"Modern war tries to reduce all loyalties to one. But in real life there are many and war does not get rid of them: loyalties to family, nation, class ideology, army unit, generation, institutions, community all continue and indeed are often accentuated under pressure of war. The reality that war often brings to the fore is that these are frequently cross-cutting and sometimes competing loyalties." - Bernard Wasserstein, as quoted by Thomas Weber in `Lodz Ghetto Album'
Henryk Ross, whose photographic work has been thoughtfully compiled in this remarkable volume, knew all about competing loyalties. A Jewish Pole employed as a sportswriter, Ross was forced into the ghetto at Lodz in January 1940, where he was employed as an official photographer of the Department of Statistics by the Jewish council. There Ross had a unique opportunity to document the day-to-day suffering and deprivation, as well as the frequent horror of beatings, executions, and deportations, both by Nazi persecutors and the council-appointed Jewish ghetto police.
These horrors, so firmly ensconced in the historical understanding of ghetto life during the Holocaust, are all portrayed in `Lodz Ghetto Album,' in sobering and heartbreaking detail. Ross, who against all odds survived the war, often put his life in grave danger in order to document these moments. He is owed a debt of gratitude for his bravery in documenting, in his own words, the "martyrdom" of his people.
Less conveniently, Ross also left behind a very different sort of photographic record, essentially unseen before the publication of this book. These photographs show the other side of ghetto life, one enjoyed by the ghetto elite; Jewish council members, policemen, and other "people with more money," as Ross calls them. Scenes of birthday parties, children playing, and young romance belie Ross's position as a man suffering the same miseries as the ghetto's most vulnerable victims.
And yet, as Weber rightly points out, the undeniable fact is that almost everyone who appears in `Lodz Ghetto Album' died at the hands of the Nazis soon after their photograph was taken. A survival rate of 0.5% cannot discriminate significantly for class or social strata. That Wasserstein's "competing loyalties" not only forced the ghetto elite of Lodz to make impossible and horrible decisions, but that it only delayed their inevitable murders, is doubly tragic. We have Ross to thank for capturing this dichotomy with his camera, even as his position of trust with the elites seems to have borne negative consequences for his post-war personal life.
Weber's narrative is illuminating and thought-provoking, and is a creditable companion to Ross's extraordinary work. The only source of regret is that there is not more acknowledgement of the tens of thousands in Lodz to whom the impossible choices would never be presented, but who were immediately picked out for death.