In the early years of the 20th century Bałuty, as a village bordering an intensively developing industrial city, became a place of settlement for immigrants, especially workers of weaving mills with their families. Soon Bałuty became the largest village in Europe. In 1915 the German authorities decided to incorporate it into the city, thus creating another district.
It is said that only two urban areas enjoy a specific fame and unusual atmosphere – these are Warsaw's Praga and Łódź's Bałuty. There are many legends and ballads about the people who used to live here. Many of them have survived to this day. They can be found, for example, in old songs played by Łódź workers. They told stories of people, places and even the whole epoch. Below are some of them performed by the Bigiel Banda band.
This specific climate of Bałuty resulted certainly from its multiculturalism. If we add to this the times of early capitalism, which caused enormous social stratification, we shouldn't be surprised that on the background of huge factory owners' fortunes a semi-criminal world emerged, governed by its own laws and its own code of honour.
One of the most notorious groups ruling Łódź at that time was the feared and brutal criminal group led by Menachem Bornsztajn – the king of the Łódź underworld, surrounded by loyal and disciplined helpers. At the end of the 1920s Bornsztajn (better known as Blind Maks) founded a dintojra, a court that settled disputes between Jews. It became part of the Jewish association Bratnia Pomoc – in theory a charitable organisation helping poor Jews, in reality ruled by Blind Max, who took his percentage of the dintojra's (rabbinical court's) activities with a firm hand. Menachem Bornsztajn, who was illiterate before the war (he only learned to read and write after the war) is present in culture as the protagonist of many books, such as Arnold Mostowicz's "The Ballad of Blind Maks", Adam Ochocki's "Reporter Before the Confessional", Jack Indelak's "Rats from a Bad City", and Konrad Lewandowski's "Perkal Dybbuk". In 2014, the excellent book "Blind Max. History of Al Capone of Łódź" by Remigiusz Piotrowski was published, which successfully attempts to separate the truth about the "dictator from Bałuty" from legends and myths.
One of the many important historical events that influenced the image and identity of Bałuty was the creation of a huge Jewish ghetto in the area. In order not to forget the tragic fate of the Jews, especially the children, murals of the Children of Bałuty were created in Łódź. You can find them walking around Bałuty blocks.
The New Square was laid out in 1823 as the market square of the then established clothmakers' settlement called "Nowe Miasto" (New Town), at the intersection of the Piotrków route running north-south and Średnia Street (currently Pomorska Street and Legionów Street) running east-west. The octagonal space was to become the centre of a new urban development. The shape of the square itself (a regular octagon) was unprecedented in the world. Around the square 16 plots were marked out. The first representative building was to be the seat of the municipal authorities – the town hall. However, the first building to fill one of the sixteen plots around the New Town Market Square was not the town hall, but a wooden inn which was New Town, an innkeeper – Jan Adamowski. Initially, the buildings around the marketplace developed at a slow pace. In order to revive the market and arouse the interest of potential investors, a decision was made to put up butcher's and baker's shops. The functioning of the market at the New Market Square was only ended by the arrival of the tramway line. There were frequent collisions between trams and carts and at the beginning of the 19th century the market was closed down. The second brick building that stood on the Market Square was the Holy Trinity Church. The temple, which now stands here, has nothing in common with the religious building that stood here before, apart from its location. In the years 1826-1828, based on the design of the provincial builder, Bonifacy Witkowski, a classicist-empire Lutheran church was built, in style referring to the Municipal Town Hall erected on the other side of the Piotrków Route. The subsequent tenement houses housed the first pharmacy in Łódź and the district school.
One of the best known symbols of our city is the statue of Tadeusz Kościuszko, Chief of the Armed Forces during the uprising of 1794 and a participant in the American War of Independence, unveiled in 1930. The origin of this monument is quite surprising. The First World War was still going on, and Łódź was ruled by German occupiers, when on October 17, 1917 the City Council decided at its meeting to build the monument. The council consisted of: 27 Poles, 25 Jews and 8 Germans. Despite such a multinational composition, the council decided to honour a Polish national hero. The final unveiling of the monument (designed by Mieczysław Lubelski) took place on December 24, 1930, but not on the New Square, but already on Plac Wolności (Liberty Square). The new name was given to commemorate the end of World War I.
Recently, one of the attractions of Łódź, which is open to visitors, is the Museum of the "Dętka" Canal – an underground tank running around Liberty Square. The canal was built in 1926 according to William Heerlein Lindley's project. The three hundred cubic metres of water that could be collected here was used to flush the sewage system in the city centre. The canal is 142 m long and 187 cm high. It is lined with acid-resistant brick. The quality of workmanship impresses not only visitors, but even expert masons.
Currently, a project to revitalise the site has been underway for several years in order to restore its representative function.
