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Oral History with Solomon Fox

Solomon Fox
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The anti-Jewish policies of Nazi Germany rapidly grew more radical during World War II. Shortly after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, German authorities in occupied Poland segregated Jews from the rest of the population and confined them in ghettos. Several branches of the German police became involved in the administration of these ghettos and the persecution and murder of their inhabitants.  

One of the first major ghettos to be established after the German occupation of Poland was in the large industrial city of Łódź.1 In December 1939, representatives of the Order Police and the Security Police (the Gestapo and the Kripo) joined members of the Łódź city offices and the SS to plan the establishment of the ghetto.2 The forcible relocation of the city's large Jewish population began in February 1940 and lasted until the spring. Roughly 160,000 Jews were crowded into a small area of the city without sufficient housing or sanitation.3

The Łódź ghetto was sealed off with a barbed wire fence, which was guarded by a unit of the German Order Police.4 Rules and order within the ghetto were enforced by Jewish police that operated under the authority of the Łódź Jewish council (Judenrat), which was appointed by the Germans.5 The Gestapo (Secret State Police) and the Kripo (Criminal Police) both established offices within the ghetto as well. The Kripo established its presence within the ghetto to combat smuggling and confiscate contraband items, but stealing valuables from the ghetto's inhabitants became its primary function.6

The featured oral history of Solomon Fox describes the physical abuse he suffered in the Łódź ghetto headquarters of the Kripo. Born in 1922, Fox grew up in Łódź in a large and strictly religious Jewish family. In the first months of the German occupation, his family's business was confiscated, his mother was jailed without charges, and the family was separated. Conditions in the ghetto were terribly overcrowded, food was scarce, and starvation was common. Fox wanted to join the Jewish ghetto police because he heard they received an extra piece of bread, but his father would not allow him to do it. 

In April 1942, Fox's father was summoned to the church building that the Kripo had confiscated for their headquarters. Located on Kościelna Street only a block or two from the Fox family's home, the large brick building—known as “the Red House” by the ghetto's inhabitants—had become infamous as a site of torture and death.7 The Kripo suspected that Fox's father had hidden money and valuables, and they demanded that he turn them over. Fox, his father, and several other members of his family were tortured by the Kripo for days. His father never recovered from the ordeal and died months later. 

When German authorities decided to destroy the ghetto and deported its last surviving inhabitants to the killing centers of Chelmno and Auschwitz-Birkenau between May and August 1944, the Fox family was selected to remain behind and help organize Jewish property in the empty ghetto. After being deported to Oranienburg and Sachsenhausen, Fox and his two older brothers managed to survive a death march together in 1945.8 The Red Cross sent them to recover in Sweden after the war ended. Fox reunited with his high school sweetheart and immigrated to the United States in 1949. 

In the featured clip, Fox vividly describes the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Kripo, and he struggles to understand how the police officers involved could have chosen to be so cruel. Although he started a family and a new life after the Holocaust, the physical and psychological scars of his experience never fully healed. Fox never felt capable of leading “a normal life,” and the wounds he received from the Kripo continued to trouble him for decades.

For more primary sources on the Łódź ghetto, see the related Experiencing History items, Diary of Irene Hauser, Family Life in the Lodz Ghetto, Forty-Two Weddings in the Lodz Ghetto, and "The Program of the Ghetto Newspaper".

For more on the Security Police, see George C. Browder, Foundations of the Nazi State: The Formation of Sipo and SD (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1990).

To learn more about daily life in the Łódź ghetto, see Gordon J. Horwitz, Ghettostadt: Łódź and the Making of a Nazi City (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008); Arnold Mostowicz, With a Yellow Star and a Red Cross: A Doctor in the Łódź Ghetto, translated by Henia and Nochem Reinhartz (London and Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 2005); Isaiah Trunk, Łódź Ghetto: A History, translated and edited by Robert Moses Shapiro; introduced by Israel Gutman (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2006).

In November 1940, Order Police Battalion 101 was assigned to guard duty around the perimeter of the Łódź ghetto. For more on Battalion 101 and the Łódź ghetto, see the related Experiencing History item, Order Police Battalion 101 Celebrates Christmas

When occupying towns and cities of conquered territories, Nazi authorities appointed Jewish councils and forced them to carry out German policies within Jewish communities. Individuals placed in these positions regularly faced impossible choices and profound moral dilemmas. Many members of the Jewish councils and Jewish ghetto police facilitated deportations to killing centers, but some also used their positions to participate in underground resistance efforts. To learn more, see Calel Perechodnik, Am I a Murderer?: Testament of a Jewish Ghetto Policeman, edited and translated by Frank Fox (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996); Samuel Schalkowsky and Samuel D. Kassow, The Clandestine History of the Kovno Jewish Ghetto Police (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2014).

The Kripo did not typically have offices within ghettos like the Gestapo did, but the Kripo in Lodz pushed to establish their presence directly within the ghetto itself. The Lodz Kripo's commanding officers were Germans from the Reich, but many of the rank and file were local ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche), some of whom spoke Yiddish as well as German and Polish. To learn more about the motivations of local ethnic Germans in the Lodz Kripo, see Winson Chu, "'Wir sind keine Deutschen nur dem Volke nach': Multiethnic Pasts and Ethnic Germans in the German Criminal Police in Lodz during the Second World War," Zeitschrift für Genozidforschung 16, no. 1 (2018): 35–56. 

