Before 1939, Henryk Ross had been a news and sports photographer in his hometown of Łódź, Poland. Though he could never have known it prior to the Holocaust, that skill allowed him to both survive Nazi occupation and document some of its most egregious crimes.
Used to take identity photographs and propaganda for the Nazis, Henryk managed to stay useful—and alive. By 1944, however, he’d secretly taken enough photos of the reality of the Nazis’ atrocities that he felt he had to hide them. And so he did.
A year after, following liberation, he returned to his hiding spot and dug them up. Now, over 70 years later, those photos remain some of history’s most revealing documents.
1. 1940-1944: A portrait of a couple in the Łódź Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland; taken by photographer Henryk Ross. Many of the photos that Henryk dug up were damaged by water during their time in hiding.
2. 1940: A man walks while carrying a Torah that he managed to save from the rubble of the destroyed synagogue on Wolborska Street. It’s unknown what became of it after this was taken.
3. 1940-1944: A very young boy carefully sifts through the dirt looking for food, placing anything he finds, like potatoes, into a small tin sometime during the Nazi occupation.
4. 1940: In the cold of winter, a man trudges solemnly through the remaining rubble of the synagogue on Wolborska Street, which was destroyed by the Nazis a year prior.
5. 1944: Food pails, baskets, dishes, and pots all tragically left behind by ghetto residents who had been deported to death camps prior to the liberation of Poland a year later.
6. 1940-1944: A badly water-damaged photograph of a little girl smiling and trying to be happy, despite the circumstances surrounding the shot. The deterioration actually adds to the eerie nature of the photo.
7. 1940-1942: A photograph of a woman and her young baby; possibly the family of a ghetto policeman. Hopefully, each one of them made it out, though that likely wasn’t the case.
8. 1945: Henryk is seen with a group of friends as they return to the site where he buried the photo negatives and documents inside the Łódź Ghetto a year prior.
9. 1940-1944: A young girl prepares to pose for a portrait. Notice the star she was forced to wear inside the ghetto. There was no age that was too young to be subjected to the Nazis’ dehumanization and cruelty.
10. 1940-1944: A sign stands at the entrance to the Jewish ghetto. It reads, “Jewish neighborhood. Entering is forbidden.” Likely, the Nazis didn’t want outsiders seeing what was happening inside.
11. 1940-1942: Boys and girls meet on either side of a fence located at the Łódź Ghetto Prison on Czarnecki Street, which was known as a rallying point before deportation to the camps.
12. 1940-1944: A marriage was held inside the Łódź Ghetto. It is unknown what ultimately happened to the couple, but at least their union offered a small solace as they continued to enjoy their lives even in the most horrendous conditions.
13. 1940-1944: Several men and women pack up their meager belongings and march toward deportation on a harsh and snowy winter morning in Poland.
14. 1942: A truck full of young children is transported to the deportation point. Tragically, they were to be taken to the Chelmno Nad Nerem (Renamed Kulmhof) Death Camp.
15. 1940: Henryk is seen here taking photographs in his position as the identity photographer in the ghetto. This was for identification cars with the Department of Statistics.
16. 1940-1944: A group of men and women sift through the rubble by the ruins of the synagogue on Wolborska Street, searching for any signs of life that may have survived its destruction.
17. 1940-1944: A small group of Jewish women walk past the ruins of the Wolborska synagogue, carrying the few items they still own, as they prepare to be deported.
18. 1940-1944: Skulls and bones on the ground inside the Łódź Ghetto. It’s not known whether this was taken on the street or just outside town, but it’s a haunting image all the same.
19. 1940-1944: A nurse works to feed several children at an orphanage. It is likely that every one of the children there lost their parents to the Nazi occupation and to the deportations.
20. 1940-1944: A tattered jacket marked with the yellow Star of David is used as a scarecrow. The empty item of clothing seems to be a stark symbol of the loss experienced there.
21. 1940-1944: Several infants sleep beside one another on a floor mat, most likely located inside the hospital nursery. It’s truly a hauntingly sad image to have to capture.
22. 1944: A photograph shows the moment that many of those held inside the ghetto were deported en masse. This took place toward the end of World War II.
23. 1940-1944: Three young Jewish people remove a drum of the ghetto’s feces created by the workers. Even doing this disgusting work, they manage to smile for the photos.
24. 1940-1944: A teenage boy walking in front of the bridge crossing at Zgierska (“Aryan”) Street. The degree of separation for the Jewish people in the ghetto and those non-Jews outside of it is remarkable.
25. 1940-1944: Two young women solemnly observe the bridge crossing at Plac Kościelny (Church Square), near Zgierska Street. It’s hard to imagine what they must be thinking.
26. 1940-1944: Actors perform a joyous rendition of the “Shoemaker of Marysin” inside the factory in the ghetto as they try to raise the spirits of their audience.
27. 1940-1944: A corpse, wrapped up in cloth, is transported out of the ghetto. The name of the deceased in unknown, and he or she was likely one of many to have been removed in a similar fashion.
28. 1940-1944: The hauntingly empty gray streets of the Łódź Ghetto. If it looks like a ghost town, the reason is that, in many ways, that’s what it had become by 1944.
Those photos are truly a tragic reminder of some of the Holocaust’s most horrible moments. Hopefully, Henryk’s photos continue to show the world what happened.
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