Rosenfeld, Oskar 1884-1944

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ROSENFELD, Oskar 1884-1944


Born May 13, 1884, in Korycany, Moravia (now Czech Republic); died August, 1944, in Oświęcim (Auschwitz), Poland. Religion: Jewish.


Novelist, playwright, and journalist. Cofounder of Jewish Stage theater, Vienna, Austria; editor of Zionist publication Wiener Morgenzeitung and weekly publication Die neue Welt; correspondent for London Jewish Chronicle in Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1938-41; imprisoned by Nazi at Lódź, Poland, 1941; served in Statistical Office for Jewish ghetto at Lódź, 1942-44.


Wozu noch Welt: Aufzeichnungen aus dem Getto Lódź, edited by Hanno Loewy, Neue Kritik (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 1994, translation by Brigitte M. Goldstein published as In the Beginning Was the Ghetto: Notebooks from Lódź, edited and with an introduction by Hanno Loewy, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2002.


Austrian novelist, journalist, and playwright Oskar Rosenfeld was born in Moravia but lived for much of his life in Vienna, Austria, where he helped to found the Jewish Stage theater and wrote for Zionist publications. Following the Nazi Anschluss, he fled to Prague, Czechoslovakia, and worked as a correspondent for the British Jewish Chronicle. After the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, Rosenfeld was imprisoned with some five thousand others in the Jewish ghetto at Lódź, Poland. There, he was enlisted to serve in the statistics bureau for the ghetto, where he recorded deaths, police reports, food rations, and official Nazi decrees.

While at Lódź, Rosenfeld also kept his own secret diaries, telling the true horrors of Nazi imprisonment, in sharp contrast to his statistical reports. His story is one of unbelievable human misery, suffering, and humiliation. The pages recall the devastation of hunger and filth on the more than 100,000 people of the ghetto, as well as illness, insanity, and suicide and rumors of mass deaths in other Holocaust camps.

They also tell of the Jews' attempt to make the ghetto economically viable to the Germans by working around the clock in small textile and clothing factories for poverty wages. And Rosenfeld tells of the vestiges of hope, culture, and humor that remained in the ghetto, in the form of daily worship, the collection of books for a library, performance of concerts and plays, and even the creation of Yiddish jokes about the Jews' doomed condition.

Rosenfeld's twenty-one notebooks from 890 days at Lódź were found buried after the ghetto was freed from Nazi control. Rosenfeld, along with some eighty thousand others still remaining in the ghetto, was transported to the Nazi prison camp at Auschwitz in 1944, where he was put to death.

In the Beginning Was the Ghetto is the collection of Rosenfeld's notebooks, edited by Hanno Loewy and translated by Brigitte M. Goldstein. First published in German in 1994, the book gives insight into the author's thoughts and feelings about the inconceivable circumstances into which he and his fellow Jews had been placed. He writes, "We must preserve our nerves, avoid anything that might weaken the organism. For we have only one goal before us: to outlast the crisis and to live. We must live and see the moment when we can say: it was all worthwhile, having endured all the hardship and suffering." He wrote of the rounding up of Jews for imprisonment, "Families were destroyed, marriages smashed, friends torn apart, … everything that had been gathered and carefully guarded in the course of centuries with diligence and love and devotion was shattered by a kick of the foot."

In a review of the book for the Washington Times, Sol Schindler wrote, "This is not an easy book to read.… It taxes the reader. It is not a cheerful book to talk about. But we should be grateful that it exists." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews called the book an "utterly unsentimental, open-eyed, harrowing portrait of ghetto life during the Holocaust." George Cohen, of Booklist, concluded that the volume is "one of the most important and lasting works documenting the horrors of the Holocaust."



Booklist, October 1, 2002, George Cohen, review of In the Beginning Was the Ghetto, p. 298.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of In the Beginning Was the Ghetto, p. 1371.

Washington Times, November 10, 2002, Sol Schindler, "Life before Ghetto Was Destroyed."


Northwestern University Press Web site, (May 6, 2003).

Time Online, (October 3, 2002), review of In the Beginning Was the Ghetto.*

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Rosenfeld, Oskar 1884-1944

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