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Forty-two Weddings in the Łódź Ghetto

Lodz Ghetto Chronicle
Archiwum Państwowe w Łodzi

When the anti-Jewish policies of the Third Reich dictated the deportation and conscription into forced labor of millions of Jews throughout occupied Europe, many families and communities were broken up suddenly. During the Holocaust, Jewish people 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 or not to marry became more complex. During the initial panic that followed the German occupation in 1939, many 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 These factors affected people's lives throughout Europe. In Holland and Slovakia, for example, Jews hesitated or hurried to marry in response to vague and shifting policies.4

For observant Jews wishing to be married 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"]. They assumed that single women—especially those with no children—had a better chance of surviving the war.5 Guided by the Talmud’s strict bans 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 ketubahso that civil marriages could be more easily performed. Rumkowski even officiated many of the weddings himself. For some of the more devout among the Jewish inhabitants of the ghetto, this represented a violation of Jewish law and custom.7

Published in the months before Rumkowski's amendment to the ketubah—and following a wave of deportations that swept the ghetto in summer 1942—the featured piece 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 the laws governing Jewish marital practices? What might have motivated the couples, and how might they have understood the weddings’ significance?

See Shimon Huberband, Kiddush Hashem: Religious and Cultural Life in Poland During the Holocaust, Jeffrey S. Gurock and Robert S. Hirt, eds. (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1987), 202.

Dan Michman, Holocaust Historiography, A Jewish Perspective: Conceptualizations, Terminology, Approaches and Fundamental Issues (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2003), 278-279. 

For more on the difficult considerations surrounding marriage for Jews in Germany after 1933, see Marion A. Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 74-93.

On the question of marriage as a means of survival, including fictive marriage and the subsequent moral and legal dilemmas, see Esther Farbstein, Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives on Faith, Halachah and Leadership During the Holocaust (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 2007), 335-341. Emanuel Ringelblum noted that after the great roundups of Warsaw's Jews for transport to killing centers in 1942, there were many fictive marriages in the Warsaw ghetto. According to his account, rabbis provided couples with ketubah (Jewish marriage contracts) without even seeing them. See Farbstein, Hidden in Thunder, 340.


To learn more, see the related item in this collection, Widowhood Release of Golda Leitman Weiss.

According to Jewish law, a married woman is required to immerse in a ritual bath after menstruation or childbirth before resuming sexual relations with her husband. Rabbi Shimon Huberband wrote extensively on this subject, as well as other matters related to marriage and divorce. See Huberband, Kiddush Hashem, 193-203. See also the related item in this collection, Rabbi Shimon Huberband, "On Religious Life".

Historians have offered varying explanations for Rumkowski’s motivations for altering Jewish marital law in the ghetto. See Michal Unger, A Reassessment of the Image of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2004), 32; Farbstein, Hidden in Thunder, 342-348.

The Łódź ghetto chronicle is one of the richest sources written and preserved from the ghettos of Poland. The archive of the Jewish council of the Łódź Ghetto, which employed a staff of about 15 workers, gathered information on life in the ghetto and published it in writing, photographs, and sketches. The chronicle, composed principally of daily reports of events, begins on January 12, 1940, eight months after the ghetto had been established. Its last entry dates from July 30, 1944, one month before the last of the ghetto's residents were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. For an English translation of the chronicle, see The Chronicle of the Łodź Ghetto, 1941-1944, Lucjan Dobroszycki, ed., trans. Richard Lourie et al. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 163.

Published translations of the chronicle denote these dates as "Passover" and "Shavuot," respectively. See The Chronicle of the Łodź Ghetto, 1941-1944, Lucjan Dobroszycki, ed., trans. Richard Lourie et al. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 163.

In 1941 and 1942, nearly 40,000 Jews were deported to the Łodź ghetto: 20,000 from Germany, Austria, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and Luxembourg, and almost 20,000 from western Poland.

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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.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Archiwum Państwowe w Łodzi
Accession Number PSŻ 1081
Date Created
May 4, 1942
Page(s) 7
Department of Archives, Łódź Ghetto
Łódź, Poland
Document Type Newspaper Article
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