Thursday, January 20, 2005

Sixty three years ago today: Participants in the Wannsee conference decided on the Final Solution of the Jewish problem.

And here is something interesting - survivors of the Lodz Ghetto get a chance to see previously unpublished photos of life in that ghetto taken by Henryk Ross. Some recognize themselves or people they knew.

What I soon realized was that this collection had the potential to revolutionize the way we understand life in the Holocaust: To date it had been formed by a rather selective use of Holocaust photography and of oral and textual evidence of survivors. Survivors such as Mr. Ross had made photos available to the public that were wholly in keeping with the interpretation that Jews in the ghetto were at the mercy not only of the barbarism of the Germans but also of the Jewish ghetto administration itself. As a result, the traditional iconography depicted the members of the Jewish Council and of the Jewish police in the most unfavorable way imaginable, while depicting all other ghetto residents as passive victims.

Now, with the complete set of photos we could compare them with the photos that had been used before in publications and exhibitions and see how our image of the Holocaust has been dominated by survivor memories. What emerges from the complete set of Mr. Ross's photographs, unlike from previous oral and textual survivor testimonies and Mr. Ross's previously disseminated pictures, supports the view that all ghetto residents had to face the same kinds of dilemmas and that the contrast between the Jewish Council and "ordinary Jews" in the ghetto was not one of black and white. It is a chronicle of the breaking down and reconfiguration of competing bonds of human solidarity in the face of violence. A chronicle that makes the Nazi Holocaust even more diabolically cruel for its victims than survivors could express.

And here is the book with a selection of the photos for us all to see.