Previously unpublished photographs of the Nazis brutally suppressing the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Revolt were released by POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
Captured in secret by a Polish firefighter while German forces set the Jewish ghetto ablaze, the images were recently discovered by the photographer’s son in a family member’s attic.
“The image of these people being dragged out of [the bunkers] will stay with me for the rest of my life,” wrote Zbigniew Leszek Grzywaczewski of the photos he took as a 23-year-old firefighter.
The uprising, the largest act of resistance of Jews against the Nazi regime during the Holocaust, took place April 19 (Passover eve) through May 16, 1943. While 50,000 “civilian” Jews hid in bunkers, Jewish fighters held off Europe’s mightiest military for weeks in an attempt to prevent German forces from “liquidating” the ghetto of its remaining inhabitants.
With at least 700 Jewish fighters and over 7,000 Jewish casualties, the uprising “was the first significant urban revolt against German occupation in Europe,” according to the United States Holocaust Museum. After the month-long revolt, 42,000 Jews were transported to concentration and death camps.
Grzywaczewsk’s are the only known images of the revolt’s aftermath that were not photographed by the German perpetrators. Before his son’s new discovery, some of his photos were known to historians, but the attic trove includes the negatives for dozens of new images.
“Their faces […] with a deranged, absent look. […] figures staggering from hunger and dismay, filthy, ragged,” wrote Grzywaczewski. “Shot dead en masse; those still alive falling over the bodies of the ones who have already been annihilated,” recorded the firefighter in his diary.
The new set of images turned up by chance, while son Maciej Grzywaczewski was helping the POLIN museum in Warsaw prepare an exhibition based on his father’s photos.
In one of his late father’s boxes, Grzywaczewski found the negatives of 48 photos from the war. Of those images, 33 photos depict the ghetto, of which 21 have never been published
All the previously unreleased images will be shown in April to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the uprising at the POLIN museum’s temporary exhibition titled, “Around Us a Sea of Fire: The Fate of Jewish Civilians During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.”