The author is anonymous, but the Polish-language declaration is written on the official stationery of the Lodz Ghetto Judenrat, the Jewish administrative body. Signed at the bottom is Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, head of the Lodz Ghetto Judenrat. The document is dated May 18 and 19, 1941.
"We will form a single legion based on the example of the French Legion d'honneur and we will name it Jewish Honor. Its symbol will be a yellow ribbon, thus transforming the symbol of our shame to our new emblem of newfound pride," reads the ninth and final clause in the three-page document. The museum announced the document yesterday, International Holocaust Memorial Day.
According to the museum's director general, Simcha Stein, the handwritten document includes detailed plans for the formation of a Jewish state. Stein says it also lists the reasons such a state was needed and names the bodies responsible for its establishment. It also contains suggested sanctions for people who violate the state's basic laws.
The declaration was written on the back of papers that listed the people eligible to receive clothes and food, alongside people who were taken off that list. Being on the list could make all the difference between life and death at the Lodz Ghetto, which was the second largest ghetto after the Warsaw Ghetto for Jews and Roma in German-occupied Poland.
About 200,000 people vied for survival on the ghetto's area of four square kilometers. Some 43,500 of them died of starvation, hypothermia and disease. Anyone who approached the ghetto's walls risked being shot by the Nazi German guards.
Originally intended as a temporary gathering point for Jews, the ghetto became an industrial center of sorts, providing supplies for Nazi Germany. Its remarkable productivity allowed the ghetto to survive until August 1944.
The ghetto became the last ghetto in Poland to be liquidated when its remaining prisoners were transported to Auschwitz, along with Rumkowski and his family. They were eventually deported to Auschwitz, where they died on August 28, 1944.
"Even if we have long, aquiline noses in our promised land, even if we grow black or red beards and walk on crooked legs, we shall not be the object of ridicule and scorn," the document reads. "At last, we will live there as free men and women, and we would die in our homeland in peace. There we will receive recognition for our tremendous achievements."
The declaration, which the museum's archive manager Yossi Shavit says might have been a draft, goes on to say: "We will live there with the consent of the world at large. Our emancipation will in turn serve to emancipate the world. Our richness will enrich the world, and our
greatness will lend itself to the world. The word zyd [zhid] which was used as an insulting and humiliating term, will become a source of pride, as other people pride themselves in being called German, English or French."
Shavit says that any piece of paper in the Lodz Ghetto was a valuable possession, let alone the list that appeared on the other side of the "declaration of independence." Paper, he said, was valuable for heating, padding, insulation and shoes.
The writing style makes Shavit suspect that the author was Oskar Singer, who often wrote during his stay at the Lodz Ghetto. Some of his signed works can be found in the records of the museum, The Ghetto Fighters' House- Itzhak Katzenelson Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum.
Oskar Singer died after the ghetto was liquidated.
"This is a man of extraordinary stature and vision. I would call him a second Herzl," says Shavit. "He had to struggle to survive by then. Food was scarce, and everyone was trying to get their hands on a crumb of bread, or a piece of wood for fire to keep warm. And here this man was able to retain his humanity, create and think clearly."
Stein, the museum's director, says what impressed him most about the document was that as the Jewish people of Poland and Europe were being rounded up and murdered en masse, "there were still those who believed in the triumph of the Jewish people in their own land. Releasing this hopeful and optimistic document on the 60th year of Israel's existence carries a special significance."