“I Miss You, Jews!” – March of Life in Lodz

My father was born in 1942 into a family of “Volksdeutschen” in “Litzmannstadt”, as Lodz was called during its time of German occupation. A report from March of Life in Lodz.

My father was born in 1942 into a family of “Volksdeutschen” in “Litzmannstadt”, as Lodz was called during its time of German occupation. From this place, right in the center of the textile industry where Poles, Jews and Germans had formerly lived and worked together, they were completely separated. Jews were put in ghettos to be murdered, Poles were oppressed, and countless others were murdered as well. But my forefathers carried the blue I.D. card for “Volksdeutsche” – they were privileged. At the March of Life, we were able to ask Jews and Poles for forgiveness for what our forefathers did.

The March of Life began at the Radegast train station. The Jews had been rounded up here under terrible conditions in order to be made useful to their German occupiers by hard labor, and could thus be left alive – but this was to no avail. The number of ghetto residents who were incapable of working, and thus sent from the Radegast train station to the death camps, just kept growing. In the end, the entire ghetto was liquidated. It had been the longest-existing ghetto, and was the second largest after Warsaw. Of over 200,000 people in the ghetto, only around 5,000 survived. One of the survivors is Yechiel Aleksander; he was an honored guest on August 27, 2017.

Under Edward Cwierz´ leadership and coordination, around 250 participants came together. Besides many Polish Christians and the Jewish community of Lodz, the state children´s choir and the Marek Edelmann Center for Dialogue were also a part of the hour-long march and its concluding ceremonies. 90-year-old Yechiel Aleksander, who has renewed his connection to his home country and now participates regularly in remembrance and reconciliation events in Poland, was accompanied by his son Abraham. Israeli Knesset Member Yehuda Glick also traveled in from Israel. He was very moved by his first encounter with the March of Life movement.

A group of 12 Germans partook in the event as well. They were all connected with Lodz in some way. Franziska Eckert, a radiation oncologist in Tübingen, reminded us of the intertwinement of her university with national socialistic race studies: Just some years ago, a paper by Nazi scientist Hans Fleischhaker appeared in the archives, revealing 300 hand prints that were taken from Jews who were in Lodz´ ghetto. They had been analyzed for the purposes of race studies. Andrea Ahrens shared about her grandfather who worked for the Reichsbahn in Lodz: he would have been involved in the deportation of Jews to the death camps in Radegast.

Remembering, reconciling, setting a mark against modern anti-Semitism – how important that is in the big city of Lodz! Nowadays there are hardly any Germans or Jews dwelling there, in this city where local soccer fans curse at others with anti-Semitic nicknames. There is so much more that needs working through. Polish artist Rafal Betlejewski brought this to a point in his graffiti on Pjotrkowska, Lodz´ main street: “I miss you, Jews!”

 

Hans-Peter Besteck

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