Bring back some good or bad memories


October 16, 2016

Two Jewish Women Kiss Through a Fence in the Lodz Ghetto, Poland, ca. 1940s

These two women are probably family members saying their last goodbyes before one was deported to the Chełmno extermination camp. The photograph was taken by Mendel Grossman, who was murdered in the Holocaust in 1945.

History is such a beautiful and tragic thing, and the only thing that really captures the sheer reality of it are pictures like these. We can watch so many movies and read so many books, but a picture like this can capture so much more than any other media ever can. It’s not the same to look at posed pictures of historical figures like Churchill or Hitler or anybody else. When you see this, you can almost feel the commotion and desperation and even bravery in these women’s souls. You can tell that they would fight if they could, and it reminds us that they were just like us—with lovers, families, fears, and hope.

Mendel Grossman (27 June 1913 – 30 April 1945) was born in a Jewish Hasidic family as a son of Szmul Dawid Grossman and Haya. After the First World War his family settled in Lodz. In early youth he (as a child) began to draw portraits, as well as scenes from Jewish life. He started to take photographs, at first as an amateur, then as a professional. He himself colored pictures using aniline paints.

Mendel Grossman’s self-portrait.

In the 1930s he connected with the Jewish Theater in Lodz, picturing scenes of all the performed plays, as well as actors and actresses. He also knew numerous writers, poets, musicians and painters. Just before war's onset, Habima Theatre visited Lodz. Mendel was back stage, photographing the performances on his own initiative and directive. The results were the wonderfully inspired forerunner for all of his work in the ghettos and camps, Man in Motion, leading to the reverent archive of photos more aptly named as a collection, Motion Towards Death.

The Nazis put him in the Lodz Ghetto in 1939, where he found work as a photographer, making identification cards and documenting the work that his fellow inmates did in the ghetto. The Ghetto Government thought these photographs would convince the Nazis to treat them better because they were industrious. Grossman also hid a camera in his coat during the day, taking photographs of the living conditions in the ghetto. He took these photographs at great risk to his life, not only because the Gestapo suspected him, but also because of his weak heart.

Mendel Grossman with his camera in the Lodz Ghetto.

Mendel Grossman in his lab in the Lodz Ghetto.

Some of his photographs assisted people in identifying the graves of their loved ones. M. Grossman’s negatives are now the prepared documentation of the Holocaust. Grossman distributed many of his photographs; those he was unable to distribute, he tried to hide. In August 1944, shortly before the final liquidation of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto, he hid ca. 10,000 negatives showing scenes from the Ghetto. In the ghetto, he lived together with his family at 55 Marynarskiej street.

Deported to a labor camp in Koenigs Wusterhausen, he stayed there until 16 April 1945. Ill and exhausted, he was shot by Nazis during a forced death march, still holding on to his camera.



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