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Leon Merrick: Importance of Work in the Lodz Ghetto

First Person Podcast Series

Leon Merrick's job delivering mail in the Lodz ghetto became all the more difficult over time as Nazi deportations to the extermination camps increased and he was often given the task of delivering notices for deportation.



NARRATOR: Over 60 years after the Holocaust, hatred, antisemitism, and genocide still threaten our world. The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.

This podcast series presents excerpts of interviews with Holocaust survivors from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s public program First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors.

In today's episode, Leon Merrick talks with host Bill Benson about the importance and difficulties of work in the Lodz ghetto. Leon worked in the ghetto post office until he was deported in 1944.

LEON MERRICK: Everybody had to have a job. Because if you had a job, you get an extra bowl of soup in the place of wherever you work. So my father worked in the main hospital—we had five hospitals in the ghetto. They were clinics before the war, but then the Jews came in when they formed the ghetto, so they made a hospital. And my father worked in the hospital and my mother got a job in the orphanage.

And of course later on, in a couple years or so, I wanted to get a job too. I’d seen these young fellows going around with satchels delivering mail so I told my father, “Maybe I can do…maybe I can do this.”

But later on, so for the first year and a half I had no jobs. My mother worked, and from the place of employment she got an extra bowl of soup so she can share the remaining ration with us. My father, he also worked, he also got some food.

BILL BENSON: But you, because you were not working, there was not an extra ration for you.

LEON MERRICK: No, I got normal ration.

BILL BENSON: Normal ration.

LEON MERRICK: Normal ration. But my father, he worked at the place so he…when he came home, he didn’t eat the full ration, maybe just a half a ration. And my mother did the same thing. So it was left for me and for my brother. But a year later or so, when I was 15 or 15-and-a-half, I want to do something too. I was in the ghetto, before I had a job, I was always afraid, maybe the Germans come in and they were grabbing people and putting them on the truck and taking them away outside the ghetto to work.

So I was always mindful of this and when I was walking in the ghetto I would walk between buildings. I had a plan in case I see the trucks and the Germans came out and they were grabbing people. I’m going to go into this house and go in the alleyway and go on the roof and walk out. I had a plan. But later on I got a job. I got a job at the post office. And I was delivering mail.

BILL BENSON: Leon, I was amazed when you first told me that mail was continuing to be delivered. Tell us a little bit about that.

LEON MERRICK: Yeah, okay. So in 1939, Poland was partitioned, the Germans invaded Poland and the Soviets came from the east. So Poland was divided more or less in two, you know, behind the Bug River. A lot of Jews went away to the Soviet side…inside was very hardship, you know. Okay, so as far as the mail delivery, don’t forget when the ghetto was formed, people had relatives in Europe. They had them in the Benelux countries, which means Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and Lichtenstein and all these places.

And also when the ghetto was formed, later on in 1940 they brought in a lot of Jews from Czechoslovakia. And a lot was intermarriage and some of the non-Jewish spouses decided to come into the ghetto with the spouse and some decided not to come in. But those people had relatives on the other side and they send in packages, packages and letters. So they had a functioning post office.

BILL BENSON: And how long did you continue working at the post office?

LEON MERRICK: Until 1944.

BILL BENSON: But your work at the post office would change eventually, wouldn’t it? Mail would begin to slow down.

LEON MERRICK: Yeah, the mail would slow down. So we were delivering letters to report for the transports. So it was pitiful, you know. Especially in the wintertime, I had a letter for somebody to report for a transport and I come to the certain building and I holler out a name like “Goldberg” or “Lichtenstein,” whatever his name might be.

And then I’d hear a faint voice answering behind the curtains. The people that burned the doors, so they put blankets up in front of the door. Especially in wintertime, the blanket was all frozen stiff. So anyway, I heard a faint voice behind the blanket, I knew somebody was there inside. And I made my way in and I heard cracks in the curtain, the ice goes falling down. And eventually I come inside and I don’t have any good news for them, just to report for transports. And they’re all laying in the bed, it was pitiful. You know they’re hungry in bed, and the smell.

NARRATOR: You have been listening to First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, DC. We would appreciate your feedback on this series.