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7 February 2011
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Right Time, Right Place

Playing as Ghetto Policeman, 1943 , Henryk Ross

Playing as Ghetto Policeman, 1943 © Archive of Modern Conflict/Chris Boot

This is Lodz in Poland, the site of an infamous Nazi ghetto. It was here that Henryk Ross along with another 164,000 Jews was incarcerated for four years until the ghetto was liquidated in 1944. But Ross was a photographer and he kept a unique record of what really happened here. The Nazis had put the running and policing of the ghetto in Jewish hands, a situation which created a system of privilege among its inhabitants. There were those who had the merest chance of survival and those who had none. Among his many duties as one of the ghetto's official photographers Ross had to document the production of goods by the inhabitants of Lodz sold to make money for their captors.

Before the liquidation of the ghetto, Ross buried all the negatives ..., hoping they might survive, even if he didn't. Amazingly, both he and the negatives did and in 1961 his most incriminating pictures helped hang war criminal Adolf Eichmann. But there were other photographs that Ross had taken that had no place in the courtroom and, until recently, no place in our image of the Holocaust. As well as his other pictures, Ross had in an unselfconscious way, photographed the everyday life of the ghetto, including marriages, religious ceremonies and parties. In these pictures we see a happy, well-fed Jewish elite and scenes that show some uncomfortable truths about the ghetto system, like a little boy dressed up like a policeman, in his own ghetto-made uniform, playing a game of 'arrest your best playmate'.

"The battle over this material partly rests in the argument that there was no joy in the ghetto and these pictures certainly do challenge that. Contrary to any thought that they might complicate the picture of German cruelty or any question about the extent about the Holocaust, they actually give a very, very clear idea of how the German war machine within that period managed the Holocaust. There's something very immediate about photography, there's something very powerful about many of these pictures. You can't look at these pictures without knowing that everyone, or almost everyone, in them was killed before the war was over." (Chris Boot, Photo-historian)

Extract from 'Right Time, Right Place', Genius of Photography (Wall to Wall)

Right Time, Right Place

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