(A Photograph) Muselmann (Henryk Ross)


I was not aware that such a thing exists, but this seems to be a photograph of a “Muselmann.” The designation refers to those suffering hollowed out people, physically alive while pushed to the brink of psychic-spiritual death. Perhaps the assumption has been that the phenomenon of the Muselmann was restricted to the labor, concentration, and extermination camps. But this photograph (it was on view at the exhibition last year at the Jewish Museum of Heritage) was taken in the Lodz Ghetto.

The photographer was Henryk Ross, who worked for the Department of Statistics for the Jewish Council. At the exhibition, no special attention was given to this particular photograph. The official title of the photograph is “Hungry man walking on the street with a pail and an empty plate.”  If I remember correctly my visit to the exhibition, I first stumbled by accident upon the image as it appeared in a Hebrew language newspaper edition (?) of the Diary of a Young Girl in the Ghetto by Rywka Lipszyc. I think there was a blowup of the photograph prepared for the museum exhibition. At some point I looked and found the more diminutive “original” snapshot copy. The smaller copy of the photograph appears on the lower right of the photographer’s contact sheet, also shown at the museum.

I hope I have done justice to this remarkable picture. My own designation that this photograph of the young man is a photograph of a Muselmann is a spectacular and perhaps false claim. What justifies the designation is that the young man is identified as such (a Muslimi) in the caption of the photograph as it appeared alongside and illustrating the material from Lipszyc’s diary.

About the collection of photographs and the exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross, you can see more here. https://mjhnyc.org/exhibitions/memory-unearthed/



About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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