In 1939 the Polish city of Lodz was designated part of the Third Reich by the invading Nazis. The Polish language (and population) was suppressed, the street names changed to German, and the city itself renamed Litzmannstadt, after a German general killed in World War I. A center of Jewish life since the late 18 th century, Lodz had become known in the 19th century as the Polish Manchester, home of a large textile industry developed chiefly by its Jews. In 1940, the Jews of Lodz, who made up about one-third of its population, were forced into a tiny, run-down section of the city surrounded by guards and barbed wire, deprived of property and assets, of their rights as citizens, even of mail, newspapers, and radios.
Into this overcrowded ghetto, the Germans sent Jews from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, the Baltic states, Russia, and other parts of Poland. There, in a state of nightmarish limbo, both they and the native Jews of Lodz awaited an uncertain future which in many cases included ''resettlement'' outside the ghetto, a vague phrase used by the German authorities to obscure their true destination - the death camp at Chelmno. Conditions within the ghetto were sufficiently disturbing, however, that many people looked forward to ''resettlement in the country,'' where, they mistakenly believed, they would be employed doing agricultural work along with the peasants.
In the ghetto, those able to work were employed at near-starvation wages, mainly in the production of uniforms for the German Army. Most of those considered unfit for labor were immediately sent off to their death.
Yet to its inhabitants, the Lodz ghetto still retained some semblance, however grotesquely diminished, of a city neighborhood. Among the services the ghetto provided - or tried to provide - were schools, concerts, hospitals, and soup kitchens.
It was run from within by M. C. Rumkowski, an unsuccessful Lodz businessman who had formerly been active in Jewish community affairs and who was now designated ''Eldest of the Jews'' by the officials of the Third Reich. Rumkowski was responsible for keeping the ghetto population peaceful and cooperative. Many who lived under his regime believed him all too happy to play the role of petty tyrant.
Under his administration, the ghetto maintained its own archives, the existence of which was known to the German authorities. Many of the archives' activities, however, were semi-clandestine, including the production of the Chronicle, a daily record of ghetto life. The Chronicle was a group effort very different from the direct, uncensored outcries of individuals like Anne Frank who felt an inner compulsion to write down what was happening. But, like those individual efforts, it was an act of desperate faith written in the hope of finding a readership in posterity.
The Chronicle was a kind of newspaper without any circulation. (Ghetto inhabitants were forbidden to read newspapers of any sort.) Its authors, who had been writers, journalists, scholars, editors, and publicists, had to exercise a certain degree of self-censorship, confining themselves by and large to a low-key, ''objective'' recording of daily events. Word on food shortages, illness, shootings by police, and a steady stream of suicides is interspersed with grim anecdotes called ''sketches of ghetto life.'' All of this forms the background to the far more terrifying roundups and deportations: Vast numbers of people are being ''resettled'' and no one in the ghetto knows why.
This English edition of the Chronicle is an abridgment one-fourth of the length of the original. The first two volumes of the projected five-volume unabridged edition were published in Poland in 1965-66. The remaining volumes were banned by the Polish government, part of a mounting campaign of anti-Semitism and pressure on academic institutions that began in the late '60s. Dr. Dobroszycki, a native of Lodz who was himself incarcerated in the ghetto and deported to Auschwitz, emigrated to the United States in 1970, unable to complete his work in his native country.
''The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto'' is, first and foremost, an important historical document, filled with names, dates, statistics, and eyewitness accounts of existence within this area, which was deliberately sealed off from the rest of the world. For the general reader, to open to any of its 551 pages - the written reports and stories or the 74 black and white photographs - is to be caught up in a relentless nightmare all the more unfathomable because it seems to be taking place in the cold clear light of common day and set down in simple, logical language.
In its continued effort to extract some semblance of normality, order, common sense, and value from circumstances that defied rationality as well as humanity, ''Chronicle'' recalls the bravely assiduous, fruitless enterprises of Kafka's ill-starred heroes.
''... the decentralization of our ghetto by ... mass resettlement remains, to this day (Aug. 30, 1942), unexplained.... This constant movement of population ... has a very negative effect not only on people's frame of mind (which, at the present time, is not even taken into account!), but has a dramatic impact on production of the workshops....''
While the ghetto inhabitants can understand why the Nazis have appropriated their belongings and forced them to work for a pittance, while they have even come to expect, if not to approve, the harshness and brutality of the police state, they cannot understand why the Nazis would do things that undermine stability in the ghetto, which, after all, supplies the German Army. It was difficult for the Jews of Lodz to realize that in this case evil was not only the means to an end, but the end in itself.