The Fox family had lived within the area that became the Lodz ghetto for years, and other Jewish families moved into their home with them when the ghetto was created in 1940. 

The brothers were deported from the Lodz ghetto along with their mother, but she was separated from them when the train arrived at Ravensbrück and the women were forced out of the train cars.

Yiddish: "Guts."

German: Term for an "Ethnic German" born outside of Germany. 

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So, usually I tell my own torture that I went through once. I know that we're leaving out a lot. We're skipping a lot or we'd have to be here forever. 1942 again. I'm 19 years old. My father was summoned to the Kripo. Kripo is the acronym for Criminal Police because we were big criminals. As a matter of fact, when I was in Germany 16 months ago, about my case, and I at once opened the paper and it says Kripo, I thought I'm going to faint there sitting there because I didn't see this word since then. The Kripo was the place in the chancellory of the nicest church in the neighborhood and this church fell into the neighborhood of the Ghetto. So, there was no use for the church as a religious place, so the Germans made their warehouse out of the gorgeous church. A block big magnificent church. I'll never forget that because it was only a block, two blocks from me where I live, where I went everyday passed. They made this into a warehouse for the Schmattes, for the belongings of the poor, already worn down Jews. So, the church became a warehouse with that stinking stuff. The chancellory which was across the street turned into a torture house, and that's where we were tortured ten days, and I will describe you only the tortures. Father was called the 16th of April. See how I remember. You asked before if we had money. They went by that. They went by the status of the person, figuring that Father was a businessman, he must have hidden money and what they wanted was very simply, money, diamonds, brilliants and dollars. The list was like this. So, Father was in the day before, summoned. Now, you know when you prepared yourself to go there that you're going to be tortured and you don't know how long. So, what we did we dressed ourselves in a lot of underwear, a lot of upperwear that when they beat you, it should help. It doesn't help, but you do your best. Mother sent her husband and now she sends her sons. The next day, the 17th, we were summoned, the three of us. We had to stand like walked up three flights, stand in the little foyer, the balcony when they called down the first one, there was more people than us. First they searched us and took everything out from us, you know, because now we are legal prisoners. By coincidence a small little pencil, and I don't know why I had it there. It was there, and they didn't find it. I used it then to mark on the bunk in the cell when I came down, the dates and the day, otherwise I wouldn't even know what it is. We had to listen to the screams of the other ones so my older brother was done first. The screams were terrible. Then they threw him down the stairs like a ball, and they put him into a cell. We didn't know where he was going. Next came the other one. They took it by age, and then came me. When I came into the other room, there was a German sitting on kitty-cornered desk, and he had laying canes on the counter. The other German was sitting behind -- I am there now. He was having a breakfast. It turned my Kishkes,1 because we didn't smell an egg for two years now. And there he sits behind the typewriter consuming an egg breakfast and smells up the whole house with it. The first one behind the desk, he was the first one talking to me, he says you are the youngest so you better be the smartest. You heard what happened to the others, so if you want to be smart, talk. We didn't talk, because by then there wasn't anything to talk about. Because the answer to that is if you already went to Warsaw, the money already became worthless. That's just God forbid something happens here the dollar loses its value, everything became black marketing, and if there was anything little left, how could you give it to him. Anyway, this is only besides the point, and as I didn't talk, now this I considered the only heroic thing that I did through the war because my father and the three of us made up not to talk. So, the fact that we lasted and I didn't talk, I considered this was the only heroic thing, if anything. Anyway, with a wink of his head, he was a hunch back, you must have heard of him in your interviews. Suter was his name, a Volksdeutsch,2 called the other guy whose name was Schmitt. This guy was a real German, full Aryan, tall and blonde. Told me to lay down on the floor belly down, ass high. He showed me exactly how to do it, but he had canes hanging on the wall or on the closet side. I had to pick my cane and he started measuring out. He tells me you're going to get 50. You remember the Singapore story with Michaels. He was getting six but the President intervened for four and a hospital room was prepared for him. He said you're going to get 50 and he starts measuring out and I scream. He politely stands and talks down to me, he says, would you please not scream. I can't hear you screaming. I can't take it. Go down again. He gives it to me again, and I scream. He says, see I forgot to tell you. Bite your fingers so you wouldn't scream. I go down again, he measures out and I scream. Again, he gives me advice. He says, you know you're hurting yourself, because every time you go down again, you have to start counting from the beginning so don't scream. Go down, bite your fingers, count. How do you count while you bite your fingers? The sadism of it is what I'm trying to point out. I don't know how many I counted. I don't know how many I received. Enough to find myself in a dark alley in the chancellory on the top floor in a flood of blood. If you want to touch here you'll feel where the blood is coming out. I had them touch it in court last year. Last week it was bleeding a little bit. I said to my wife, it's bleeding. How could a nation become so murderous?

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
RG Number 50.030.0322
Date of Interview
April 13, 1994
Duration 00:07:56
Time Selection Cassette 2, 02:18:12–2:26:08
Interviewee
Solomon Fox
Interviewer
Randy M. Goldman
Language(s)
English
Reference Location
Łódź, Poland
Interview Type Oral History
How to Cite Museum Materials

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