New Book: Lodz Ghetto Album Photographs by Henryk Ross

Photographs selected by Martin Parr and Timothy Prus
Text by Thomas Weber with a foreword by Robert-Jan van Pelt
Retail price UK£24.95/US$39.95

Historically compelling photographs of life in the Lodz ghetto in Nazi occupied Poland, 1940-1945, many previously unpublished. “In terms of its scope, all other photographic records of ghetto life pale in comparison… [these photographs] have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of ghetto life…”
– Thomas Weber, from his Introduction

“By turns poignant and deeply shocking, a unique historical document, as well as a crucial body of evidence”
– Sean O’Hagan, from his review ofthe exhibition in The Observer (July 18th 2004)

In the spring of 1940, the German forces occupying Poland drove the Jews of Lodz into the Holocaust’s second-largest and most hermetically-sealed ghetto. It functioned both as a sweatshop serving the German war effort, and a prison for Jews en route to the death camps of Chelmno and Auschwitz. Self-governed by its Council of Elders – with its own police force, currency and postage stamps – its leader was the notorious Chaim Rumkowski. He complied with Nazi orders, believing that the value of Lodz’s labour might secure survival for the majority. History proved him decisively wrong: 95% of the ghetto’s inmates perished. Those who survived starvation rations, disease and prior deportations were removed to the gas chambers of Auschwitz when the ghetto was liquidated in 1944.

Henryk Ross was a photographer employed by the ghetto’s Department of Statistics who kept a clandestine diary of ghetto life in powerful and often brilliant images. When the ghetto’s liquidation began, he buried them. A survivor, he dug them up after the war, releasing many that were to become icons of the Holocaust’s atrocities. But he released only a minority of the pictures during his lifetime. After Ross’s death in 1991, his archive – the most extensive collection of ghetto photographs by any single photographer – was acquired by the Archive of Modern Conflict in London.

This book is the first independent look at the entirety of Ross’s ghetto photographs. Many of the images are what we expect – searing documents of the machinery of the Holocaust and the suffering of its victims. But other ‘private’ photographs reveal ‘life in the ghetto, with happiness sometimes’, as Ross states in his catalogue, showing aspects of a ‘privileged’ life – lovers in the park, children’s birthday parties, bodybuilders posing for the camera. Most troubling are photographs of the milieu of the ghetto police – including parties, Rumkowski’s chief of police with his rabbits, and a plump boy dressed in a ghetto police outfit ‘playing’ at herding other children in the manner of a deportation. These photographs have never been published before, nor anything like them. Together with the ‘public’ photographs, and the knowledge that almost everyone depicted perished in the Holocaust’s gas vans and chambers, they add an unexpected, complex and poignant dimension to the photographic record of the ghetto. And they demand a reassessment of how we understand its social order.

About the selection and presentation of the photographs:
The photographs have been selected in 2003 by Martin and Parr and Timothy Prus, from the ‘Henryk Ross Collection of Lodz ghetto photography’, acquired by the Archive of Modern Conflict from Henryk Ross’s son in 1997. The selection of photographs was based on their interest and merit as photographs, rather than of any specialist historical knowledge. Photographs were selected from new contact sheets made from the surviving 3,000 negatives, many bearing the scars of damage that results from their being buried in the ghetto. No attempt has been made to enhance or repair the photographs for publication (unlike all prior reproductions of the work). Most of the remaining photographs remain unprinted.

Henryk Ross did not catalogue his negatives until 1987. The photographs selected have been captioned wherever possible with captions from this catalogue, translated from the original Polish. Where no captions exist in Ross’s catalogue but the photograph was captioned in Ross’s 1960s book The Last Journey of the Jews of Lodz, a caption from The Last Journey is quoted. Additional caption notes are by historian Thomas Weber.

The photographs have been sequenced into Public and Private sections within the book, distinguishing between those that Ross released during his lifetime for publication (in some cases, a similar photograph from the same sequence as one previously published). The Private photographs, as far as we are aware, have not been previously published.

About Henryk Ross:
Henryk Ross was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1910, becoming a sports and general press photographer first in Warsaw, then Lodz, before World War II. As a Jew, he was incarcerated in the Lodz ghetto with his wife Stefania where he became one of two official photographers, producing identity and propaganda photographs for its Department of Statistics. His duties afforded him access to film and processing facilities and he used these to create a record of the ghetto, risking his life to secretly document the deportations, hangings and other atrocities. As the liquidation of the ghetto began in 1944, he buried his archive of 3,000 negatives and other ghetto records for safekeeping. Surviving the Holocaust (as a member of the ghetto clean-up squad intact at the time the Red Army liberated Lodz), he was able to recover the archive after the war. From his post-war home in Israel, where he worked as a photographer and zincographer, he circulated images showing the horrors of Lodz, including in his 1960s book The Last Journey of the Jews of Lodz and at the trial of the Holocaust-mastermind, Adolf Eichmann. He catalogued his photographs in 1987. Ross died in Israel in 1991.

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