Memory Unearthed: More Than Holocaust Remembrance

The show invites us to be a little more human. A little more connected. – Adam Strom

When Adam Strom, Director of Scholarship and Innovation at Facing History and Ourselves, said this at the opening of Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross, it set the tone for the first exhibit of its kind at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The exhibit of haunting photos from the Lodz Ghetto in Poland brings a rarely seen insider’s look into the Holocaust. The exhibit illustrates a story that we should never forget, one of life and joy amidst the darkest of scenarios. 

As Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Curator of Photographs Kristen Gresh said, this exhibit highlights “photography as an act of resistance”- the photos showing both the joy and the horror of daily life in the Nazi-controlled Polish Lodz ghetto. Former Art Gallery of Ontario photography curator Maia-Mari Sutnik first curated and created this incredible exhibit while working with former AGO Director, and now MFA Director Matthew Teitelbaum in Toronto. Maia told a story at the opening that had to be retold:

There was a man saving a Torah from a destroyed building in the ghetto. As he walked with it, he encountered Henryk Ross who was attempting to take a photo of him. The man resisted, until Ross told him that he was taking the photos to have proof of what was in the ghetto. Upon hearing this, the man stopped, proudly marched to the top of the rubble heap, and said to Ross, “Here I am! Make it a good one.”

Curator Kristen Gresh hopes that we will all pause and reflect on the printed images, considering the idea of how a camera can bear witness. In an era where we rarely stop to consider photographs as physical objects, this exhibit highlights prints and negatives as memory, history, art, and more.

Accordingly, Gresh hopes that this exhibit will provide a safe place for dialogue in a tumultuous time.

At the end of the exhibit, the final gallery features a collection entitled I Must Tell You What I Saw (named for an Armenian genocide poem), curated by MFA curator Phoebe Siegel. Expertly pairing eight pieces from the museum’s 450,000 piece collection, Siegel hopes to “help visitors navigate the transition out of the exhibit in a respectful way,” as she eloquently stated. We can’t compare tragedies, but we can all come together to explore universal themes like erasure of cultures and silencing of voices.

Just before this exhibit opened, I was fortunate enough to be a guest host with Jesse Ulrich on the JewishBoston.com podcast with curator Kristin Gresh. These 40 minutes will give you some insight into how the exhibit came to be, what it means to our community, and why it’s so important to the MFA, the Boston Jewish community, and the world. LISTEN NOW.