Ultimately, Rumkowski met a similar fate to those who were
deported. In the book entitled "Defy the Darkness: A Tale of
Courage in the Shadow of Mengele," written by survivor Joe
Rosenblum, there is a page about Chaim Rumkowski. Joe worked the ramp where the transport trains
stopped all too frequently at Auschwitz towards the end of the
war, and he was present in August 1944 when Rumkowski and a
number of Lodz policemen disembarked from the train they were
riding in. Here is an excerpt from his book that tells of the
last minutes of Chaim Rumkowski:
As the seemingly
never-ending parade of black locomotives chugged to the ramp,
I was surprised to see how many people from ghettos or even
concentration camps the Germans were piling in. This change
raised opportunities for revenge, a chance to pay back the
Jews and others who had turned against their own kind to gain
an extra slice of bread or a more comfortable bed. The most
blatant example I saw occurred in September
the Jewish policemen from the Polish city of Lodz were brought
in. Among them was Chaim Rumkowski, president of the whole
ghetto, as Lazar had been in our town. Rumkowski was getting
the same reward as Lazar: death.
The Lodz Jewish Council,
through the Jewish police there, had turned in about fifty
Jews who had been underworld members in
These guys had been thugs, thieves, and con men. Like Lazar,
they'd have people steal for them, then ransom back the goods.
The men had committed all kinds of crimes, except murder.
Strangely, in Birkenau they were a closely knit lot, but
kindly. A few had become powerful Senior Block Inmates,
including Morris the Hasid, to whom I had paid the fifty
dollars to get my job with the Czech.
There was also Blackie, who got
his name because he was so dark-skinned. He had been a thief
and a con man in Lodz, but here he was a man whose word was
good and who took care of his people. It was Blackie I went to
when I wanted a job for someone. I did it so often he once
looked at me and asked, "Who else are you going to bring in
here? Your uncle? Your cousin? Your nephew? No babies, Joe. I
draw the line there. They're too young," he said, his dark
skin framing a smile bright enough to light up the sky.
Even though they usually were good
people, Morris, Blackie, and the others had vowed revenge on
the Jewish policemen who had captured them. One night, the
former thieves had their chance. They spotted the Jewish
police contingent from Lodz emptying out of one of the cattle
"We're going to have our
revenge," Blackie whispered to me. "We're going to get them
The policemen didn't know which
line was which. Mengele had put them into the group that was
going to live and be shipped off to labor camps. Then a couple
of the Lodz underground group, including Blackie, walked over
to the Jewish police, looked them in the eye, then pointed
over to the death line. The policemen, not knowing the
difference, meekly obeyed and were marched to their death.
They joined Rumkowski, who was
old and lame, and was being carried to the crematorium on a
"Take a look," Blackie
whispered to me. "Now he's in a litter. He sent a lot of us to
the camps. Lots of us were gassed. It's his turn."
Rumkowski didn't know what was
happening. He turned to me, of all people, and asked, "What
goes on here?"
"Can't you smell? Can't you see
the fire?" I replied, anger and revenge in my voice for what
he had done to my friends.
"Where am I?"
"Oh, my God," he said, smacking
his forehead with his palm. Then he started reciting a Jewish
prayer as two guards picked up his litter to carry him away.
There he was, a man who had been
rich and powerful, in charge of a city out of which had poured
the products of enormous factories. He thought he would save
himself by doing the Germans' bidding. As they had for Lazar,
the Nazis ultimately had more use for him dead than alive. I
felt no sympathy, no pain. Rumkowski was a traitor and
deserved a traitor's death.
Later, I talked to Blackie
about what they had done to the Lodz Jewish police. "You did
what you did. I guess you had to do it," I told him.
"We were pushed out of the ghetto
because we were in the underworld. I didn't know any better. I
considered it my job, which I went to while people were
sleeping in their beds. But we had a heart, and this guy
didn't," Blackie said, looking grim.
Read much more about Joe Rosenblum's experiences during the
Holocaust in the Museum of Family History's exhibition "Walk
in My Shoes: Collected Memories of the Holocaust," or read
his book in its entirety.
the Darkness: A Tale of Courage in the Shadow of Mengele"
by Joe Rosenblum with David Kohn, Praeger Publishers, 2001.