Lodz ghetto photographs document horror of a genocide | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.07.2011

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Lodz ghetto photographs document horror of a genocide

An exhibition in the Nazi Documentation Center in Cologne shows photographs from Lodz - the second-largest ghetto for Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. The photographers were themselves prisoners.

Boy in ghetto

Almost no one survived the ghetto

The room is somber, and large-format photographs hang on the temporary walls: children building a snowman, women tidying living rooms, a wedding party looking happily into the camera.

Woman weaving

Ghetto residents hoped work would save them

These are images of everyday life in the Lodz Ghetto, known in German as "Ghetto Litzmannstadt."

The exhibition, on display at the Nazi Documentation Center in Cologne until September 4, marks the 70th anniversary of the start of deportations of Jews to the second largest ghetto in Poland.

Not many people knew about this photographic record until now. Many of the pictures were commissioned by the Nazis themselves as a documentation of working life in the ghetto. It was also a way for the Judenrat - the internal Jewish administration of the ghetto - to prove that the inhabitants of the ghetto were valuable workers. For this reason, a variety of production sites were photographed.

There are pictures of men at workbenches, children making tin toys and women at the sewing machines. To those who lived in the ghetto, work looked like a possible survival strategy, as military clothing authorities as well as private companies could have their goods manufactured in the ghetto. However, the hopes of most were not to be realized.

A legacy of murder

People marching into the ghetto

Many people were deported to the ghetto

Tens of thousands died from hunger, disease or as a result of violent crime in the Lodz Ghetto between 1940 and 1944.

Nearly 80,000 people were taken by the Nazis to the Chelmo extermination camp and killed there. Those who were still alive at the dissolution of the ghetto in 1944 were deported to Auschwitz.

"The vast majority of the people we see here in the photos did not survive the ghetto," said the director of the Nazi Documentation Center, Werner Jung.

Apart from the pictures of working life, there are also some documenting the crimes that took place in the ghetto. The pictures show death, executions and over-filled transport trains to the death camps.

Comprehensive collection

Workers in the ghetto

The photographs show a wide range of activities

The pictures on show come from 27 albums with more than 12,000 images that were discovered in a public museum in the city of Lodz. It is the most comprehensive portrayal that exists of a Jewish ghetto.

Names of only two of the Jewish photographers - Mendel Grosman and Henryk Ross - have been preserved. Both were photographers of some note in their home towns of Lodz and Warsaw.

Mendel Grosman was shot shortly before the capitulation of Germany in 1945.

And it was Henryk Ross himself who managed to hide his photographs until the city was taken from the Germans. He worked in Lodz as a photographer after the war and emigrated to Israel in 1956.

Author: Gudrun Stegen / rc
Editor: Toma Tasovac

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