Memoria [EN] No 50 (11/2021) - Page 18

NEW PERMANENT EXHIBITION

GYPSY CAMP IN THE ŁÓDŹ GHETTO (1941-1942)

As was the case with the Jewish population, the Roma were systematically eliminated from the social life of Nazi Germany. Over time, the initial administrative harassment escalated into their physical isolation. The turning point in this matter was the decision in September 1941 to resettle the Roma population in camps and ghettos in the occupied eastern territories. Consequently, between 5 and 9 November 1941, 5007 people (including 1130 men, 1188 women and 2689 children) were deported from Styria and Lower Austria (the former Burgenland) to Łódź. As a result of the prevailing conditions, 11 people did not survive the journey. Besides the German Roma (Sasytka Roma), the deportees included representatives of the broader Gypsy community, among them the Kelderasz aka Kelderari (Coppersmiths), Lowari aka Lalleri (Horsemen) and Sinti tribes. They all arrived at the Radegast station, from where they proceeded to the camp located in the district of today's streets: Wojska Polskiego, Obrońców Westerplatte, Starosikawska and Głowackiego, in the area pre-separated from the Łódź ghetto (Litzmannstadt ghetto).

The living conditions in the hastily organised camp, which had only fifteen buildings, were atrocious. The lack of sanitary facilities, proper living conditions and, above all, difficulties with provisions led to the death of around 700 people in the first few weeks due to a typhus epidemic. From mid-December 1941 to mid-January 1942, the remaining inmates were deported and murdered at the first Nazi extermination camp, Kulmhof in Chełmno nad Nerem (Chełmno on the Ner River).

Following the end of the war, the area was transformed, as was much of the ghetto. Some of the buildings were demolished and replaced by a housing estate of flats. Only a few tenement houses and outbuildings have survived to the present day. The memory of the Roma camp, much like that of the Lodz Ghetto, has effaced over time. The situation began to change in 2004, when a commemorative plaque was set into the wall of the so-called Roma Smithy Building, on the initiative of the Łódź municipal authorities. In 2009, the first permanent exhibition on the history of the camp was created in the building. Since then, the site has been under the care of the Museum of Independence Traditions in Łódź.

The current exhibition was created in the unique space of the former camp building, which serves as a reminder of the suffering of Porajmos victims (the Devouring). Drawing on the few surviving documents and accounts, it attempts to document the events that unfolded at the turn of 1941/1942. It is all the more relevant since there are no surviving first-hand testimonies of the victims - thus, the exhibition aims to restore the voice that was brutally taken away from them.

Given the nature of the site, the primary aim of the exhibition is its educational aspect. The exhibition is intended as a starting point for further educational activities - primarily serving didactic purposes as part of visits conducted for organised groups and individuals. The exhibition presents critical issues in the camp's history, including the deportation process to Łódź, the demographic structure of the resettled persons, conditions they had to live in, the spread of the typhus epidemic and liquidation of the camp. The postscript, in turn, is a fragment about Kuźnia Romów (The Roma Smithy Building) as a crime site - a place of remembrance. Elements of the author's narrative have been practically eliminated in favour of historical sources. It was done primarily to shift the focus from factual knowledge to establishing an emotional connection with the recounted story. Therefore, a unique element is the audio account of Arnold Mostowicz, a physician and prisoner of the Łódź ghetto, who diagnosed the spread of the epidemic in the camp and witnessed the tragedy of the Roma. His memories of the prevailing conditions in the camp, documented years later, are a shocking picture of the reality in which the inmates had to live and die.

The new exhibition and accompanying activities provide an opportunity to learn about the history of this unique and only Gypsy family camp, besides (Zigeunerfamilienlager) in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, a place of isolation for the Roma during the occupation of Poland.

The Gypsy camp in Łódź (Zigeunerlager in Litzmannstadt) was the first strict seclusion site intended exclusively for the Roma and Sinti in occupied Polish territory. November 2021 marked its 80th anniversary, and a new permanent exhibition was opened in the so-called Roma Smithy, one of the surviving buildings of the former camp.

Andrzej Grzegorczyk

Museum of Independence Traditions in Łódź – The Radegast Station Branch