ISSUE 53 WINTER 2006-07

Peace Matters Index

Playtime in the Lotz ghetto.

ONLINE contents

- turn off the lights
- mince pies and missiles
- making room for peace
- in harm’s way
- positive response to conflict
- action for peace where you live
- playtime in the Lotz ghetto
- new kind of warfare

- compled issue pdf

After the German occupation of Poland in 1939 the Nazis began rounding up the country’s Jews into ghettos, before ultimately transporting them to death camps such as Auschwitz and Chemno. With a pre-war Jewish population of 223,000, which made up 34 per cent of the local population, the city of the Lodz was home to one of the most notorious ghettos, which was sealed off in May 1940.Henryk Ross a newspaper photographer in Lodz was forced to move into the city’s ghetto where he was employed by the Jewish administration’s Department of Statistics as an official Jewish ghetto photographer to produce the propaganda and identity photographs demanded by the Nazis. Ross, ‘anticipating the total destruction of Polish Jewry’, said later that he ‘wanted to leave a historical record of our martyrdom’ and began taking clandestine photographs of the harsh realities in the ghetto.

Ross continued to work for the Department of Statistics until August 1944, when news of the Red Army’s advances led the Germans to liquidate the ghetto, deporting most of its residents to Auschwitz. The photographer was one of 800 men and women left behind to perform clean-up operations, and due to be killed too. Ross managed to go into hiding until the liberation of the city in January 1945, after burying a barrel of photographic negatives in the ground.

After the war he retrieved the negatives from Poland and published a relatively small number of photographs of the Lodz ghetto atrocities. It wasn’t until 1997, when Ross’ son made some 3,000 negatives available to the Archive of Modern Conflict in London that another aspect of existence in the ghetto was revealed. For Ross had also documented the lives of the ghetto elite—the police, the Jewish Council and wealthier residents, including images of smiling groups at a reception given by the wealthier members of the ghetto, their glasses and plates full.

Such images bring to light the likely fact that, in order to protect themselves and their families from the terrible fate awaiting the majority of ghetto residents, members of the Jewish Council and other officials, including Ross himself, worked with the Germans. It seems that under such extreme duress, self preservation can make victims into desperate survivors.

European photographers in the 20th century. Barbican Art Gallery till 28 January.

The modest black wooden hut and small strip of concrete platform - through which passed more than 150,000 Jews, bound for their deaths in Auschwitz - were swept under the rug of history by the Soviets. Trains passed it, unaware of its past. It was only recentley that it was reinstated as a memorial.

Jerzy Kropiwnicki, the mayor of Lodz, presented his city with a moral dilemma two years ago, with the 60th anniversary of the end of the WW2: ‘It was a problem for many Polish people. We were not the victims and we were not the villains. 'Let the Jews do what they want with it,' many felt. I decided it was a problem for everybody. You must either lie and be silent, and then you are part of the crime, or you must tell the truth.’

Telling the truth about Radegost station had unexpected results for his city, reduced to bankruptcy after the collapse of communism. The number of visitors from Israel, Germany and Russia skyrocketed. Soonfollowed by Phillips, Gillette, Indecit, Amcor and Dell who have set up shop in a city where the workforce is five times cheaper than in Ireland.


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