Łódź is Poland’s second largest city and a major industrial centre. It rose to prominence only from the nineteenth century onwards. It fell under Nazi occupation within a week of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and the urban population, particularly Jewish, was decimated by the end of the war. It re-established its industrial importance during the communist era.
Łódź first appears in written history in the early fourteenth century and was granted municipal status in 1423 by King Władysław Jagiełło. However, expansion was minimal and by the time the town fell under Prussian rule in 1793 it comprised only a few hundred people. Significant growth began in the early nineteenth century when customs restrictions between the Polish Kingdom and Russia were lifted and the textiles industry began to blossom.
By a government order in 1820 Łódź was designated a factory city and over the next decade the population swelled with immigrants from towns and villages throughout the region brought in to establish the textile industry in the area. Foremost among these early city patrons was Rajmund Rembielinski.
New technologies were introduced to promote the industry and the urban population virtually doubled every 10 years during the middle decades of the century, surpassing 300,000 by the end of the century. The city boundaries were suitably increased to cope with this period of urban growth. Workers’ movements also established themselves and in 1892 the Łódź Rebellion, Poland’s earliest general strike, occurred. There were further uprisings in the first decade of the twentieth century with many hundreds of people being injured or losing their lives.
The city fell under German control during World War I and lost over 40% of the population. This, accompanied by general economic downturn in the aftermath of the war and the loss of much of the Russian market, severely affected Łódź’s continued development. Made provincial capital in 1922, by 1939 the city’s population had recovered and stood at between 650–700,000.
Łódź fell to German forces in 1939 within a week of the Polish invasion. It was re-named Litzmannstadt and assigned to the newly-established Poznań District. In 1940 a Jewish ghetto was established and administered by Mordekchai Chaim Rumkowski. A Jewish elder, he encouraged the belief among the Jews that by becoming an efficient working unit for the Germans they would ensure their survival. However, his authoritarian leadership and ultimate failure to save the ghetto population has resulted in claims of collusion from some quarters.
Heinrich Himmler ordered the ghetto to be liquidated in June 1944 and of a population of over 300,000, less than 1,000 lived to see liberation. The city lost 120,000 non-Jews as well. Łódź’s post-war recovery was further hampered by the destruction and theft of industrial machinery and raw materials by retreating German forces in 1945, although most of its buildings survived. Between 1945 and 1948 Łódź was the home of Poland’s governing authorities.
Under communist rule Łódź was re-established as a major textiles and industrial centre. Growth continued chaotically in the pattern of its nineteenth century birth.
Łódź Lublinek Airport provides domestic and international services and the city is on major rail (Warsaw–Wrocław) and road routes. The urban transport network includes buses and trams. Among the city’s most important industries are chemicals, electrical engineering and textiles. It is also home to the Polish film industry.
Places of Interest
Piotrowska Street is the city’s main thoroughfare. Poznański Palace is the grandiose former home of Jewish industrialist families in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. St Joseph’s Church is the city’s oldest building, while the Jewish cemetery (with 180,000 gravestones and over 350,000 graves) is the largest in Europe. There is a history museum, a fine arts museum and a museum dedicated to film and cinematography.