A rare glimpse of life inside the Lodz Ghetto during the Holocaust

The Museum announced in February 2021 a gift of 48 photographs by Henryk Ross (1910–1991), which offer an extraordinarily rare glimpse of life inside Lodz Ghetto in Poland during the Holocaust. Donated to the MFA by collector Howard Greenberg, the group of gelatin silver prints was originally given directly by Ross to Lova Szmuszkowicz, later Leon Sutton (1909–2007), a fellow survivor of the Lodz Ghetto who brought them to the US when he immigrated to New York City in 1947. The prints represent a significant range of both official images, which Ross took as a photographer for the ghetto’s Department of Statistics, and the unofficial photographs he took secretly and at great personal risk, which documented the grim realities of life inside.

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See Selections from the Gift

View a selection of 15 prints from the MFA’s gift of 48 photographs by Henryk Ross.

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After Warsaw, the Lodz Ghetto was the largest of at least one thousand ghettos the Nazis established to isolate Jews within the Eastern European cities the regime occupied between 1939 and 1945. Previously a photojournalist for the Polish press, Ross was confined to the ghetto in 1940 with his wife, Stefania. Put to work by the Nazi regime, Ross was assigned to illustrate the productivity and efficiency of the ghetto and make identification cards for registered workers. At the same time, Ross secretly documented the ghetto’s deplorable and steadily deteriorating living conditions as well as the deportations of residents to extermination camps at Chelmno and Auschwitz.

When the Nazis ordered the final liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto in 1944, Ross was among a group of about 900 residents held back to clean up and gather property from empty buildings, while Sutton was among those deported to Auschwitz. It was then that Ross buried a box of his negatives in the ground. Three months after the ghetto was liberated by the Russian Red Army in January 1945, he excavated the box. The prints in the group acquired by the MFA—the first photographs by Ross to enter the Museum’s collection and among the rare few owned by a US museum—were made before 1945 and given by Ross directly to Sutton, who returned to Lodz after Auschwitz’s liberation.

Sutton’s son Paul Sutton inherited the photographs from his father and understood their importance after seeing the MFA exhibition “Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross.” Sutton contacted Greenberg, a prominent collector of photography and gallery dealer, who purchased the group and subsequently donated it to the Museum in honor of Jacques Preis, trustee of the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust.

Born in the city of Lodz, Poland, Leon Sutton was the son of a textile factory owner. After receiving the photographs from Ross and bringing them to the US, Sutton held on to them in an envelope for most of the last 75 years. The prints’ exceptional provenance allows the MFA to preserve and tell multiple stories, including that of emigration from Europe after World War II. They complement the MFA’s growing collection of photographs from World War II and join those of other Jewish photojournalists, including Robert Capa, Eva Besnyo, Roman Vishniac, and Clemens Kalisher.