Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tragic Memories: the Jewish Cemetery of Łódź, Poland

Cmentarz Żydowski is north of downtown Łódź, near where the Jewish Ghetto was located in World War II. The cemetery has a long history. As summarized in the Jewish Łódź Cemetery web page:
The Cemetery at the Bracka Street in Lodz was established in 1892. About 160 000 people are buried there. Today the Cemetery has an area of 39,6 hectare. In more than 100 years of the history of the Cemetery many meritorious for our city and its history people like known rabbis, fabricants, physicians, politicians, social activists etc were buried at this Cemetery. Their tombstones often show high class of stone and metal craftworks. 
Also here are buried victims of one of the most tragic events in the history of the mankind - Holocaust.  On the part of the Cemetery called “Ghetto Field” some 43 000 victims from the Ghetto Lodz, who died from hunger and consumption, are buried there. On their graves seldom we can see a matzeva. To keep the memory about them, the Foundation cleaned this area in the years 2004 - 2009.  In spite of other works on the Cemetery, Ghetto Field was the most important and crucial to restore so, that the few still living descendants of the persons buried there, could put the matzeva on the graves of their love ones, and the Ghetto Field would receive the character of the military cemetery, as it in fact is.
The entrance on Bracka Street is a bit hard to find, but a GPS will direct you there. We overlapped with a holocaust remembrance event, during which two busloads to visitors rolled up soon after we arrived. A sign said, "No Photography," but the bus visitors were all using digital cameras and video equipment.
The cemetery was largely undamaged in World War II, which is unusual in Poland. And during the Communist era, it was mostly neglected. So the site today has largely returned to forest. Huge trees draped with vines cover much of the site, making it resemble the fanciful paintings of ruined classical temples being overcome by nature (known as capriccio), which were popular in the 1800s.
Many of the monuments are still upright, but thousands have fallen, the victims of tree roots or collapsing coffins beneath. Some stones have been cleaned by relatives, but many more are lichen- and mold-encrusted. But the artistic quality of the stone carving still shines through.
The cemetery goes on and on. You could spend hours exploring. In some area, volunteers have cleared underbrush within the last few years, but other areas are thickets of brush and tree saplings.

Do visit and spend some time contemplating one of the profound tragedies of the 20th century, the Holocaust.

The square photographs were taken with Kodak Tri-X 400 black and white film in a Rolleiflex 3.5E twin lens reflex camera with a 75mm f/3.5 Schneider Xenotar lens. Film development: Kodak HC-110 dilution "B", 4:45 at 68° F. The exposure range from the dark undergrowth to the sunny sky was at the limit of the Tri-X to record, and I had to modify the tone curve when I scanned the negatives with a Minolta ScanMulti medium format film scanner. I cleaned spots and lint with Pixelmator software on a Mac Mini computer.

Update March 2017:  During World War II, photographer Henryk Ross took photographers in and around the Jewish Ghetto at great risk to his life. He buried the negatives in the ground in 1944 to try to preserve them. A Washington Post article describes an exhibit of Ross's photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.

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