When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, they built walled-off ghettos in the larger cities so that they could imprison the Jewish residents.
Henryk Ross worked as a news and sports photographer in the city of Lodz. Once in the city's ghetto, he was employed by the Department of Statistics to take identification photos and propaganda images of those factories that were using Jewish slave labor to produce goods for the German Army.
When not at work, he took the time to document the horrific realities of the ghetto, at a high personal risk. Poking his lens through holes in walls, cracked doorways, and the folds of his overcoat, he managed to capture a scene of starvation, disease, and executions. However, he also managed to capture tiny sparks of joy - plays, concerts, weddings, celebrations - each one a tiny act of resistance against a dehumanizing regime.
As tens of thousands of Jews were being taken from the ghetto to death camps at Chelmno nad Nerem and Auschwitz, he continued to shoot.
In 1944, as the Soviets continued to push the Germans back and the Polish resistance rose up in Warsaw, it became very clear that the Lodz Ghetto would soon be liquidated. Believing that he could be deported to an extermination camp at any moment, Ross collected 6,000 of his negatives, placed them in a tar-lined box, and buried them near his home in the hope that they might someday be found.
The Soviet Army liberated what remained of the ghetto on January 19th, 1945. Of the more than 200,000 Jews who have passed through, only 877 remained - Ross was one of them.
In March 1945, he returned to his home and dug up the box. Moisture had unfortunately destroyed or damaged half of the negatives, but enough had survived to ensure that the stories of those who lived in the ghetto would never be forgotten.
His photos, some more of which can be seen below, are currently on exhibit in "Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross," at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston until July 30th.
1940 - A Man Who saved the Torah from the Rubble of the Synagogue on Wolborska Street