Chaim Rumkowski, Elder of the Jews
Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski was appointed Elder of the Jews in Litzmannstadt (Lodz) on 13 October 1939. As leader of the ghetto Rumkowski adopted what became referred to as the “rescue through labour” strategy, which was used to protect the ghetto from liquidation by providing a huge profit to the German administration. It was successful, insofar as the ghetto remained viable until August 1944. The price for this strategy was that it involved deporting all Jews from the ghetto considered unproductive: children, the elderly and the infirm. For this reason, Rumkowski was much despised. In the end the remaining Jews were deported to Auschwitz, and most, including Rumkowski, did not survive.
Jewish workers in a factory in the Lodz Ghetto
Rumkowski's photo on the wall of a shoe factory in the Lodz Ghetto
Chaim Rumkowski, Nazi-appointed Jewish leader of the ghetto
Rumloski officiating at group wedding, including members of Tuvia Lipson's family
Rumkowski was born in Russia in 1877 and it is believed he arrived in Lodz during adulthood. His pre-war employment was in trade and industry. He was Founder and Director of the Helenowek orphanage and involved in the General Zionist Party.
In the Lodz ghetto, Rumkowski was an autocratic leader, solely responsible for the maintenance of the ghetto, with the other Judenrat (Jewish council) members merely figureheads. He had significantly more autonomy from the Germans than most ghetto Elders. What distinguished Rumkowski from other leaders was his success in prolonging the life of the ghetto by mobilizing the ghetto workforce, and his unwavering cooperation with German orders. Rumkowski requested that the Germans provide the ghetto with raw materials with which the ghetto workforce could produce finished goods. He hoped this strategy would make the ghetto economically indispensable to the Reich and the German war effort. By 1943, there were 117 factories, workshops and warehouses in the ghetto. During 1942-3, ninety-five percent of adults in the ghetto were working. Rumkowski’s cooperation strategy prolonged the survival of the ghetto for almost two years.
Rumkowski’s position as Elder did not protect him from the fate of the majority of the Lodz Jews. Like most ghetto Elders, Rumkowski did not survive the war. On 29 August 1944, at the conclusion of the ghetto liquidation, he too was deported to Auschwitz.