Sunday, July 23, 2017

In Which I Am Unlike Myself

I did something this weekend that doesn't fit my usual type of preference, and since it was something I wanted to do, it got me thinking about my exceptions. (Do you have any exceptions?)

Like how I prefer happy stories and happy endings--I recently read what someone said about a book they had read (and enjoyed!), and got no farther than, "This heartbreaking and gut wrenching and gruesome story" before shaking my head and moving on--yet my favorite of Shakespeare's plays is Hamlet, where almost everyone dies in the end.

Or, well, why I read about an exhibit at the MFA of photographs from WWII, and I wanted to go.

The exhibit is called Memory Unearthed, and in case that MFA link goes dead (the exhibit is only there through the end of July), here's the heart of it:
Henryk Ross was among those confined to the ghetto in 1940 and he was put to work by the Nazi regime as a bureaucratic photographer for the Jewish Administration’s Statistics department. Ross took official photographs for Jewish identification cards, as well as images used as propaganda that promoted the ghetto’s efficiency. Unofficially—and at great risk—Ross documented the brutal realities of life under Nazi rule, culminating in the deportation of thousands to death camps at Chelmno and Auschwitz. Hoping to preserve a historical record, Ross buried his negatives in 1944. He returned for them after Lodz’s liberation, discovering that more than half of the original 6,000 survived.
You can go to the website of the Art Gallery of Ontario, which holds his collection, to learn more.

The photos were tremendously moving, showing both the ordinariness and the awful aspects of life in the ghetto. I kept looking at the people and thinking, he or she probably died before the end of the war. (According to an article I read, there were 160,320 Jews there in 1940; less than five years later, 877 remained to be liberated. These are numbers I find it hard to wrap my brain around.)

I didn't take many pictures of my own; I walked around with the tablet in hand, kind of stunned by the photos of the people, being deported, walking past ruins, starving to death. And you can see the photos much better online. But one wall really got my attention.
These were taken earlier in the war. Before things got so bad, I kind of want to say. And some of the subjects are serious, but some are smiling, hugging each other, clowning a little for the camera.
The woman who was using the mirror as a prop, the couple smiling at each other...
I think part of why I wanted to see this exhibit was that it could have been my family. If my grandfather's parents had not come over, brought him to the US, when he was young. My father could have been a teenage boy in one of these photos. It's all strange to think about.

That, and the more general feeling that you never know what's coming, do you?

In addition to the still photos and negatives, there was a very moving video in a side room, showing an interview with Ross and his wife made after he had testified at the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann. She smoking; he demonstrating how he would hide his camera under his coat, to go out and sneak photographs; answering each others' questions. Explaining how platforms had to be added to the carts that took the dead away, as the number of people who died each day grew higher and higher, and the carts couldn't handle them all.

It ended with the simple fact that after the war, he never took another photograph.


Blogger Kate P said...

Wow, what a moving exhibit. We think our world is awful now but look what happened then.

(And I am the same way about HAMLET!)

2:48 PM, July 24, 2017  

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