared about Jewish lives he wouldn't have gone and murdered his political opponents.

And don't think the ghetto would have survived had the Russians pushed their offensive. The Nazis would have liquidated them anyway, just as they tried to do in the western camps at the end of the war.
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
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OK.

Well, in hindsight it turned out to have unfortunate consequences, but I don't think he thought Hitler would really steamroll him like that. You know how else the Hungarian Jews would have survived? If their leaders (like Kastner) would have warned them about what they knew of the Nazis' intentions, many of them, possibly a majority, could have fled over to Romania or hid for the remainder of the war. The Holocaust is as much a story of betrayal by the Jewish elite as it was of German anti-semitism.
I completely agree Kastner's actions in 1944 were certainly very problematic:


I'm less optimistic than you are about the possibility of a mass escape of Hungarian Jews had they been warned in it, but it's very possible that sizable numbers of Hungarian Jews near the Romanian border could have, in fact, fled there had they been warned in time. This in itself might have resulted in more saved Jewish lives than the 1,684 people whom Kastner saved.



He had a desire to save himself, his family, and his friends. Therefore he needed an economically productive ghetto. Hence his participation in the murders of the children and elderly.
He saved a lot more Jewish lives than just himself, his family, and his friends, though. You're not suggesting that all 68,000 Jews who were still alive in the Lodz Ghetto in July 1944 were Rumkowski's friends, are you?

If he really cared about Jewish lives he wouldn't have gone and murdered his political opponents.
Yes, he certainly shouldn't have done that. :(

How many of them did he murder?

And don't think the ghetto would have survived had the Russians pushed their offensive. The Nazis would have liquidated them anyway, just as they tried to do in the western camps at the end of the war.
I was actually thinking of the July 20th Plot succeeding here. Were Lodz's survived Jews so malnourished by late July 1944 that they would have died en masse even if the Nazi regime would have been overthrown right then and there?
 
Jan 2012
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To be perfectly honest, who are we to judge?

It is apparent that when faced with the Nazi onslaught many prominent Jews thought this was a repeat of previous pogroms where some of their number would suffer and die but their community would somehow continue. We know different but those poor souls were not as privileged as we who have the benefit of hindsight. What is more as the horror developed it brought out the worst and the best in people.

I was born not long after the end of the war and grew up in a suburban street in London which included the families of many German Jews plus a family of Austrian Quakers. It was evident as I grew up that the recent past was explained as The War. Things were either before The War or after The War. Then slowly as I got older it became apparent that something horrible had happened during The War to relatives of neighbours. My mother used a euphemism that Mr or Mrs Soandso had a mother, father, brother, sister or other close family member `murdered by the Nazis'. She did not do detail and neither did any of our Jewish neighbours who were all meticulously careful not to let us children know what had happened until they saw we were old enough to handle it. I remain grateful for their love and respect.

The first real evidence I saw was when an uncle of a playmate showed us kids the line of numbers tattooed onto in his arm. I can still see them now: blue, continental numbers peaking out from under the black hair of his strong healthy arm. I was amazed why something like this had been done. Almost seventy years later this image upsets me more, as I now realise it remains my principal, direct contact with the Holocaust. This is even after visiting the sites of concentration camps in Germany as a teenager.

I have always found myself incapable of judging any Jew or whoever who became victims of that utter, brutal shambles. For them survival strategies would have kicked in and such behaviour would stretch the soul to its very limit. We all like to think we would do the right thing in such circumstances. But would we?

We need to remain aware that whatever Rumkowski did to fail as a human being, it was not he who conceived The Final Solution.
 
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