Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Ruth Kent - May 4, 1982

Life in the Ghetto

In the winter?

In the wintertime but we did have a room and uh, my mother and our four children and my cousin, my cousin ??? and cousin ??? we were the ones who shared this one room. And the sanitary condition were not at its best but were shared with our neighbors in the hallway I believe. And we still had a very happy home my brothers um, Jack and Larry worked in a bakery um, my cousins worked also. I worked uh, in a factory. At first I worked uh, on a dayshift and then I worked as an apprentice, and then I uh, very efficient I worked for twelve hours sometimes at night uh, making garments for the uh, German army, for--undergarments for the women and my little brother also worked. We sort of drifted away from our immediate family because life was not very easy in the ghetto. People uh, did not have enough food who were issued again some ration cards. Uh, we had our own president we were sort of a self uh, ruled uh, city and government.

Do you remember his name?

Uh, Rumkowski, Chaim Rumkowski was his name. He was an elderly gentleman with gray, long hair. He looked more like a professor than a president, I remember him and um, as I said my brothers worked in the bakery and, and I remember one time, my cousin uh, ??? was very disillusioned with the life in the ghetto. And he volunteered, against my mother's wishes, he volunteered for work so uh, we have never heard from him again. He did volunteer my mother couldn't stop him. He was sort of like a rebel in his own ways. He was hoping that somewhere else maybe there would be greener pastures. He was--couldn't see his life in the ghetto. My cousin stayed on with us she was very dear to me in the ghetto. I was, I, I learned more about life and she was a very sweet, sweet-- more like a mother to me than a sister, she was older. And uh, we had constant selektions even in the ghetto I remember. Policemens would come with the uh, Nazi in the uniform and select the sick, the elderly and the children and most of these selektions I remember my brothers would put uh, my uh, uh, mother and my little brother and me into the bakery oven which the bakery was not in existence anymore although and that--and after the selektions they would come and get us out of this area because they didn't think that uh, we would pass one of these selektions so in many ways they saved us many times. They were smart enough I don't know the foresight, where they had the foresight but, uh...

The police who came were they were they Ordnungspolice?

They, they were Jewish policemen and they had uh, some sort of a uniform. Most of the time they were accompanied by a Nazi in a uniform and uh, they would just take away little children and just put them on the trucks. Uh, at the beginning my mother uh, was uh, sort of uh, part in partners uh, in a bakery with another widow who lived in, in there prior to the war and they sort of had a bakery uh, together but that soon ended and everyone had to work in the uh, in the main bakery and my brothers were very fortunate and we had a lot of privileges because we had a little extra bread. And we're together and my mother would bake cakes out of the coffee grinds I remember and potato peels and they would make uh, coffeecakes and, and let me tell you they were delicious, we didn't have enough of it. No one would even uh, try to begin to make um, such a concoction, uh cigarette, uh coffee grinds and, and potato peels it's unbelievable. And we did get rations and the rations were very limited. We never got any meat, we never got any milk, any sugar um, any butter, never. When we did get the rations we had to stand in lines like for hours. And I remember we would take turns in, in standing in line. Like, you, you'd have to stand, start standing in line in the morning, you would stay all day. So we would uh, uh, one of us would start and then another one would come and after two, three hours relieve the person in line, this is for sometimes to get some potatoes and all night we would relieve one another to go and, and stay in line to get the food and many times we would just uh, get to the uh, excuse me, the end of the line or to the stores sometimes we were told there is no more whatever they were distributing, any vegetables...

Who were distributing?

Uh, as I said we had sort of a um, a self-ruled uh, uh, government, and they would--Jewish agencies I would say.

The Judenrat or something like that?

Yes, yes it was run by the Jewish people. And in fact, the um, like the bakers had uh, someone in charge of the bakeries and there were many peo... different people uh, given different uh, uh, uh, jobs, and sort of uh, managerial job to take care of a certain of, of vegetable uh, department. And um, our very, my fa... very dearest friend was in charge of the baker's union and at one time my mother had uh, sold our diamonds, or some furs. My mother had to give up they needed um, so and so many young men for work outside of the ghetto. And my mother was beside herself she was devastated. She had to give up either Larry or Jack volunteering one or the other to send to--on this mission which was we don't know where they were sending these people supposedly for work. And my mother kept saying how can I cut the right hand off or the left one or cut my left finger off the right one, it's going to bleed the same way. As I said she was a very wise woman. And she scrunched, she, she, she sold bread, in other words she bought--let's say like a hostage, we bought another human being. That's what it really was. We bought a man. We gave his family a lot of food and he went instead of one of my brothers. Uh, how else can I? That's what it really was. We paid in bread or what have you and we supplied um, the man that was going instead of my brother Larry or my brother Jack. So there was again not right it's, but, again a crisis but again my mother managed and we all stayed together, um...

