Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
The Lodz Ghetto
Introduction to the Ghettos of the Holocaust
The Lodz Ghetto
Arrest and Resettlement of the Lodz Ghetto Prison Commandant
12 March 1942
The Hercberg affair has made for one of the greatest sensations in the annals of the ghetto thus far. The “Hercbergiada” will no doubt stand out in bold relief in the history of our Ghetto. Who was Hercberg?
A tall obese man of some forty-odd years, bursting with health, splendidly dressed, he was one of the most popular figures among the leading representatives of the ghetto’s administration.
His prison commandant’s cap, adorned with thick gold braid, like the beautiful gold- embroidered armband he wore, set him apart from those around him. He was a child of the Balut neighbourhood. In this neighbourhood he had worked as a projectionist in a third rate theatre before the war.
it is said that he was initially taken on for the post of Order Service commissioner on the basis of documents he presented that showed him to have been an officer in the Polish army. The authenticity of those documents is doubtful to say the least.
In June 1940, he was arrested by the German authorities on a charge of concealing a radio. He was kept in the Radogoszcz camp for several months. After his release in the fall of 1940 he was appointed to the post of commandant of the prison here, which was at the time, in the process of being established.
After some time Hercberg’s authority increased significantly. He became chief of the Order Service precinct in Marysin and, at the same time, head of the administration of Marysin II.
In that manner Hercberg became the lord and master of Marysin, as if he were the governor of that most beautiful section of the ghetto. He was granted great powers: he had the right, for example, to hire personnel and policemen on his own.
Besides directing the prison and exercising the highest authority in Marysin. Hercberg took a lively and active part in various campaigns on the grounds of the ghetto itself. He was charged with special assignments in connection with the rounding-up of the ghetto’s undesirable elements.
And he had often personally organised and directed night raids on apartments, as well as raids that were carried out on the streets in broad daylight. He played a significant role in the execution of the resettlement action, and so on and so forth.
Thus, there is nothing surprising in the ghetto residents’ outright dismay on learning of Hercberg’s arrest. It turned out that Hercberg had been ignobly abusing the trust that the authorities had placed in him. The memorable incident took place on the night of March 12. The arrest was made by representatives of the German criminal police, causing no small sensation in the ghetto.
On the next day, Friday, March 13 Hercberg was released: after a few hours he was again brought to the German criminal police’s branch office on Koscielna Street.
The ghetto was almost immediately aware that searches had been conducted in Hercberg’s apartments, of which he possessed as many as three (at 9 Drukarska Street, on Czarniecki Street across from the Central Prison and in Marysin), and had yielded fantastic results.
As people in the ghetto put it, a regular subsection of the Department of Food Supply was discovered in his apartments. People said – and this seems to be entirely well-founded – that he had cached away the following supplies: 70 kilograms of salt bacon, sacks of flour, several dozen kilograms of sugar, candy, and marmalade (he had been in charge of a candy factory in Marysin), an array of liquors of the highest quality, a box of oranges, innumerable canned goods, a few hundred boxes of shoe polish, 40 pickled tongues, a very large stock of toilet soap and so forth.
Whole sets of clothing and linens – for example, three magnificent fur coats and nine pairs of high boots- were found in his apartment and moreover people in the ghetto maintained that more than 20 kilograms of gold in the form of various objects were found there, as well as a large amount of valuable jewellery, including some genuine stones.
Apparently the most valuable items were found concealed in loaves of bread. It is not hard to guess the source of this lurid booty…..
The raids and night searches evidently provided him with far-reaching opportunities to commit crimes that harmed not only the parties involved, but first and foremost, the populace of the ghetto for whose use the confiscated goods should have been employed.
In addition, according to rumours, which in this case, seem not to be without foundation, over half a million marks in the form of German banknotes were found at Hercberg’s. Where did these astounding sums come from?
Therein lies Hercberg most heinous crime. Out of concern for the fate of the deportees, the Chairman had endeavoured to furnish them with cash for their journey.
We should recall that, at the beginning of the resettlement campaign, each deportee was allowed to take 10 German marks with him. The discretionary fund for that noble purpose, which had literally exhausted the ghetto’s treasury of its reserves of German banknotes, had been entrusted to Hercberg.
The members of Hercberg’s family, which consisted of his wife, his three sons, and his mother in law were arrested along with him. After several days under arrest at the local branch of the German criminal police, Hercberg, his wife and his children were unexpectedly taken to the Radogoszcz train station.
That was on Tuesday, March 17, of this year. A few minutes before the train departed with the deportees, a private car containing Hercberg, his wife and sons , as well as police escorts, drove nearly right up to the train car assigned to the police escort.
The eyewitnesses say that Hercberg’s appearance left much to be desired. His head was no longer graced by his splendid cap, which had now been replaced by an ordinary cycling cap. The next day the former commandant’s mother-in-law was deported under similar conditions.
Since his deportation, there has, of course been no information about his subsequent fate, indeed no precise information has been established about the fate of any of the people who were deported from the ghetto.
The “Hercbergiada” was, however, long discussed in the ghetto, and rumour had it that, shortly after his departure, he took his own life.
Fear began to reign over the ghetto’s inhabitants the instant the news of his arrest spread through the ghetto. People were afraid that the entire population might have to atone for his guilt.
When, a few days after his deportation, the authorities ordered the resettlement suspended and then revoked the decision a few hours later, people remarked that this was the result of the Hercberg affair.
It is difficult to determine whether that rumour accords with the facts. Jakub Tintpulwer had been appointed by Hercberg as his deputy. He was arrested along with Hercberg and incontestably charged with knowing about all of his chief’s sinister machinations.
According to his death certificate, Tintpulwer died of a heart attack on March 18 of this year, in the offices of the German criminal police. Seven prison officials were arrested in connection with the Hercberg affair, they were released after being held under arrest for a few weeks.
One of them, the prison victualler, Kaminski by name died in the hospital shortly after his release.
Transports from the Lodz ghetto went to the Chelmno death camp between the period 23 February to 3 April 1942.
The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto 1941-1944 edited by Lucjan Dobroszycki published by Yale University Press New Haven and London. 1984
Chelmno Witnesses Speak edited by Lucja Pawlicka- Nowak – The District Museum in Konin
Ghetto Fighters House
Holocaust Historical Society
Copyright Felice Cohen H.E.A.R.T 2008