- Life in Transit: Jews in Postwar Lodz, 1945–1950 by Shimon Redlich
For a few brief years in the postwar period, Lodz (Łódź) emerged as the new center of Jewish life in Poland. In the summer of 1946 the Jewish population of postwar Poland peaked at around a quarter of a million. Some 30,000 were living in Lodz, making it the largest urban center of Jewish life in the country. These were people on the move. Lodz, like Poland as a whole, was a place in transition, with Jews returning from both the concentration camps and wartime refuge in the Soviet Union. Alongside this inflow of Jews into the country was a steady outflow, especially to the West and in particular after the July 1946 Kielce pogrom. Redlich—himself a protagonist in this story—seeks to capture this transient world in a book that describes the personalities, politics, and practices of Jewish life in Lodz in the second half of the 1940s.
Redlich shows how the multiple elements of vibrant Jewish institutional, economic, and cultural life were re-established in Lodz. A local branch of the Central Committee of Polish Jews provided assistance to Jews arriving in the city, securing a thousand apartments from the city authorities in order to house as many as 10,000. Additionally, the committee established Jewish co-operatives to provide work as well as children’s homes and some fifty Jewish schools to cater to a youthful [End Page 522] population that included many orphans. Two Jewish theaters operated in the city alongside a host of libraries and other cultural organizations. The end result of all this activity was that central Lodz was, briefly, “a markedly Jewish urban space” (p. 66).
Alongside the renewal of Jewish life in the city, however, there are hints of a less positive story. An American-Jewish journalist who visited Jews living in the city in the immediate aftermath of the war reported that “the most bitterly disappointed were the repatriates of Lodz who had found their homes intact but nevertheless had to move to the refugee center on Jakuba Street” (p. 79). A similar story emerges in some of the interviews Redlich undertook, during which survivors recalled returning to their prewar apartments to discover that they had been occupied by Poles who were not willing to relinquish them. Jews’ attempts to regain former property and possessions—something now being studied by a younger generation of Polish historians—is a topic that is not explored in this work. Redlich tends more to the celebration of Jewish life in the city rather than to a more wide-ranging and critical analysis of postwar tensions.
While here and there in the book he notes moments of conflict between Jews and Poles, Redlich positions Lodz as a place of relative safety compared to other urban and rural centers in the aftermath of the Kielce massacre. The conflict he explores in greatest depth concerns the differing visions of the future articulated by Zionists and Jewish Communists in postwar Lodz. Lodz was both a Jewish center and a Zionist center, with its flourishing network of kibbutzim attracting in particular young Jews who found themselves alone after the war. Lodz played an important role in Zionist flight from Poland in 1946, when Palestine was the Zionist response to the Kielce pogrom. As Redlich explains, there was no general Jewish consensus on what the response to Kielce should be. Szulim Rozenberg, who was active in the Bund, recalls: “The Kielce tragedy increased my conviction that only the type of government that existed at that time in Poland could overcome antisemitism” (p. 196). Rozenberg did ultimately leave for Israel, but only in 1968—in a different political context. By the 1960s, Lodz was no longer the Jewish center that it had been in 1945–1950: a final wave of emigration followed the closure of Zionist organizations during the increasing Stalinization of 1949–1950 and most of the remaining Jews gradually drifted to the rebuilt city of Warsaw.
Despite the differences between Zionists...