Litzmannstadt Ghetto, Ghetto Lodz

The Gypsy Camp (Zigeunerlager)
Brzezinska Street (Sulzferderstrasse) today Wojska Polskiego Street

In the late autumn of 1941, the so-called Gypsy camp was established bordered by what is today called Wojska Polskiego, Obroncow Westerplatte, Sikawska and Glowackiego streets. It was a kind of a ghetto within the ghetto. More than 5,000 Gypsies - Roma and Sinti - were brought from Burgenland (a region of the Austro- Hungarian border). This is one of the most mysterious chapters in the history of the Lodz ghetto. Even the Jews themselves did not know exactly who was confined there or the reasons for it.

The camp was established in a small area that covered less than one square kilometer (0.019 of a square kilometer). The border that ran along the Aryan side of the city was guarded by Schupo officers. Where the camp bordered the ghetto, the Jewish police kept watch. A double barbed-wire fence marked the border, and on both sides of the fence was a moat that measured nearly two meters deep. (The moat was later filled because of fears that a building might collapse.) The windows of all the structures in the compound were boarded up with planks. The only entrance to the camp was through a gate at 99 Brzezinska St. (what is today Wojska Polskiego Street).

The Gypsies were brought to Lodz in cattle cars from November 5 to 9, 1941. Among the 5,007 people shipped in, 2,689 were children. They lived in indescribably terrible conditions. There were no toilets, no places for bathing and, essentially, no water. Kitchen facilities were non-existent, and no dishes or cutlery were provided. As could be expected, a typhus epidemic broke out, which decimated the camp's population, most notably among the children. Within seven weeks, 719 people were dead. They were buried in the Jewish Cemetery in mass graves, in a section identified as PV and PVI.

Fearing the spread of more disease, the Nazi authorities decided to liquidate the camp. On January 5, 1942, the occupying forces systematically began to deport the confined people to the death camp at Chelmno-nad-Nerem. By January 12, they were all killed. It is still not clear who precisely was brought to this camp. There are reports that suggest the people were representatives of the upper classes of that Gypsy culture.

Several of the structures that made up the Gypsy Camp still exist. There are the tenement buildings where the people were housed and an old blacksmith workshop where a morgue was located. On this old workshop building, a commemorative plaque was unveiled on January 10, 2004. The inscription is written in Polish, Roma and English. This is one of the few places, which, with absolute certainty, can attest to the tragedy that befell the Roma people during the Second World War.

Numerous speculations about the inhabitants of the Gypsy camp arose in the ghetto. Some people thought they were real Gypsies, others that they were Hungarian Jews. Yet others would say they were Balkan partisans and their families.
Yankl Nirenberg, Memoirs of the Lodz Ghetto, p. 42.

One night, trucks arrived in front of the Gypsy camp; all Gypsies, the healthy and the ill, were loaded on them and taken away. The Germans did not even make any secret about the fate which befell the inhabitants of the camp. As a matter of fact, who were they to hide the truth from? From other sub-humans, destined for the same fate? All the Gypsies were murdered... Some of them were shot, and some were gassed in trucks with the exhaust pipes installed inside. This had already been tested on the Jews deported from the ghetto. The tenement houses where the camp was located returned to the ghetto, i.e. behind the single barbed-wire fences. Later, they were thoroughly disinfected, and several dozen Jewish families, before they were gassed at Chelmno or Auschwitz, could move into the fresh flats. As it was later figured out in the Health Department, the decision on the liquidation of the Gypsy camp was influenced by the increased number of typhus cases in Lodz. Aryan Lodz, to make it clear. It is hard to find out how much of this is true.
Arnold Mostowicz, The Report on the Gypsy Matter, The Yellow Star and the Red Cross, p.32.

None of those Gypsies survived. Their houses were disinfected and included in the ghetto again. The wires were rolled up, the blood traces on the walls painted over, no traces of crime. .. We were all shocked. The two men who were the first to enter that Gypsy camp - Arie Princ, the manager of the straw shoes workshop, and Mendel Gross the photographer [his real name was Mendel Grosman - J.P.] could not recover for a long time from the shock which they experienced reading the inscriptions in German left by the Gypsies on the walls. They were evidence that many of those Gypsies were educated and had given up the nomadic lifestyle long before.
Sara Zyskind, The Light in the Valley of Tears, p. 92.