Your little brother was still with you?

My little brother was still with us he also worked. And I remember joining um, in the ghetto, why people were dying of malnutrition you've seen everyone uh, they, they looked like um, skeletons, most of the people looked like skeletons. I remember joining uh, first I think I was influenced, children are the easiest element to influence. I became a communist yes, at a very young age. I started Gnosticism, Mysticism, I remember. And then after awhile I um, found myself with some other children and I became a fervent Zionist, you talk about Zionist. And I liked this much better because I didn't have to study so hard. I didn't have to study books and we had meetings, although they were sort of secret meetings which at this time was sort of very um, interesting, very exciting to go to these secret meetings and but they were happy meetings because we would learn Hebrew songs and we would do a lot of dancing and a lot of singing with the hope that when the war's over we're going to build our own country and everyone is going to go to Palestine. And my mother used to say, "I have four children, I have four different worlds." Larry was gonna go to America he was the capitalist, my oldest brother that's how she trained him, I guess. And I was gonna go to Israel and my brother Jack was always gonna stay with his mother. So she used to say, "I have four children in four different worlds, they all were going to go in different directions." Well, they were just hopes and dreams which never materialized. And also uh, I did some reading I remember we, my brother Larry was the professor, we owned the book Odszedł Z Wiatrem, Gone with the Wind, we had that book and when you had this book you could exchange it for a lot of other books. So, I remember reading a little bit like War and Peace by Tolstoy and um, basically at night we stayed together as a family. We shared the beds together, the floor whatever there was to share and we just adored--we had so much respect for our mother. My mother never laid a hand on us, never--I--oh God, first of all, my father would forbid her to lay to do, to lay a hand on me. Even the boys, my mother just looked at us and we wished that she would have really hit us hard instead of--she gave us a look and we knew exactly what she meant, it was like it went through you. So we had a lot of respect but also a lot of love because whatever uh, she uh, gave us she sort of got something in return. She always got a dividend. We did have a lot of respect for her and we did really love her and we always tried to do a little better for her. There was a portion cut in the bread we were cutting the bread or something, we always made sure she gets a little more. Uh, my mother we sort of put her on a pedestal. She was very dear to us but that's how we were to her and uh, she instilled this warm relation this tight-knitness in our family that one for all and all for one. And even the ghetto, I still, I myself and as I talk about myself, I uh, was not very desperate about anything uh, I would come home after work and I need to go to my book. I think we did have maybe a phone number of my brother Larry might of had that, he had everything.

You all lived in one room?

We had one room, yes. And uh, we shared like the f... on the floor with some other people a bathroom. I don't remember we did not have one in our, in our room, uh-huh. But it was such a minor detail to manage. Whereas we're together and that was the whole thing because people were dying; I had my aunt, my mother's sister, had a little baby just before, during the war, when the war broke out and I adore children and uh, she had--she lost that baby and she and my cousin her son. Uh, but most of all we stayed together as our own immediate family we had no really that much time or at night we couldn't go visiting, we couldn't socialize that much, because we, even in the ghetto there was a curfew. Although the Nazis were not, the soldiers what I mean, what I mean Nazis they did not live in our ghetto.

Just police?

Yeah, they did. And also you never knew who would be on the street. People were hunger and they were liable to kill you for your shoes. Uh, to save their own life, they needed clothes, wintertime, we had no--we had no stores we made the best of what we brought with us from our own home.

What happened to the jewelry that your mother put in your heel?

Uh, my mother sold the jewelry partly when she um, had to save my brother Larry put the hostage for him and the fur I remember they sold for bread just to help the family, that's what she did.

Uh, during the time in the ghetto, was there disease?

