24 Jul
Litzmannstadt (Lodz)-Ghetto, May 30, 1942

Posted by admin in the Ghetto Gardens archive
Clearing Rubble for a Garden, Lodz Ghetto. Archive of Modern Conflict

“Something about Horticulture in the Ghetto”
Oskar Singer

We are not writing about something like the elder’s extensive plantations, which would like to expand in Marysin. We just want to say a few lines about how the little man in the Ghetto acts, if he has had the special luck of gaining a little parcel of field or a share in a group. . .

If one has thus overcome dangerous obstacles then the horticulturalist’s path of suffering in the ghetto really begins. The provision for seeds was actually well organized. Pretty much everything to do with useful plants was on hand and the quality of seeds was relatively good.

One part of the seeds comes from the ghetto’s own production. The larger part, however, was brought in. Upon request, the economic department distributed rather promptly an amount suitable for the soil. Yet it was already very late and so many a cultivation program was messed up/thrown out. For the main part, however, it worked. There were sufficient quantities of seed potatoes, peas, beans, onions, spinach, radishes, red turnips, carrots, parsley, horseradish and various herbs.

Since it was already somewhat late, only a few experts could raise plants in their hotbeds. Early-ripening plants had to be obtained from these gardeners. Indeed, the small gardeners try to raise their plants in a free bed; one sees quite many such attempts. But the insufficient knowledge of the ghetto amateurs leads to small results. One often sees really grotesque seeds. Having a consultant’s office in the agricultural department is probably just an expression of very good will.

Two elements dominate in the negative side of this cultivating work: the miserable physical condition of the people, who do not tolerate extended heavy labor well, and the unimaginable technical difficulties. Both of these components of the way of working in the ghetto leave the low level of expertise completely in the shadows.

We are not speaking about the commercial gardeners, who work larger areas themselves and with paid labor, but about the small tenant farmers, who want to cultivate up to 500 square meters per family. These people work almost without exception in an office or in a department; these people have only their free hours available. What can fruitfully be done in this time? The people of the ghetto, who have been reduced to skin and bones, can extract only a minimum from themselves physically, even if spades and rakes were not entirely foreign to them earlier. The consequence is that only in the rarest cases is the ground thoroughly prepared. Everything is focused on the quickest completion of excess work. One sees very few tenant farmers at work in the early morning hours. What results from this? If people do not water plants in the early morning hours, the seedlings burn up. Evenings, however, these people are even more worn out, if that’s possible. One can observe very well that people do what is really necessary only with the utmost expenditure of their strength.

The second negative side is the technical one. There are almost no tools available. Just a few spades, and only sometimes can even a rake be bought. The ghetto has in this regard only a very small amount of primitive tools available. And the prices are correspondingly high. They ask 15 to 20 Marks for an old spade, the same for a rake. You have to have luck to find something, for the agricultural department does not make any tools available. Very much depends on good neighbors. For instance, a watering can is almost a luxury item.

However, this is not yet the high point of the difficulties. One needs only to imagine that in many places irrigation is an insoluble problem in general. Either there is no pump or no well in the vicinity at all or, if so, the pump is not usable, like most of those in the ghetto. The first hot days of May showed the consequences of this shortcoming. Many young and thus still very sensitive plants burned up. That is both a loss of money and time. There are cases of bitter quarrels between neighbors when a well is used too much and gives only a little water. The original owner of the parcel of land, as well as the owner of the house, naturally has to fear that the neighbor’s thirsty earth is taking the last drop of usable water away from him. The metal department cannot meet the numerous demands for repairs despite its best will. Und – horticulture…without water!

However, if it ever occurs to a gardener to lay out his hotbed himself, what kinds of problems arise? There are plenty of bricks, but where should he obtain lime or even cement in order to make the frame of the hotbed? And if that is already solved, from where should he take the frame for the glass cover, and if that is successful, how does one conjure up glass? The person outside the ghetto will never understand that the kinds of things a gardener takes for granted, which otherwise have hardly anything to do with money, were almost insoluble in the ghetto-

Just imagine that beans, peas, tomatoes are really thriving. Where does the gardener get the stakes for the climbing plants and vines? How are the beans supposed to climb up, if there are no beanpoles? The peas, how are the poor things supposed to support themselves, when there is not a dry branch far and wide that could give some twigs? And how should the good tomato become strong and fruitful, if there is no stake to support the plant?

The person in the ghetto is certainly inventive, and he always finds some old iron material somewhere to replace what can still be replaced. Where that succeeds, it is still pathetic amateurism in comparison to a halfway-equipped gardener beyond the wires.

The last little board, the last piece of picked-over wood must be saved, indeed wrung from the oven at home, for wood is also currency in the ghetto.

If yields should be recorded under these circumstances, then one must testify that the small farmers in the ghetto are great poets.