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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Lodz Ghetto: Walter Genewein

From top to bottom, pictures by Walter Genewein, Mendel Grossman x 2 and Henryk Ross

 The Litzmannstadt Ghetto in Lodz, Poland is the subject of Dariusz Jablonski's 1998 film Fotoamator/Photographer.

The film looks at the photographs of Genewein, a German accountant, honing in on the faces of those imprisoned there. The pictures are accompanied by commentary from Arnold Mostowicz, a Jewish Doctor, together with extracts from Genewein's work and correspondence. It is a chilling film, one in which there is a constant backdrop of fear and suffering as Genewein goes about his business of capturing the banality of everyday camp life. The director's technique of zooming into the faces in the photographs amounts to a radical filmic cropping and is stunning in its simplicity and effectiveness. Genewein's pictures are often referred to as "benign", but Jablonski succeeds in making them profoundly tragic and revealing of the true nature of the ghetto - or perhaps it is just the feelings of the subjects for the photographer that we see. Unfortunately, there are few decent images up on the internet but you can see some here, at the Lodz  Ghetto website.

You can see a snippet of Fotoamator/Photographer here.

Because of its nature, the Litzmannstadt was more photographed than other ghettoes. Henryk Ross, an official Jewish photographer had his pictures gathered together in the Henryk Ross Lodz Ghetto album, while Mendel Grossman secretly photographed the Ghetto in all its brutality . You can see Mendel Grossman's Lodz Ghetto pictures here. 

Biography of Mendel Grossman here. An extract is below.

Mendel obtained a job in the photographic laboratory of the department of statistics in the ghetto, the office in which all the true information concerning the ghetto was collected. Covered by its official status, the staff of the department accumulated written material.

They did not only record dry facts, as statisticians usually do, but wrote down every rumour passing through the ghetto, every change in the distribution of food rations, every event no matter how unimportant. They also collected photographs, ostensibly to demonstrate models of products of the ghetto workshops, and identification photographs for work permits. The laboratory had a good supply of film and printing paper, and also served as an ideal camouflage for Mendel’s real job.

He spent most of his time in the streets, in the narrow alleys, in homes, in soup kitchens, in bread lines, in workshops, at the cemetery. The chief subject was people. He did not seek beauty, for there was no beauty in the ghetto, there were children bloated with hunger, eyes searching for a crust of bread, living “death notices” as those near death, but still on their feet were called in ghetto slang.

He photographed conveys of men and women condemned to death in the gas-vans of Chelmno, public executions, in one incident, a whole family passed through the street dragging a wagon filled with excrement, a father, mother, son and daughter, the parents in front pulling, and the children pushing from the sides.

Mendel stopped but did not take out his camera, he hesitated to photograph the degradation of those people. But the head of the family halted and asked Mendel to photograph, “Let it remain for the future, let others know humiliated we were.” Mendel no longer hesitated, he gave into the urge which motivated so many Jews to leave a record, to write down the events, to collect documents, to scratch a name on the wall of the prison cell, to write next to the name of the condemned the word “vengeance.”


Evan said...

Thank you for sharing - I learned a lot of the Lodz ghetto.

Unknown said...

Nice Post on the Lodz Ghetto-this year its the Centenary of "Mendel Gorossman" pls visit it on-http://youngsdreamworks.wordpress.com/a-tribute-to-mendal-grossman-on-his-centenary/

colin pantall said...

Thanks Richard - I'll look forward to seeing the pictures when they're up - do you have access to a full archive? Send me a message when you do.

Unknown said...

Yes Colin I am in touch with the "Ghetto Fighters Archive and Museuem" in Israel, will also complete a film on the life of "Mendel Grosman" by March-April 2014