Oh, the people were just so sick. Their stomachs were so swollen. When we would come back from um, work uh, school, I, I think I, we started a school when I first got in there I never really had any schooling in the ghetto, we worked mostly. Um, but we would come home there always would be bodies on the streets and you got uh, to the point where you, you were afraid to look at the body because you were afraid that you might be next in this situation. And they always had very swollen stomachs, the children, and very deep set eyes. And you could see the ribs they were like skeletons and a lot of them were dead. Uh, it became like almost like an everyday occurrence. Uh, you'd go and see these people. And first of all our people died of diseases and malnutrition's; we had no doctors, we had no medicine, we had no hospitals uh, we don't even, we didn't have any means to help the people. But basically they died of uh, malnutrition. Uh, it wasn't an easy death, we, we suffered a lot, as I said our family was extremely fortunate uh, that's why we were so grateful when we were in the ghetto because we were together. But many, many people died in the ghetto. Everyone worked but many, many people died.

Do you remember any uh, violent scenes in the ghetto, people being beaten?

There were always violent scenes but we could see 'em from the window. And the worse part of it was we our um, windows we were looking out on a bridge. I uh, the Germans had built a bridge because they used the streets um, for their means of transportation. The streetcar was going through the ghetto to a main street uh, where we lived. And the people on the streetcars would always chew an apple or have a candy bar. Polish people, I think they did this to spite us. And they would throw a candy bar on the street but we couldn't get to it and purposely they did this unless we would uh, be willing to get killed because that bridge uh, connected two streets um, two sides of towns and the streetcar was going underneath this bridge. And there was always a guard at every bridge there was a soldier, a Nazi in a uniform and, and, and so there's no way we could escape from the ghetto into this streetcar. Many times, believe me, I would sit in the window and my thoughts would just run away with me, my imaginations, how I could find myself on one of those streetcars and my uh, worries would have been over because that streetcar took you out of the ghetto and the Jewish people did not uh, couldn't go near that streetcar, we had to go over it as I said to the bridge to go to the other part of town.

How was the ghetto marked off?

Uh, the ghetto was marked off uh, immediately by barbed wires. Uh, as I said, this was the worst part the slum area um, of the city diseases always uh, were there and, and, um...

Is it typhus?

And the smell.

Was there typhus there?

We had typhus but not in our immediate family. But I remember one time where I went out to a little field, I don't know if I should call it a field. And I picked those little dandelions and was I ever fortunate dandelions are not poisonous, I didn't know that. You could eat uh, dandelions as greens the leaves are very, very good we would cook 'em. And once we discovered that you could eat that, no one got sick, I remember going and picking these dandelion leaves for food. Food was always scarce, we never had enough food. But where food was scarce our, our, our warmth and our family made up for it in togetherness and the devotion you know uh, one would um, give his away to please the other so this is what really is uh, most um, memorable things in my mind--the devotion in our family, the love.

Do you remember any of the Germans particular that...

In the ghetto?

Do you remember a man named Biebow, Hans Biebow?

Mm-mm, no, I really, I don't, I, he, he probably was in charge of either the ghetto in Łódź--I heard the name. He might have been charged of the large, in charge of the łod?e ghetto uh, or as it was called, our city, they changed it from Łódź to Litzmannstadt.

Let me ask you about that. What, you, you said you knew all the, the patriotic songs and...

Oh yes I did and I loved them.

When they ch... when they changed the name to Litzmannstadt, what did people think about that?

Um, I, I don't think we really um, were very much concerned about the name. It was done already when we were um, leaving our own home and it was really a minor um, first of all we didn't, we were not patriots like you think like I, I love America and I'm a citizen...

Not any more [laugh].

I love it, I worship America. I think I love American songs, I, I just love them I sing them all the time. I don't think I had this or no one instilled this feeling for me because I think in Poland, even the Poles had nothing to fight for therefore we didn't even have an army to speak of. So when you have nothing to fight for, why risk your life? And so because um, I was a citizen but uh, I spoke very well Polish. Uh, 'cause I--it was my language as I said I spoke to my parents Polish, my brothers didn't speak Polish to my parents. But as far as uh, patriotism at this point no, it was um, quite negative. We were just concerned about our own family. People were dying so much in the ghetto the cemetery was just so overcrowded that I believe they just at, at times they just uh, uh, uh, dug uh, mass graves. It got to a point where you couldn't recognize who was who.

How old were you?


At this point?

Uh, I was taken in the ghetto it was 1940. I was going, probably in uh, I was going on ten years, I wasn't quite ten years old.

Were there Jews from other countries coming in?

Yes, as uh, the uh, Germans decided to concentrate all the Jews in our ghetto, many uh, Jews came from these uh, surrounding areas, from the small towns from um, um, Helenówek uh, Zgierz uh, uh, some of the small areas. Uh, all of the surrounding areas, they start, to sent the Jews into the ghetto, I guess they wanted to have all of the Jews together.

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