Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross

Dr. Bursztajn has a longstanding interest in the clinical and forensic neuropsychiatric understanding of the intergenerational transmission of memories of trauma and resilience, he was interviewed on WBUR and Chronicle on WCVB-TV about the exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts of the Henryk Ross photographs of the Lodz Ghetto during the Shoah, 1939-1945.

Dr. Bursztajn's contributions to the MFA Lodz Ghetto photography exhibition include a Gallery talk: Trauma, Resilience, Resistance, Photography, and the Memory of the Shoah. The talk explores how in the face of oppression and the Nazi program to use Jews as slave labor and to humiliate and destroy them via mass murder, the dignity, love, resistance, and resilience of the Ghetto's inhabitants is nonetheless beautifully preserved and portrayed by Henryk Ross’s photographs. These include photographs of the Fekalists such as his own parents, Abraham and Miriam Bursztajn, who were able to find and love each other in the shadows of the Ghetto’s rhythm of slave labor, exhaustion, and starvation as a way station to the Nazi mass murder and extermination of its Jewish and Roma inmates. The Bursztajns’ joint efforts in the resistance, which included preserving sanitary conditions to prevent an epidemic of typhoid which would have resulted in the early liquidation of the Ghetto and its inhabitants, and eventually building a bunker hidden in an underground river, resonate with the joint efforts by Henryk Ross and his wife Stefania to prevent the eradication of all memory of the Ghetto’s inhabitants. This exhibition crosses the boundary between photographer and subject, between rigid class and gender roles, and between photojournalism and art.

As art this exhibition serves in the tradition of Rembrandt, Goya, and Hyman Bloom, who were able to depict the vital rhythms of life even in the midst of the entropy of encroaching death. The work of Ross and the Fekalists each served as resistance to the planned demoralization and destruction of what was before World War II a vibrant multicultural community. It takes courage to hope that after Auschwitz poetry or any art is possible. The last room in the exhibition, a “coda,” meaningfully links the images in the preceding rooms to those of resistance to other attempts at humiliation, cultural destruction, and mass murder of communities, including the Balkan "ethnic cleansings" and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The Ross photography exhibition reminds us that art is not only possible, but also necessary if the love and creativity that allow for life with dignity against all odds are to be nourished, and if memories not only of trauma, but also of resilience are to be widely transmitted in the face of the urge to compartmentalize time and ghettoize what we can continue to learn from the Shoah about community, love, memory, and art.

Bursztajns at Tombstone Harold's Mom

Left: A photograph taken in 1945 of Miriam Briks Bursztajn and Abraham Bursztajn shortly after the liberation of the Lodz Ghetto at the restoration of the gravestone for her mother. Right: In this photo, taken in 1944, Miriam appears 3rd from the right in the first row along with some of the other Lodz Fekalists who served to provide sanitation and resistance in the Lodz Ghetto.