When Henryk Ross (1910–1991) was confined to the Lodz Ghetto in Poland in 1940, he was put to work by the Nazi regime as a bureaucratic photographer for the Jewish Administration’s Statistics department. For nearly four years, Ross used his official position as cover, endangering his own life to covertly document the lives of others. More than 160,000 Jewish people were trapped in the Lodz Ghetto—comprising the second largest Jewish ghetto population in German-occupied Europe—and thousands would be deported and murdered at Chelmno and Auschwitz. Sometimes forced to conceal his camera in his overcoat, Ross took photographs to record the horrors and complexities of life in the Lodz Ghetto and to preserve evidence of Nazi crimes. As liquidation began, Ross buried an astonishing 6,000 negatives near his home—committing to the ground, and perhaps to future generations, “some record of our tragedy.”
Henryk Ross survived, and in March of 1945, he unearthed his work with his own hands. Almost 3,000 negatives had survived the Polish winter. Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross reveals more than 200 of Ross’s photographs, supplemented by artifacts and testimony and presented in the context of Lodz Ghetto history. The exhibition offers a rare learning experience that is also an opportunity to remember and honor the victims of Nazi atrocities.
Like the survivor testimonies and artifacts in the Museum’s own collection, Ross’s photographs represent personal experiences of global significance. They ask us to acknowledge the complexity of life in the Lodz Ghetto—the suffering, the birthday parties and wedding celebrations, the violence written onto bodies, the shrinking of life to fit a constricted zone, the pain of separation from family members, and the human insistence on building relationships and maintaining a sense of “normal” life. Henryk Ross fought the Nazis’ vision. He committed acts of resistance to create a photographic record of a range of human experiences—from the perspective of a Jewish person deciding where to point his camera.
Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross is made possible with lead support by R. David Sudarsky Charitable Trust. Major support has been provided by Charina Endowment Fund; Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust; Salo W. and Jeannette M. Baron Foundation; and The Knapp Family Foundation. Memory Unearthed is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.