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Winson Chu

Generation and Suicide in the Lodz Ghetto

This paper examines how generation played a role in the hundreds of suicides in the Lodz Ghetto, both in their motivation and in their perception among German authorities and Jewish chroniclers. “Generation” in the paper does not just encompass age, but also social capital. Factors influencing social capital include when Jews were brought into the Lodz Ghetto, whether they had lived in the ghetto area before the war, and their degree of assimilation. Lack of social access contributed to the suicide rate, but material deprivation often became the reported cause by Jewish observers and the German criminal police (Kripo), which investigated many of the suicides. The paper will also consider as a “generation” the transport of (mostly elderly) Western European Jews to the Ghetto in late 1941 and explore how their high rate of suicide, often seen as a result of tensions between Polish Jews and German Jews, can also be explained by generational factors. Thus, suicides can be a way to map the ghetto’s evolution, most markedly when the children of the ghetto were deported in the fall of 1942 and the ghetto effectively became a work camp. Using the files of the Kripo, the Lodz Ghetto chronicle, the reports of the Ordnungsdienst, as well as diaries, testimonies, and memoirs, the paper will look at Holocaust suicides through the aspects of generation, gender, and national origin.

Winson Chu is associate professor of modern central European history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His doctoral dissertation (University of California, Berkeley, 2006) was awarded the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize, given by the Friends of the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. His book, The German Minority in Interwar Poland, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012 and received a Fraenkel Prize commendation by the Wiener Library in London. He is co-author of “A Sonderweg through Eastern Europe? The Varieties of German Rule in Poland during the Two World Wars” (German History, 2013) which won the German History Society’s Article Prize in 2013. Prof. Chu is currently working on a history of the Polish city of Lodz with a focus on the competition of German, Polish, and Jewish nationalisms from 1880 to 2009.