Born  in wartime Poland, Ludwig “Lou” Ziemba is a retired successful businessman, a descendent of “Jewish royalty’” and a Holocaust survivor.

Lou’s story begins in Poland. Rabbi Menachem Ziemba was the chief rabbi of Warsaw, a renowned holy figure in the Ger sect of the Chassidic movement, and a key player in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising through his pleas that urged inhabitants to fight against their captors. 

One of Rabbi Ziemba’s nephews was Henoch, son of his brother Moshe. Henoch was a bit of a non-conformist intellectual who spoke several languages and wandered around Europe. Henoch married a woman who was not approved by his Chassidic family, perhaps a non-Jew, and thus he was no longer recognized by his large family in Warsaw.

As the Nazis rose to power, Henoch experienced both his wife and children being executed by the Nazis. Grief-stricken, Henoch returned to Poland and settled in the industrial city of Lodz, the second largest Jewish community in prewar Poland, after Warsaw.

With the outbreak of World War II and the German invasion of Poland, the life of Polish Jews deteriorated through a series of draconian laws imposed by the Nazis. In February 1940, after even more severe anti-Jewish measures were instituted, the Germans established a Jewish ghetto, initially trapping 164,000 Jews into a few city streets in a neglected northeastern section of Lodz. The widower Henoch Ziemba was one of those people.

Soon after his arrival in the Lodz Ghetto, Henoch met and married 20-year-old Golda Farber, almost two decades his junior. Golda may have been small in stature, but she was, in Lou’s words “a firecracker” and “a force of nature.” Almost immediately, Golda became pregnant. For reasons lost in the family lore, Golda turned for help to Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, who Primo Levi later wrote “morally ambiguous and self-deluded.”

To organize the local population and maintain order, the German authorities established a Judenrat,” or Jewish Council in the ghetto. The Germans appointed Rumkowski as the “kapo” of the Lodz Ghetto, whose job it was to oversee the day-to-day living as well as to decide who would live and who would die. Rumkowski was responsible for sending untold numbers to their deaths.

Known mockingly as “King Chaim”, Rumkowski was granted unprecedented powers. Rumkowski transformed the ghetto into an industrial hub for the Nazis, producing uniforms, wood and metalwork, and electric equipment. Rumkowski felt that, as long as the ghetto served a purpose by supporting the Nazi effort, the workers would avoid deportation to the gas chambers. His methods, however, were brutal: He oversaw the slave labor of anyone over 12 years old to work 12-hour days despite abysmal living conditions and near-starvation rations.

In his biography of Rumkowski, Yehuda Leib Gerst described this complex man. “Toward his fellow Jews, he was an incomparable tyrant who behaved just like a Führer and cast deathly terror to anyone who dared to oppose his lowly ways. Toward the perpetrators, however, he was as tender as a lamb and there was no limit to his base submission to all their demands, even if their purpose was to wipe us out totally.”

Furthermore, Rumkowski used his position to his own benefit. He singled out his political enemies for death and deportation to the death camps, and also deported those who had the capacity to rise up against their capturers. In contrast, those whom he favored were showered with extra provisions, medicine, rations, and safety.

For reasons lost to history, one of those receiving his benevolence was Golda Ziemba. With Rumkowski’s help, Golda was able to hide her pregnancy. A son, Ludwig, was born on September 9, 1942.

 In late summer, Rumkowski was given orders to select 24,000 for deportation. Believing that the inhabitants’ survival depended upon their employment, he made the decision to hand over their 13,000 children under ten and their 11,000 elderly over 65 years old. He addressed the parents of Łódź as follows. “In my old age, I must stretch out my hands and beg: Brothers and sisters! Hand them over to me! Fathers and mothers: Give me your children!”

Again, for unknown reasons, Rumkowski worked with the Ziembas to save their infant son. He and Golda arranged for baby Ludwig to be hidden in a garbage truck. Once outside the Ghetto, he would immediately be taken by a Polish farmer, whose family would raise him as their own in their Christian home. “It’s a miracle,” said Lou. “There were very, very few children who survived the Lodz Ghetto.”

As the war continued, conditions in the ghetto deteriorated, marked by a growing number of inhabitants being sent to the extermination camps. By summer 1944, as the Soviets came closer, the Nazis rounded up every remaining Jew they could find, including Rumkowski and his family, for mass extermination in Auschwitz’s gas chambers. Before their deaths, however, a group of Jews beat Rumkowski to death, a fitting ending for a man who many Jews regarded as bad as Hitler and his Reich.

On January 19, 1945, the Soviets liberated the Lodz Ghetto. Over the course of the previous four years, over 220,000 people passed through its gates. There were only 877 survivors, including Golda and Henoch Ziembia.

Golda and Henoch’s first stop after liberation was to reunite with their now three-year-old. son. Ludwig didn’t recognize or understand the emaciated but overjoyed strangers who spoke in Yiddish. Despite the Polish family’s reluctance to give up their “son,” his biological parents -against all odds- had returned.

Relocated to a German Displaced Persons camp, the Ziembas were soon a family of four. Lou’s sister Esther was born while Lou was away recovering from tuberculous in a German convent, where he learned his third language, German.

So, to summarize Lou’s first 8 years of life, Lou was born a Jew during a period of extermination, hidden by a resourceful mother, taught Polish by a non-Jewish Polish family, taught German by nuns in a convent, recovered from TB, and taught Yiddish and right from wrong by his parents in a German DP camp. He never had to go to school, get circumcised, or even brush his teeth the entire time.

After a five year wait, the Ziembas immigrated to New York City in 1950. By the time he was nine years old, now known as “Lou,” was working alongside his mother at her small women’s shop in the Bronx that sold undergarments. His bar mitzvah was held in 1955, thus learning yet another language—Hebrew.

When he was twenty-one, Lou opened a men’s clothing store down the street from his mother’s shop. As his business grew, in part because of Slax and Jax’s inventory of the newly popular “blue jeans,” he convinced his mother to sell her store and join him in business. They soon opened three more stores.

However, as shopping malls sprang up, Lou realized the negative effect on his businesses. He sold them and went into the home construction business.  He, his wife Maxine (“Cookie”) Noble and their two children moved to “New City,” an affluent suburb of New York City.

In 1999, the long years of his dedication to work took a toll on his marriage, and the couple divorced. Soon after, Lou met and married Beth Landa who happened to be related to his son-in-law. After the couple’s retirement in 2015, they moved to Florida, settling in Solivita, a fifty-plus active adult community in Kissimmee in 2023.

“I’m aware of how lucky I am to be alive,” Lou says. “I live every day as if I’m a blessed person. I enjoy life too much not to do that.”


Thanks to Lou Ziemba and Beth Landa for providing the interviews and information for this article. 

Cousins, Jill. “A Survivor’s Saga.” Lake Mary [Florida] Life.Winter 2017.Łódź_Ghetto

Article by Author/s
Marilyn Shapiro
Marilyn Cohen Shapiro, a resident of Kissimmee, FL, is a regular contributor to the (Capital Region NY) Jewish World and the Orlando Heritage Florida Jewish News. She is the author of two compilation of her stories, There Goes My Heart (2016) and Tikkun Olam: Stories of Repairing an Unkind World. (2018). Both books available in paperback and e-book format on Amazon. You can read more of her stories on her blog,

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