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.

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.

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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.

%shareLinks-quote="I buried my negatives in the ground in order that there should be some record of our tragedy.... I was anticipating the total destruction of Polish Jewry. I wanted to leave a historical record of our martyrdom." type="quote" author="Henryk Ross" authordesc="Photographer" isquoteoftheday="false"%

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.