Jews in Lodz

Not so long ago, many historians saw Nazism mainly as a revolt against modernity, a call for a return to soil and Volk. Gordon Horwitz’s book on wartime Lodz lends support to what has become a new scholarly consensus about the Third Reich: that it looked forward, not back. Hitler promised to build a new Germany that offered social benefits, educational opportunities, and cities that combined the benefits of modernity and technology with a proper regard for aesthetics, health, and culture. This new Germany would harness science–especially the biological sciences–to create a racially superior nation. Needless to say, such a vision had no place for Jews. In this rich and suggestive book, Horwitz tells a tale of two cities: Litzmannstadt, the Nazi name for Lodz, which was to be a model for a German future, and the Ghetto, a doomed remnant of a sordid past. The two were linked: for Litzmannstadt to succeed, the Ghetto and its Jews had to disappear, and the sooner the better. Good urban planning, not to mention a basic concern for health and aesthetics, had to protect German citizens from vermin and Jews. It is unclear why Horwitz chose to tell a tale of two cities rather than three. After all, the Poles also had a story. The Germans murdered or deported the Polish intelligentsia in Lodz and encouraged many eligible Poles to claim status as Volksdeutsche, or ethnic Germans. But the Nazis could not do without Polish labor, and so throughout the occupation the Poles remained a sizeable part of this new German city-in-the-making.

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