The Face of the Ghetto: A Photography Exhibit in the Osgoode Library, February 24-March 17, 2013


Pictures Taken by Jewish Photographers in the Lodz Ghetto, 1940-1944

An Exhibition at the Osgoode Hall Law School Library
Ignat Kaneff Building, York University

February 24 through March 17, 2013

During World War II, the Nazis established the second largest ghetto for Jews in the occupied Polish city of Lodz (Łódź), renamed Litzmannstadt by the German occupiers. In April 1940, more than 160,000 Jews from the Warthegau region were crowded into the Lodz ghetto which consisted of an area of 4.14 square kilometers. Later on, 20,000 Jews from the German Reich, Prague and Luxembourg were deported to Litzmannstadt. Also, more than 5,000 Roma were incarcerated there in 1941. As a result of the abominable conditions, more than 43,000 people died in the ghetto. In 1942, tens of thousands of Jews with thousands of children among them were deported and killed in the Kulmhof extermination camp. The ghetto was dissolved in August 1944, and all save a handful of the remaining inhabitants were killed in the extermination camp Auschwitz.

In those desperate times, the ghetto’s Jewish council commissioned professional Jewish photographers to document the daily life and work of the ghetto’s residents. They took pictures of children playing, working and eating and produced touching portraits as well. The pictures were intended to show a functioning community and testify to the utility of Jewish workers for the German economy. Nevertheless, the images reflect the contradictions and complexities of the desperate situation in the ghetto and show the efforts of the inhabitants to maintain their dignity and survive as long as possible. A collection of 12,000 contact prints by these Jewish photographers in the Litzmannstadt Ghetto are preserved in the Lodz State Archive.

For this exhibition, 56 prints were selected and enlarged. Quotations from survivor reports and from the chronicle of the ghetto accompany each photograph, serving as captions. The choice of these examples shows one way to treat photographs as historical sources – to examine what they conceal and to approach them with a critical eye.

The presentation of the exhibition in Toronto is sponsored by the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University; The Azrieli Foundation; and The Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Antiracism Education – Learning from the Past, Teaching for the Future; and is hosted by Osgoode Hall Law School. The exhibition is curated and provided by the Topography of Terror Foundation (Stiftung Topgraphie des Terrors), Berlin, and is supported by the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The exhibition was first shown in North America at the United Nations in New York City in January-March 2012 and then toured to several other American venues. The Toronto exhibition is its only showing in Canada.