This dissertation is an exploration of the aged and aging in the Łódź ghetto from 1939 to 1944. The first two years of German occupation and Jewish subjugation from May 1940 to September 1942 provide the chronological focus for my analysis of the experiences of older Jews in the Łódź ghetto. Aged Jews in the ghetto struggled for their own survival and contributed to the wellbeing of the larger community. Constant negotiations between the needs of older Jews and various communal objectives generated moments of solidarity and revealed devastating tensions within the community. The escalating policies of German authorities during the first years of the ghetto period created an environment in which possibilities of survival among the elderly dwindled. Negotiations for survival in the contexts of work, family, and communal life reveal the degradation of fundamental social structures.
Through the lens of aging, both actual and metaphorical, this dissertation reveals connections between the fate of the aged in the ghetto and the community as a whole. In early September 1942 German authorities led a violent assault on the Jewish community in the Łódź ghetto that targeted Jews under the age of ten and over the age of sixty-five for murder. During the week of 5 September 16,500 Jews were torn from community institutions and family dwellings, contained in collections points, and loaded on trains bound for the death camp at Chełmno. No family was left untouched, and all were engulfed by grief over the death of loved ones. The community’s oldest generation was killed overnight. The collection of individuals that remained alive in the Łódź ghetto in the wake of this mass murder experienced the phenomenon of rapid collective aging. From 1939 through 1942, German policies ensured the deaths of tens of thousands of elderly Jews in the Łódź ghetto and the hallmarks of a vibrant, cohesive Jewish community died.