Lublin 1940 – photographs of the Ghetto
The photographs presented in the album “Lublin 1940. Photographs of the Ghetto” were taken in Lublin during the Second World War by a German soldier, an amateur photographer Max Kirnberger.
The Grodzka Gate – NN Theater Center received them in the summer of 2008. Thus, they landed in a special place, at the Grodzka Gate, which is also called the Jewish Gate, and which is the seat of the Center. This gate leads to the non-existent town – the Jewish Atlantis, and is a place, where – like in the Ark of Memory – old photographs, documents, and testimonies concerning the murdered Jewish town are gathered and preserved for posterity.
Who was the author of these colored photographs? He was born in 1902. Before the war, he was a teacher at a school for the deaf. He came to Poland as a Wehrmacht soldier and took a series of colored photos illustrating everyday life during the Nazi occupation in the Ghettos of Rzeszów, Zamość, Izbica, and Lublin. We also know that because of illness the author went back to Germany in 1942. After the war he recommenced his work as a teacher. He died at the beginning of the eighties. He left 490 colored negatives from the period 1937–1941, of which 70 were taken in Lublin. All this collection is a part of the collection of Deutches Historisches Museum in Berlin. Thanks to the enormous involvement of Ulrike Grossarth from Dresden the Lublin photos got to our Center.
Here is the fragment of the release in the Lublin edition of “Gazeta Wyborcza” on this photo collection:
Kirnberger’s photos are invaluable for historians. They show the scenes from everyday life of the Jewish quarters, the streets and buildings, which no longer exist, and the people murdered in the death camp in Bełżec and concentration camp at Majdanek.
– Of course, there are photos from the Jewish quarters taken by the Germans for propaganda purposes: they show the specially selected pictures of collapsing houses and dirty, hungry Jews. Quite often one can see that the people on the photos are afraid of the German photographer. They hold their caps in their hands. This does not apply to Kirnberger’s photos – says Marcin Fedorowicz, the employee of “The Grodzka Gate – NN Theater” Center. – He took them for his own use. The authenticity of these negatives is dazzling.
Professor Radzik, the head of the recent history institute at UMCS and an expert in the history of the Lublin ghetto, saw these photos.
– This collection, an authentic photo-reportage, is fantastic – he states. – So far, the collection of the photos from the Lublin ghetto has included several dozen black-and-white photographs, which is much less than the Warsaw or Łódź ghetto. Thanks to Kirnberger’s collection we can get familiarized with the time of the Nazi occupation in the Jewish quarters not only from the point of view of official documents and scare memories, but we can see what it actually looked like.
When were these photos taken? The Berlin Museum is of the opinion that it was May of 1941. The ghetto was established two months earlier. However, the Lublin historians are of the opinion that Kirnberger took these photos in the spring of 1940. – On one of the photos we see a woman with a band on her arm standing before the Krakowska Gate. The Germans prohibited the Jews from appearing at Krakowskie Przedmieście in March 1941, so the photo must have been taken before that date – says Robert Kuwałek from the National Museum at Majdanek. – At that time, the ghetto did not formally exist, but the Jews were already subject to a ban regarding their residing at the center of the town, outside the Jewish quarters. The Lublin Ghetto was never surrounded by a wall, like the Warsaw ghetto, so the Poles could enter it (...).
Professor Tadeusz Radzik mentions one more aspect of this collection. – You do not see hunger on theses photos. Therefore, I believe that they were taken before the Nazis established the closed Jewish quarters.
[P. Reszka, M. Szlachetka, “The murdered quarters in German color”, Gazeta Wyborcza 12/13 July 2008, p. 1]
The album begins with a poetic text by Jacob Glatstein “Lublin my sacred town”. Its author was born in 1896 in Lublin, at Krawiecka Street. In 1914 he left for the United States. The Holocaust became a turning point in his poetic work. The poet deliberately chooses to write his poems only in Yiddish – in the language of the murdered nation, becoming in this way the guard of its memory. We decided that the text written in Yiddish by Jacob Glatstein and devoted to the murdered Jewish Lublin is the best introduction to the album “Lublin 1940. Max Kirnberger. Photographs of the Ghetto”.
Translated by: Elżbieta Petrajtis-O'Neil