Secretly Photographing the Holocaust: 44 Rare Photos Taken by a Jewish Photographer That Show Daily Life in the Lodz Ghetto During World War II

The Lódz Ghetto or Litzmannstadt Ghetto (after the Nazi German name for Lódz) was a Nazi ghetto established by the German authorities for Polish Jews and Roma following the Invasion of Poland. It was the second-largest ghetto in all of German-occupied Europe after the Warsaw Ghetto. Situated in the city of Lódz, and originally intended as a preliminary step upon a more extensive plan of creating the Judenfrei province of Warthegau, the ghetto was transformed into a major industrial centre, manufacturing war supplies for Nazi Germany and especially for the Wehrmacht. The number of people incarcerated in it was increased further by the Jews deported from Nazi-controlled territories.

On 30 April 1940, when the gates closed on the ghetto, it housed 163,777 residents. Because of its remarkable productivity, the ghetto managed to survive until August 1944. In the first two years, it absorbed almost 20,000 Jews from liquidated ghettos in nearby Polish towns and villages, as well as 20,000 more from the rest of German-occupied Europe. After the wave of deportations to Chelmno extermination camp beginning in early 1942, and in spite of a stark reversal of fortune, the Germans persisted in eradicating the ghetto: they transported the remaining population to Auschwitz and Chelmno extermination camps, where most were murdered upon arrival. It was the last ghetto in occupied Poland to be liquidated. A total of 210,000 Jews passed through it; but only 877 remained hidden when the Soviets arrived. About 10,000 Jewish residents of Lódz, who used to live there before the invasion of Poland, survived the Holocaust elsewhere. (Wikipedia)

Mendel Grossman was born in Staszów, Poland on 27 June 1913. After the occupation of Poland by the German Army in September 1939, he joined the underground in the town.

Forced to live in the Lodz ghetto he used his position in the statistics department to obtain the material needed to take photographs. By hiding his camera in his raincoat, Grossman was able to take secret photographs of scenes in the ghetto. He took these photographs at great risk to his life, not only because the Gestapo suspected him, but also because of his weak heart. Some of his photographs assisted people in identifying the graves of their loved ones.

Mendel Grossman’s negatives are now the prepared documentation of the Holocaust. Grossman distributed many of his photographs; those he was unable to distribute, he tried to hide. In August 1944, shortly before the final liquidation of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto, he hid ca. 10,000 negatives showing scenes from the Ghetto. In the ghetto, he lived together with his family at 55 Marynarskiej street.

Mendel Grossman, the ghetto photographer, with a friend.
Mendel Grossman taking photographs in the ghetto.
The photographer Mendel Grossman in his laboratory.

Grossman continued to take photographs after he was deported to the Konigs Wusterhausen labor camp. He stayed there until 16 April 1945. On 30 April 1945, he was shot by Nazis during a forced death march, still holding on to his camera.

After the war his hidden negatives were discovered. Grossman’s sister found some of his hidden photographs and took them to Israel, but they were mostly lost in the Israeli war of Independence. Other photos taken by Grossman were found by one of his friends, Nachman (Natek) Zonabend; these photographs are now located in the Museum of Holocaust and Resistance at the Ghetto Fighters House in Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot, Israel, as well as Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

“Scheisskommando” workers pulling a cart of sewage.
A group of youngsters in the ghetto, one of whom has a Jewish Badge on his back.
People waiting in line for food in the ghetto.
Mendel Grossman’s brother-in-law.
A crossing between two parts of the ghetto, 1941.
Children playing in a ghetto street, 1940.
A children’s play in the ghetto.
Young people in the ghetto.
A street gathering in the ghetto.
Jews from the privileged class of the ghetto in a carriage.
Food distribution department workers delivering milk to the depot.
A ceremony with the participation of young Jews in the ghetto.
A convention of the “Zionist Youth Front”, summer of 1943.
Transporting sacks of goods on a cart in the ghetto.
Young women from the “Front of the Wilderness Generation” group, 1941.
A group of young women.
Deportation of Jews.
A group of young people in the ghetto.
Workers in a shoe factory.
Jews being deported with the cooperation of the Jewish police.
Young Jews.
Yankel Hershkovitz, the street singer, appearing before an audience.
A march by members of a youth group in the ghetto.
Jews leaving their relatives before their deportation.
Workers at Ghetto Bakery No. 3, 09/11/1941.
Jews walking by the Jewish cemetery.
A “Front of the Wilderness Generation” march, summer of 1940.
A Jewish policeman checking the identity cards of those Jews about to be deported.
Jews from the privileged class of the ghetto in a carriage.
A child searching for edible roots in the ground, 1940.
Sorting clothing in the Judenrat warehouse.
Boys bringing bread through the ghetto streets.
Storing the property of the deported people.
Children receiving medications in the ghetto pharmacy.
A group from the ghetto aristocracy, at the center – Shoshana Grossman.
The “Scheisskommando” in the ghetto.
Women dragging a cart outside the ghetto.
Jews during a food break in a field by the ghetto.
Transporting supplies on a wagon in the ghetto.
Stella Rein, a teacher in a children’s home with children from one of her classes, 1942.

(Photos via Yad Vashem archives)

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