Rare Photos Show Jews in Lodz Ghetto Observing Sukkot in 1941
A series of photos documenting the observance of Sukkot in the Lodz Ghetto in 1941 were recently revealed by the Shem Olam Institute.
The photos show the ghetto’s Jewish occupants praying with the four species: the etrog (citron), and the lulav, hadas, and aravah, (palm, willow, and myrtle) required for Sukkot. The pictures also show the prisoners had built a sukkah, the special temporary dwelling for eating and sleeping throughout the Jewish holiday.
It was no easy task for the ghetto residents to obtain two sets of the four species in order to properly celebrate Sukkot, according to Rabbi Avraham Krieger, the director of the Shem Olam Institute. “To find an etrog was extremely rare during this time in Poland and especially in the ghetto at the height of WWII,” said Rabbi Krieger in a report about the photos by Israel’s NRG news.
The Nazis had decreed that Jews would be forced to live in ghettos once Germany invaded Poland in 1939. In February 1940, the order to establish the Lodz ghetto was passed and Jews throughout the city were forced to move in.
According to Rabbi Krieger, the etrogim may have been smuggled into the ghetto after a long journey from Israel or Greece. The leader of the Jewish ghetto, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, gave special permission for a few of the ghetto’s Jewish residents to travel to Warsaw and try to locate the four species, which were almost impossible to find in Eastern Europe at the time.
Rabbi Krieger also says that building a sukkah was a difficult feat at the time. “The ghetto was in a constant state of crisis for materials to keep the people warm. Every piece of wood for fire was needed, including doors and window frames. Therefore in order to build a sukkah, the people needed special permission to retain the wood for this purpose.”
The Shem Olam Institute was established in 1996 by Rabbi Krieger to document and share the issues of faith and survival during the Holocaust. The institute has more than 800,000 documents and exhibits.