The tragedy and horror of WWII can be depicted in a microcosm called the Lodz Ghetto in Poland. It is from the Lodz Ghetto where well over 200,000 either died in the ghetto from starvation and disease or were transported to concentration camps to be gassed.
At the time of the German occupation in late 1939, the city of Lodz had population of 672,000. Over 230,000 were Jewish. As the Germans began to establish boundaries for the ghetto, many Jews fled the city. By February 1940, the remaining Jewish residents were restricted to the Old City, and in March, no Jew was allowed outside the fences of this area called the Lodz Ghetto. Initially, the prisoner population was 164,000 but several months later, only 148,500 remained after deportations.
The ghetto was established as an industrial base to manufacture war supplies. The Nazis set up a Jewish council and appointed Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski to keep order. Believing he and his fellow Jews would survive by being highly productive, he ruled the Lodz Ghetto with an iron fist and worked the prisoners to their death.
The entire population of the Lodz Ghetto lived and worked in an area of less than 1.5 square miles, and because food and medicine was scarce, starvation and disease were rampant. Smuggling supplies was nearly impossible due to heavy security both within the ghetto and outside of it. There was a constant fluctuation of new prisoners from surrounding areas in Poland and other countries, as well as deportation of people, many of them children, to face their death in concentrations camps. Fear and misery were all the inhabitants of the Lodz Ghetto knew.
From 1942 to 1943, tokens were struck in the name of the Jewish Elders of Litzmannstadt, the name the Germans chose for the city to honor the German General Karl Litzmann, of WWI fame. These tokens were the only legal currency in the Lodz Ghetto. Used to buy what food and medicine they could, Jews traded their personal possessions for the tokens.
Though not highly circulated, these tokens are generally found in corroded condition. The tokens were struck in aluminum-magnesium or aluminum; however, a few 10 Pfenning have been found in silver and bronze. The four denominations struck are as follows:
Lodz was the first ghetto to be established in WWII and the last to be closed. Though long gone, it should stand as a reminder of the ravages of war. Collectors recognize that these tokens are symbolic of the despair of the prisoners of the ghetto. The set composite can be found on the PCGS Set Registry.