Memoria [EN] No 42 (03/2021) - Page 4

Historical diorama

from litzmannstadt Ghetto

The personal items of Holocaust victims are unique testimonies of the period of the crime. They should be regarded as “depositories of memory” – bearing witness to their owners' fate or the times in which they were created/functioned.  They should be considered “depositories of memory” – testifying to their owners' fate or the period they were created or operated. These include, among other things, objects created in ghettos and concentration camps as substitutes for what was taken from the prisoners (a variety of jewellery was created in the Lodz ghetto – brooches, rings, cigarette cases, as well as toys such as castanets). Works that are unique in both historical and formal terms and that can be regarded as works of art – paintings, sculptures and puppets – have survived to the present day.

One of such creations is a diorama created in the Litzmannstadt Ghetto.

The model, measuring 36 x 110 x 34 cm, portrays a genre scene. In the foreground are figures forming three compact groups: four men around a sleigh, nine people riding on a horse-drawn cart and striding alongside, and twelve people walking around a man-drawn cart with an older man lying on it. One person breaks out of the three groups presented above – it is a female figure with an umbrella looking in the opposite direction, standing in a courtyard separated from the foreground by a dilapidated wall. The background is made up of low-rise single-storey or wooden buildings, creating a typical suburban landscape. The overwhelming snow, melting mud indicate that the depicted scene is set in late winter. 

We do not know the exact date the model was created. However, it is beyond doubt that it was created in the Łódź Ghetto. Its author also remains anonymous – no signature has been found on the object. The materials used in its creation: plywood, hardboard, wood, metal sheet, and above all oil and tempera paints, indicate its creator's access to concessionary and scarcely accessible materials in the ghetto. They were distributed solely among the employees of the Jewish ghetto administration – employed, among others, in the Statistics and Science Departments. The creator of the model was likely involved in the activities of the latter. The Faculty of Science was established in May 1942 at the behest of the German authorities. Rabbi Emanuel Hirszberg was appointed its head. The German Ghetto Board commissioned the unit to prepare a museum presenting the life of Eastern European Jews. The exhibits gathered in the premises intended for the museum at 25 Łagiewnicka Street were to constitute a travelling exhibition used by the Nazis for propaganda purposes – illustrating Jewish folklore. A group of prominent Łódź artists incarcerated in the ghetto were recruited to work in the Department: Henryk Szylis, Icchak (Vincent) Brauner and Israel Lejzerowicz. As part of the creation of the museum's collection in the ghetto site, several volumes of books were collected, religious objects acquired, and genre scenes were created using specially prepared puppets – “Hasidic wedding in Poland”, “Friday evening in a town in Volhynia”, “Lighting of candles in a Jewish home”, “Monday in bejt ha-midrash”, “A scene from everyday life in the Litzmannstadt ghetto”. Oskar Rosenfeld devoted a fragment to them in the Encyclopaedia he compiled in the ghetto: “The scenes mostly convey a grotesque impression, mainly because of the exaggerated realism. They profoundly lack the beauty and intimacy of traditional Eastern European Jewish life.

Andrzej Grzegorczyk

Museum of Independence Traditions in Łódź, Radegast Station Branch


Adam Sitarek

The University of Łódź, Centre for Jewish Research