Forty-two weddings were performed yesterday in a new hall, specially dedicated for the purpose, on the grounds of 4 Koscielny Square, where the civil registration office and the rabbinate are located. It must be explained that in the current 49-day period between Easter and Pentacost,1 weddings can be performed only on the 5th and 17th day of the month. Twenty out of 42 marriages were between couples who had been deportees from the West.2 This large number is explained by the fear of separation during the deportation action. The couples that tied the knot wrote declarations that both in the case of deportation or remaining in the ghetto, they would not like to be separated. One couple married yesterday was mixed: he came from Germany (and is a policeman in the ghetto), while she was local. One of the most current subjects among newlyweds is curiosity whether, according to tradition, they will receive special food allotments.
Third Reich policies dictated the deportation and conscription into forced labor of millions of Jews throughout occupied Europe, often abruptly breaking up families and communities. Without warning, victims of the Holocaust lived under constant threat of violent separation—often without even a chance for goodbyes—from parents, children, spouses, siblings, and friends.
This uncertainty challenged social conventions, disrupted traditions, and changed the course of personal relationships.1 Particularly for young people, the question of whether to marry took on new complexities. Amidst the panic of German occupation in 1939, young Jewish couples in Poland quickly married before fleeing eastward.2 A belief that married men would not be sent to forced labor, widespread during the first months of the war, also led to an increase in marriages among Polish Jews.3 In Holland, and Slovakia as well, Jews hesitated or hurried to marry in response to frequently vague and shifting policies.4
For more observant Jews, usually joined according to Jewish law and with the blessing of a rabbi, marriage became doubly complicated. Some Rabbis objected to performing marriage ceremonies, fearful of creating agunot ["abandoned wives"] and assuming that single women, especially those with no children, had a better chance of surviving the war.5 Guided by the Talmud’s strict prohibitions on infidelity among married women, many rabbis became distressed by what they regarded as a decline of morality during the war. They also worried that newlyweds would fail to follow commandments on marital relations.6
The question of "marriage in order to be saved" did not meet with uniform responses, however. After the Nazis disbanded the Łódź ghetto rabbinate in autumn 1942, head of the Łódź Jewish Council Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski changed marriage contracts, known as ketubah, so that civil marriages could be more easily performed; Rumkowski even officiated many of the weddings himself. Though this move likely drew a range of reactions amongst the ghetto's Jews, for some of the more devout among them it represented a violation of Jewish law and custom.7
Published in the months preceding Rumkowski's amendment to the ketubah—and following a wave of deportations that swept the ghetto in summer 1942—the accompanying selection from the Łódź ghetto chronicle8 announces the marriage of dozens of Jewish couples, carried out by rabbis over the course of two days in May. To what extent might we consider these ceremonies in line with the spirit of laws governing Jewish marital practice? What might have motivated the couples, and how might they have understood the weddings’ significance?