Russians came to Łódź only in the middle of the 19th century. The first Russian inhabitants were merchants cooperating with the local industry. At the explicit request of the factory owners, who were frightened by the workers' rebellion in 1861, the army came here as well, and with it the first Orthodox clergyman. The first place that served as an Orthodox church for 20 years was the flat of Fieldfebel Andreyev in 2 Nawrot Street. The Orthodox parish in Łódź was established only in 1884, when the St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox church was put into use.
The first Orthodox church in Łódź was probably initially to be located in the New Market Square (now Liberty Square), in the vicinity of the town hall and the Lutheran church. This location was sought by the then governor of Piotrków, Ivan Kachanow, who wanted to build it in accordance with the new law – the decree of Alexander II of 1877, which required Orthodox churches to be built in cities with a large number of Orthodox Christians, as well as in places of permanent military accommodation. However, the city authorities did not agree to this location. Another, equally prominent place was chosen, near the railway station. This was the route taken by all visitors and interested parties "coming to the promised land".
Initially, there were not enough funds for the construction of the temple. The situation changed after a failed attempt on the life of Tsar Alexander II on April 2, 1879. The Russian revolutionary Alexander Soloviev shot several times at the Tsar walking near the Winter Palace. He missed. The event was considered a miracle.
At that time, the citizens of Łódź decided to build an Orthodox church in thanksgiving for saving the Tsar. This initiative, however, did not help the Tsar much, because a few months after laying the foundation stone of the church, Alexander II died when a bomb was thrown at his carriage. The assassin was a Pole, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, a would-be graduate of the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology.
The temple faced Widzewska Street (today 56 Kilińskiego Street), near the Łódź Fabryczna railway station. The author of the concept was the urban architect Hilary Majewski, who modelled it on Russian and Byzantine buildings. The total cost of construction amounted to nearly 95 000 silver rubles. The Scheibler family were the biggest sponsors, donating nearly 25 000 roubles for the Orthodox church. Karol Scheibler's son-in-law, Edward Herbst, gave almost 10 000 roubles in cash and 5 000 in equipment. Slightly more generous than him was Juliusz Heinzel – almost 11 000 roubles and almost 7 000 in carpentry work. The biggest Jewish factory owner Izrael Poznański donated 8 000 roubles and financier Herman Konstadt 4 500. Even the architect himself, Hilary Majewski, contributed by financing the stained glass windows for 1 500 roubles.
The temple was built in the Russian-Byzantine style on the plan of a Greek cross inscribed in an octagon with alternating longer and shorter sides. The main part of the building is covered with a dome, which symbolises the blue firmament, in the facade there is a tower covered with a small onion-shaped helmet.
The cemetery in Bracka Street in Łódź was established in 1892 on land donated by I. Poznański. It is the biggest Jewish necropolis in Poland in terms of area. Over the hundred years of the cemetery's history, many meritorious people, such as rabbis, factory owners, doctors, politicians, social activists, etc., have been buried there. Their tombs are often high-class works of stonemasonry and blacksmithing.
The cemetery is dominated by matzevot, the most popular form of Jewish tombstone. It is a vertical stone slab of different heights, usually facing east, with a rectangular, triangular or arched end, and sometimes in a more original way. It is covered with an inscription in Hebrew.
Graves of more important personalities of the Jewish world were more impressive and often took the form of a sacrofagus.
In the cemetery we can also find tombstones in the form of an ohel. It is a kind of a stone or wooden "house" supported on four corners, in the middle of which a proper gravestone was located. Ohels were not richly decorated, nor were they built according to sophisticated architectural patterns. Sometimes surrounded by an iron fence, it was distinguished from other gravestones by its form, but was generally a modest building.
There are also non-traditional types of gravestones: small architectural-sculptural forms in the form of an ancient cippus, an obelisk, a column, a vase or an urn on a pedestal, the trunk of a broken or felled tree, a rock rubble, figural sculpture.
In the main avenue of the cemetery there is the mausoleum of Israel Poznanski. It is the largest Jewish tomb in Poland. The mausoleum was built according to Zeligson's design, Israel is buried there together with his wife Leonia. It is built of grey granite, on a circular plan, topped with a dome with a canopy decorated with mosaics. This mosaic, the work of the Venetian Antoni Salviati, consists of two million pieces of decorative glass. The inscription on the mausoleum reads: "And the time of Israel's death came. And the children of Israel sighed. He was the ornament of Israel and did good in Israel".
Near the mausoleum of Izrael Poznański, called "the king of cotton", there is another king buried, a man about whom legends circulate in Łódź to this day. This is the grave of Menachem Bornsztajn, better known as "Blind Max". Blind Maks was the king of the criminal world in Łódź, where he ruled with an iron fist. The whole city of Lodz trembled at the sound of his name.
In the southern part of the cemetery is the so-called "Ghetto Field". This field is the resting place of, among others, 43,527 inhabitants of the Łódź Ghetto (Litzmannstadt Ghetto) who died and were murdered between 1940 and 1944.