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Photos of Gehinnom

Shlomi Gil

Mendel Grossman’s job was to photograph “thriving life” in the Lodz ghetto for the Judenrat director who preferred to ingratiate himself to the Nazis. But confronting the real story of starvation, suffering, and death, he knew he had a different mission. He didn’t survive, but with his hidden camera, he managed to document the truth for generations.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Walking at night was especially difficult. It was already April, but the lingering European winter of 1945 was brutal. Yet in endless rows, the prisoners marched on, the thin blankets — if you could call them that — doing little to ward off the frozen gusts of wind. If the cold were the only thing afflicting the miserable prisoners, they would be happy; as it was, starvation and the diseases that ravaged their weakened bodies left them little chance of survival. North of Berlin, not far from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Eliezer Greenfeld had already been marching for tens of kilometers when he thought he recognized someone he knew from his life in Lodz marching a few rows in front. He quickened his pace and caught up — he was right! It was Mendel Grossman, the legendary photographer of the Lodz ghetto. “We walked together for a while,” Greenfeld recalled this summer, 70 years after the end of World War II. “We were marching about 30 kilometers a day with rags on our feet and not much more to keep us protected from the biting cold. Anyone who couldn’t keep up the pace would be pulled out of the line and shot.” On the third day of the death march, Grossman began to collapse. “His friends dragged him along for a few hours, but in the end, the guards discovered that he wasn’t walking on his own steam, so they pulled him to the side of the road and put a bullet through him. We weren’t allowed to stall, but I knew him and so I turned around. I watched as the guards kicked him off to the side and covered him with his own blanket.”   Into the Ghetto Two months later, the war would be over. But althoughMendelGrossman didn’t survive, he left an enduring legacy, one that would testify in photographs to the horrors of ghetto life before the deportations. Who was this man in the oversized trench coat open just enough for a camera lens to peek through, as his hand clicked the shutter through a hole in the pocket?

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