A buried box of photos reveals a Jewish photographer's chronicle of life in the Lodz Ghetto

When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, they created walled-off ghettos in the larger cities to concentrate and imprison the Jewish residents.

Henryk Ross worked as a news and sports photographer in the city of Lodz. Once in the city's ghetto, he was employed by the Department of Statistics to shoot identification photos and propaganda images of the factories which used Jewish slave labor to produce supplies for the German Army.

When not on the job, he documented the horrific realities of the ghetto, at tremendous personal risk. Peeking his lens through holes in walls, cracked doorways, and the folds of his overcoat, he captured scenes of starvation, disease, and executions.

27 PHOTOS
Inside the Lodz Ghetto in Nazi Germany
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Inside the Lodz Ghetto in Nazi Germany

1940

A man walking in winter in the ruins of the synagogue on Wolborska street (destroyed by Germans in 1939).

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

Sign for Jewish residential area (“Jews. Entry Forbidden”).

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

A boy walking in front of the bridge crossing Zigerska (the "Aryan") street.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

1940

Henryk Ross photographing for identification cards, Jewish Administration, Department of Statistics.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

A group of women with sacks and pails, walking past synagogue ruins heading for deportation.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

1940

A man who saved the Torah from the rubble of the synagogue on Wolborska Street.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

Portrait of a couple.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

Portrait of a couple.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

A nurse feeding children in an orphanage.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

A festive occassion.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

A performance of 'Shoemaker of Marysin' in the factory.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1942

Woman with her child (Ghetto policemen's family).

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

A wedding in the ghetto.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

1942

Children being transported to Chelmno nad Nerem (renamed Kulmhof) death camp.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

A boy searching for food.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

Young girl.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

1942

Men hauling cart for bread distribution.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

"Soup for lunch” (Group of men alongside building eating from pails).

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

A sick man on the ground.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

A scarecrow with a yellow Star of David.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

1944

A boy walks among a crowd of people being deported in winter.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944.

Deportation in winter.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

1944

A mass deportation of ghetto residents.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

Residents sorting belongings left behind after deportation.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

1944

Food pails and dishes left behind by ghetto residents who had been deported to death camps.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

c. 1940-1944

A smiling child.

(Photo by Henryk Ross, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario)

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As tens of thousands of Jews were deported from the ghetto to the death camps at Chelmno nad Nerem and Auschwitz, he kept shooting.

He also captured tiny sparks of joy — plays, concerts, celebrations, weddings — each one an act of resistance against a dehumanizing regime.

In late 1944, as the Soviets continued to push the Germans back and the Polish resistance rose up in Warsaw, it became clear that the Lodz Ghetto would soon be liquidated.

Believing that he could be deported to an extermination camp at any moment, Ross gathered 6,000 of his negatives, placed them in a tar-lined box, and buried them near his house in the hopes that someday they might be found.

The Soviet Army finally liberated what remained of the ghetto on Jan. 19, 1945. Of the more than 200,000 Jews who had passed through, just 877 remained.

Henryk Ross was one of them.

In March 1945, he returned to his house on Jagielonska Street and dug up his time capsule. Moisture had destroyed or damaged half of the negatives, but enough had survived to ensure that the stories of those who lived and died in the ghetto would not be forgotten.

His photos, now in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, are currently on exhibit in "Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross," at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston through July 30.

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