Museum  November 5, 2018  Caterina Bellinetti

Daily Life During the Holocaust: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross

© 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Henryk Ross, A man walks among the remains of a synagogue on Wolborska Street, destroyed by the Germans in 1939, 1940

© 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Henryk Ross, Children talking through fence of central prison on Czarnecki Street prior to deportation, 1940-1942

Offering rare and intimate portraits of life in a World War II ghetto, the photographic exhibition Memory Unearthed recently opened at the Portland Art Museum. The exhibition presents more than 100 photographs taken between 1940 and 1944 by the Warsaw-born Jewish photographer Henryk Ross (1910-1991). 

During the Second World War, Ross worked as a photo-reporter for the Judenrat, the German-imposed council that represented the Jewish community in the occupied ghetto of the city of Lodz. Lodz had the second largest ghetto in Poland after Warsaw and during the war it hosted between 160,000 to 200,000 people. As part of his duties, Ross photographed the residents of the ghetto for identification and propaganda purposes in order to show the productivity of the Jewish workers. Dreading that the Jewish community and himself would not survive the war, Ross decided to employ his photographic talent to secretly record the daily lives of the people in the ghetto and the atrocities they had to endure. His photographs captured a variety of moments: from the tragedy of deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau to festive occasions. 

Henryk Ross, Young child smiling, 1940-1944
© 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Henryk Ross, Young child smiling, 1940-1944

Henryk Ross, Children being transported to Chelmno nad Nerem (later renamed Kulmhof) death camp, 1942
© 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Henryk Ross, Children being transported to Chelmno nad Nerem (later renamed Kulmhof) death camp, 1942

Henryk Ross, Industry: workers in the textile workshop sewing, 1940-1944
© 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Henryk Ross, Industry: workers in the textile workshop sewing, 1940-1944

Henryk Ross, Ghetto police with woman behind barbed wire, 1940-1944
© 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Henryk Ross, Ghetto police with woman behind barbed wire, 1940-1944

Henryk Ross, Deportation, people walking looking at camera, small boy in center escorted by Ghetto police, 1942-1944
© 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Henryk Ross, Deportation, people walking looking at camera, small boy in center escorted by Ghetto police, 1942-1944

When in 1944, the Germans started to close the ghettos and forcefully send the remaining population to concentration camps, Ross packed his negatives in boxes and buried them near his house on Jagielonska Street. After the city was liberated by the Soviets in March 1945, Ross was able to return, unearth the negatives, and share his photographs with the world. The images presented in the exhibition are a testament to Ross’s courage, to those who lived and died in Lodz’s ghetto, and a tribute to the millions of victims of the Holocaust.

© 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario

Henryk Ross digging up his hidden box of negatives, 1945

Memory Unearthed is on view through February 24, 2019, at the Portland Art Museum. Members also receive admission to the companion exhibition The Last Journey of the Jews of Lodz at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Centre for Holocaust Education. 

About the Author

Caterina Bellinetti

Dr. Caterina Bellinetti is an art historian specialised in photography and Chinese visual propaganda and culture.