As World War II ended, the truths of its genocidal horrors were just beginning to surface. One of the first documentary publications produced in 1946 by the Central Jewish Historical Commission (Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna, CŻKH) in Poland was a multilingual folio of photos, Extermination of Polish Jews: Album of Pictures.
It features photographs of atrocities against Jews in German-occupied Poland. As explained in an article by Gabriel N. Finder, professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Virginia, most of the album’s photos were taken by German photographers. The folio’s editor, Gerzon Taffet, used the photos to “document Nazi anti-Jewish crimes in Poland and to bring an international mass audience, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, closer to the horrors of the Nazi persecution and murder of Polish Jews. At the end of the album, however, the editor included photos taken by Jews that extol Jewish resistance.”
Making up a portion of this collection is collages created by Arie Princ (aka Ben Menachem), using documents from the Lodz ghetto and photographs by Mendel Grosman. A copy of the rare book is in the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, donated by Edgar Gaerber. He was 10 years old when his family fled L’vov, Poland (Lviv, Ukraine) during the invasion by Germany in September 1939. “The Soviet Union invaded from the east and the invaders divided the country; L’vov was in Soviet territory. In June 1941, Germany retook the region,” notes the USHMM website. “The German occupation was brutal. Thousands of Jews were murdered in pogroms by local Ukrainians. In late 1941, Ed and his family had to relocate to the ghetto. In March 1942, the Germans began mass deportations to Belzec killing center. Ed’s family got false identification papers and went into hiding, moving around to different towns. In July 1944, L’vov was liberated by the Soviet Army. In 1945, Ed and his parents moved to Łódź, Poland. The war ended when Germany surrendered on May 7. The family emigrated to Canada in 1949.”
The power of collage to combine different realities into a single cinematic portrait is vividly illustrated by these appropriately raw visual artifacts.
The excerpts shown here are from a fragile copy of the book loaned by Jeff Roth from the collection of Max Frankel. Thanks to Chana Pollak for research into the artist (uncredited) and to Ewa Satalecka for the translations.