Rethinking Ghettoization of Jews in Poland
Researcher name:
Julia Werner (PhD candidate, Humboldt University, Germany, History)
2015-2016 Greenberg Research Fellow
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As part of her wider dissertation project on photography in occupied Poland, Julia Werner searched for photographs that documented the process of ghettoization – the movement of Jews to Polish ghettos during the Holocaust. She searched private collections, museums, and archives for photography of ghettoization and ghettos taken by non-professional or amateur photographers and ultimately found 346 photos of big and small ghettos in occupied Poland. She came to the Center to discover what testimonies reveal about ghettoization that photographs alone do not.

The movement of Jews to the ghettos has received little scholarly attention. There has been a great deal of literature about the overall Nazi strategy of ghettoization, as well as a scholarly focus on how ghettos were structured and how life within them functioned, but very little focus on the moments of transfer themselves.

The photographs omit the force and violence of the move to the ghettos, which survivors vividly describe in the testimonies, and they reproduce the perpetrators’ perspective, dehumanizing and depriving the people in the photos of their individual identities. Turning to testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive enabled Werner to bring back the voice, agency, and individuality of the ghettoized. She described herself as amazed by the number of relevant testimonies she discovered. Experiences related in the interviews help to refine the context of the photos, give a much more concrete understanding of the situation of the individuals subjected to this force, reveal the diversity of the group and of their experiences, and illuminate what is outside the frame of the photographs. An article about Werner’s research appeared on Slate following her residency.

Watch the lecture and read summary here.