Reflect and Respond
How do Henryk Ross's photographs shape how we understand the Holocaust today?
For me personally and as an educator this exhibition has allowed me to develop an understanding of the daily life in the Lodz Ghetto. I was able to create a more concrete understanding of a portion of the holocaust. By seeing these images I have been able to relate to the victims of the holocaust on an extremely personal level.
This exhibition takes the idea of the holocaust which may be abstract to some students and hard to imagine because of the clearly enormously horrific events and makes it very relatable. The students are able to see the immense struggles. However there are also images in the exhibition that show bits of beauty and how even in extreme circumstances the human spirit still have hope.
This exhibition has also made me realize how even more complex the Holocaust was then I had ever imagined. By viewing one exhibition on one ghetto with photos taken by one man in Poland we see how obviously indescribably huge all of these issues are.
Ross's photos (images) provide us with a visual record of a dark and difficult period in human history. His images of the Lodz Ghetto bring to life the words in a history textbook. The images ask us to bear witness to the lived reality and struggle of the Jewish people in the Lodz Ghetto. They provide us with a window into the complexity of daily life in the Ghetto. The images serve both as a visual record and a memorial to the people. The photos also ask us to confront, question and reflect on a difficult and dark aspect of human nature.
As students move through the exhibit, they are confronted with images that capture both the struggles and resilience of the Jewish people. They are confronted with issues of destruction, forced labour, starvation, death, genocide and the human will to overcome. Students grapple with this complexity. Students reflect on Ross's photos as an act of resistance and the importance of collective memory. The roles of photography, art and social media are considered as tools for social justice today.
Ross's photographs are a captivating documentation of life in a Jewish ghetto. We now know the residents' fates: they were deported to either the Chelmno killing centre or the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Through his lens we are privy to the full gamut of what the Lodz ghetto residents experienced: from hardship, hunger, terror and misery, to a maintaining a sense community, finding moments of joy and celebrating life's big events. An image of a young couple joyfully playing with their baby is particularly striking to me -- it reveals a universal gesture of familial love that could be in any time and place. Their fate was almost certainly doomed; and yet they were able to live completely in the moment, and let bliss transcend despair. This refusal to be dehumanized is an act of resistance, and through Ross's photographs, most taken clandestinely and at the risk of his own life, we may bear witness to life carrying on in the Lodz ghetto however it could, while it could.
As time passes, we are losing the presence of the survivors of the Holocaust. In their absence, Henryk Ross's photos provide us with tangible proof of the horrors of the Holocaust. Proof that buttresses the collective memories of us all. As humans, we are so often looking forward but we mustn't forget what has happened before. The crime of genocide is still being perpetrated across the globe, minorities are still being targeted and yet we have a trove of documentation regarding the Holocaust. With all this collective knowledge and memory of how slippery the path towards genocide is and how horrific the consequences are; we have a duty to recognize, acknowledge and work together to prevent such atrocities from occurring again. While genocide is still happening right now in various parts of the world, (https://thesentinelproject.org/), Henryk Ross's photos serve as a potent reminder of the importance of memory and documentation in the ongoing battle for worldwide social justice.
Although I have no personal ties to the Holocaust, the images from Lodz were incredibly moving and powerful. These images document the reality of life in the ghetto and act as a reminder of the power of the human spirit. This exhibit is also an important reminder that the concentration camps of the Holocaust did not exist in a vacuum. These photos are a primary source and documentation of one of the ways the Holocaust was systematically organized by the Nazi regime.
The Holocaust, as I always had been taught, has been one of the most saddening events in human history to ever occur. However, through the photographs taken by Henry Ross, not only was I further educated on what had happened during this time but also empathize with the people who had to go through terrible and misfortunate experiences. Looking at the pictures in the Henry Ross exhibit, it enabled me to have a better grasp and emotionally connect to who and what exactly I had been learning about since I was a young child.
The Holocaust is such a dark and revisited part of our cultural consciousness that I think at times we can become numb to understanding it. This exhibition has the ability to shock the viewer out of this state and allowed me access to the events of WWII and the Lodz ghetto in a new way. The photographs themselves are brutal at times and always powerful, and the story of how they were taken and buried secretly - upon pain of death by Henry Ross and his wife – ads additional solemnity to events that are barely imaginable. I think this exhibition allows the viewer to empathize and sympathize at a rare level to events that are ever present even in 2015, and that this is a very valuable experience.
How do Henryk Ross's photographs shape how we understand the Holocaust today? Share your thoughts and reflections with us below.