Memory & Action
Published in

Memory & Action

Rare Color Photos Show Ghetto in Different Light

Most of the photography we see from the Holocaust era is in black and white. Imagery from that period, 1933–1945, shows people in a different time, seemingly far from our own. While color film was available in the mid-1930s, it was not widely used until the 1960s and ’70s.

The color images below, taken in the Łódź ghetto, help dispel the idea that the Holocaust happened in the distant past. They remind us that it took place in a modern society not drastically unlike ours today, and atrocities could happen again if we don’t heed history’s lessons.

Jewish fire brigade, Łódź ghetto, circa 1940–44. — Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt
A worker stokes the furnace at a furniture factory’s heating plant in the Łódź ghetto, circa 1940–44. — Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt

The two photos above in the Łódź ghetto were taken by Walter Genewein, the German ghetto administration’s financial manager. They are among nearly 500 color slides in the Genewein collection from 1940–44 that document a limited part of the history of the Łódź ghetto, established in German-occupied Poland in February 1940. Though the slides capture a variety of scenes, their focus was on the businesses that supplied the German military and other customers, not on the forced laborers they relied upon or the deadly conditions under which the Jewish occupants endured or succumbed.

Taken from a perpetrator’s point of view, the collection is as notable for what it does not reveal, as for what it shows.

Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt holds the images shot by Genewein, pictured below, that came to light in 1987 in Vienna.

Walter Genewein, the German ghetto administration’s financial manager, at his desk counting money, circa 1940–44. — Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum holds 280 Genewein slides, such as the one below, that were donated by Robert Abrams. Abrams found them in the estate of an American GI, who had found them in Bremen, Germany.

This Genewein photo likely shows a deportation of Jews from the Łódź ghetto to the Chełmno killing center, April 1942. — US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Robert Abrams

Hard labor, overcrowding, and starvation were the dominant features of life in the ghetto. In total, the Nazis forced approximately 210,000 Jewish people and 5,000 Romani people into the Łódź ghetto, including about 160,000 Łódź Jews and tens of thousands of Jews deported there from outside Łódź. The Germans isolated the ghetto from the rest of German-occupied Łódź with barbed-wire fencing. Most of the quarter had neither running water nor a sewer system. Tens of thousands of innocent people died in the ghetto from starvation, disease, arbitrary violence, and privation.

German authorities began major deportations of Jews from Łódź to the Chełmno killing center in January 1942. By the end of September 1942, they had deported approximately 70,000 Jews and 4,300 Roma to their deaths.

In summer 1944, the Łódź ghetto was liquidated, and at least 72,000 people were deported to the Chełmno and Auschwitz-Birkenau killing centers.

For a contrasting, more complete view of life in the Łódź ghetto, see the black and white photos taken by Mendel Grossman (pictured below), who grew up in Łódź and was later confined in the ghetto. His work there as a photographer enabled him to secretly photograph the daily lives of ghetto inhabitants, including starving families, deportations, Zionist youth movements, executions, and the overall worsening conditions of the ghetto. Shortly before the ghetto was liquidated, Grossman and two friends hid approximately 10,000 negatives and some prints in several locations. Grossman was then sent to Königs Wusterhausen, a subcamp of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He died in 1945, likely on a death march after the Nazis evacuated the camp. Most of his immediate family had died in the ghetto of starvation and exhaustion.

Photographer Mendel Grossman in his laboratory in the Łódź ghetto. — Yad Vashem Archives 4613/278

After the war, Grossman’s friends and sister recovered the negatives and prints. Some of Grossman’s photos, such as the one below, were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2005 and 2013. Others are held by Beit Lohamei Haghetaot (Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum) and Yad Vashem.

Mendel Grossman took this picture of children in the Łódź ghetto. — US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Hana Greenbaum and Shmuel Zilbar

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store