Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Three Ghetto Photographers

An interesting post by Colin Pantall that references three different photographers in the Lodz Ghetto - Walter Genewein, Mendel Grossman and Henryk Ross.

(Walter Genewein)

Genewein was a German accountant working for the Nazis
and uniquely, in what remains, photographed in colour. Grossman and Ross were Jewish inhabitants of the Ghetto

There is a Polish documentary about Genewein which is quite revealing and well worth watching (part1 below).

Ross's photography documented the life and reality of the ghetto and was part official in his work as a photographer for the Jewish department of statistics and part unofficial - he hid a whole day in a shed at the railway sidings to record Jews from the ghetto being loaded onto trains for deportation to the camps. Ross recovered his photographs after the war from where he had buried them in the Ghetto and later testified with his photographs at the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem.

(Henryk Ross)

Grossman secretly photographed in the Ghetto, continuing even when he was deported to the Konigs Wusterhausen camp but he did not survive the final forced death march as the Russians approached the camp.

(Mendel Grossman)

Photographs from all three men show life and death in the Lodz Ghetto from three different perspectives including that of the Nazis.
(Ross's book Lodz Ghetto Album is widely available in libraries is especially compelling along with My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto about Grossman)

(Henryk Ross)

I am particularly intrigued by what and how Genewein's photographs show and how we may or may not regard them because of who he was - an accountant and one of the bland but essential cogs in the successful running of the ghetto as a business or industry. The pictures, while informative about the inhabitants of the ghetto, speak much more to the nature of Genewien and the Germans running the whole "project" of the Volkish expansion eastwards:

"Genewein was a skilled amateur, and his Movex 12 was confiscated from its Jewish owner. The scarce colour stock came from Agfa. Thus equipped, the accountant went into factories where hats or Wehrmacht uniforms were being made, and he stood beside the lines of Jewish children as they waited to be fed.

In much the same way as August Sander, the accountant was fascinated by the principles of visual taxonomy and social hierarchy. His subjects stand awkwardly at their workbenches, in groups or singly, glaring out of hollow eye-sockets. These anonymous Jewish workers are exhausted and helpless, and it is intolerable even to think of them being made to pose for the camera.

Genewein's self-portraits, taken in an office beside an adding machine, have the same stilted, literal quality. He is playing the role to which he believed his own status as artist entitles him. Like Hitler - who displayed a consuming interest in the precise way in which he was depicted photographically, not just at every rally, but in private, too - Genewein thinks that he represents the forces of civilisation.

And like Leni Riefenstahl's work, with the same absence of hypocrisy or misgivings, these photographs express the true nature of power. The Germans are engaged in the grand project of reclaiming Jews from their criminal, dissolute ways. The photographs are testimony to the Nazi belief in the ennobling value of labour.

Where Germans are present, as the numerous trainloads of Jews arrive, they stand slightly apart. They are the masters now, and it isn't relevant that what lies in store for their charges is not benign.There are Jewish middlemen to make the contact with the inferior race less onerous. When Himmler visits the ghetto, Genewein is at hand to record the tribute paid to him by the collaborationist Chaim Rumkowski, who ran the ghetto on behalf of the Germans. No imperial photographer would more accurately have captured the complex of emotions implied by the arrival of a proconsul in a remote outpost of Empire."... from Cold Gaze of a Nazi Camera

(Henryk Ross)

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