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HENRYK ROSS AT THE MFA

Ghetto police escorting residents for deportation, 1942-44.


BEARING WITNESS TO TRAGEDY

Elayne Clift

I was born a Jew on March 20, 1943.
One week after 3,000 people just like me
Perished in Cracow, I began to live.
I began to live one month before
How many Jewish lives ended in Warsaw?
In Budapest? In Bergen Belsen?
But for an ocean, and other gifts of fate,
I might have been among them.

I wrote those lines after seeing the film “Schindler’s List” some years ago. I thought about them recently when I visited the powerful exhibition “Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross,” on display for the first time in America at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. My poem might well have asked how many Jewish lives ended in Lodz.

The answer is unbearable. Of the more than 160,000 people rounded up by the Nazis and sealed off from the world by barbed wire in the Lodz Ghetto of 1940 to 1945, only 877 survived. Henryk Ross and the woman he married inside the ghetto, Stefania, were among them, and that is why we can now see the photographs Henryk took, buried, and unearthed when the war ended.

Ross had been a photojournalist for the Polish press and was put to work by the Nazi regime as a photographer to take Jewish identity card pictures and to capture propaganda images showcasing the efficiency of the ghetto’s labor force. Some of these photos show workers laboring in a mattress factory and a leather factory.

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