An industrialist, Zionist activist and head of the Judenrat in the Lodz ghetto. Known as a philanthropist during the interwar period, he furnished the Jewish orphanage in Helenowek, near Lodz, for example. He was a Zionist activist in Poland, where he was that party's representative in the Lodz religious community.
After the Germans occupied Lodz, he was ordered to organize a council of elders (Judenrat), where he served as chairman until the liquidation of the ghetto in August 1944. He and his family were part of the last transport to Auschwitz. He was a controversial figure.
From an account by Adam Czerniakow:
"It is said that in Lodz, Rumkowski issued his own money, called 'Chaimki'. He is known as 'Chaim the Terrible'."
Adama Czerniakowa dziennik getta warszawskiego, edited by M. Fuks, (Warsaw, 1983), p. 146. (English translation: The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow: Prelude to Doom, [New York: Stein and Day, 1982].)
"On May 17, 1941, Rumkowski gave a report to the [Warsaw] Community about his activities in Lodz. For him, individuals do not exist. He has a Sonderkommando for matters of requisitioning. He collects diamonds and furs. There are no poor people on the streets.
People pointed out to him that 150,000 Lodz residents had escaped to Warsaw, where it was worse, that 1,000 people a month were dying in [his ghetto], that the number of births was decreasing. He answered with irritation that he had not said that it was better in Lodz. (...) Conceited and stupid. Harmful, because he convinces the authorities that things are fine in [his ghetto]." (p. 183)
From an account by E. Ringelblum:
"Rumkowski from Lodz came today, September 6. They call him 'King Chaim', a seventy-year-old man, overambitious and a bit odd. He told fantastic things about the ghetto. That there is a Jewish state there that has 400 policemen and three prisons. He has a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all kinds of other ministries."
E. Ringelblum, Pisma z getta 1939-1943, (Warsaw, 1961), Vol. 1, p. 137. (English translation: Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto: The Journal of Emmanuel Ringelblum. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958.)
Many historians have criticized Rumkowski's attitude as head of the Judenrat. They emphasize his despotism, his acquiescence vis-ŕ-vis the Germans, and his combating of the anti-fascist underground in the ghetto.
The liquidation of the ghetto took place in July 1944; approximately 7,000 people survived. Adolf Rudnicki wrote a novel about the event, titled Kupiec lodzki (The Merchant of Lodz), (Warsaw, 1963).
Anna Maria Szczepan Wojnarska