Extraordinary photographs showing terrible times – the streets of Warsaw, the burning ghetto and the rubble. Rudolf Damec’s photos were found by his granddaughter and brought to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. They will be at the exhibition: “A sea of fire around us”. Material of the magazine “Polska i Świat”.
Maybe she was going to work, maybe visiting a family member. We can only guess what the woman immortalized in the photograph, looking at the Warsaw ghetto, felt and thought. The author of the series of photos – which shows the ghetto burning during the uprising in 1943 and people watching – is Rudolf Damec. His granddaughter, Mrs. Aleksandra Sobiecka, found priceless films 76 years later.
– I was at a meeting with my sisters, at my dad’s house and we were looking at pictures of my grandfather. I never paid attention to the cliches. I probably thought that they were the same films as the photos – says Aleksandra Sobiecka.
By chance, she discovered photos taken by her grandfather
The woman has been reconstructing and documenting the history of her family for years. After visiting her father’s house, wanting to learn more about the history of her ancestors, she visited her uncle in Gdynia. I asked him if he had any documents or photos. He said he didn’t have anything, but that I should go back to my dad’s pictures, because there is a ghetto there. And that surprised me completely, what ghetto? he recalls.
She started going through the boxes she already had in her hands. She found the films. When she got home, she scanned the negatives. Aleksandra Sobiecka’s family donated them to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in January this year.
– These are exceptional photos, because not only do they show us exactly that time during the uprising, but they are taken from very close proximity, their quality is very good – emphasizes Zuzanna Schnepf-Kołacz, curator of the exhibition “Around Us, a Sea of Fire” in POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
Rudolf Damec was an engineer from Gdynia, but from 1940 he lived with his family in Warsaw. He worked as a warehouseman in the Polish Optical Works in Grochów. During the uprising, he lived with his family on Grzybowska Street, i.e. on the border of the ghetto.
– When there was an uprising in the ghetto, he was an amateur photographer, but he could actually take pictures. He walked along the wall and photographed what we know from Miłosz’s poems, the burning ghetto, and at the same time people looking at it, says Joanna Fikus, director of the exhibition department at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
The photos taken by Rudolf Damec show, among others, merry-go-rounds and swings, over which the smoke from the burning ghetto rises. – Germany they organized amusement parks and playgrounds. These were measures aimed at antagonizing Poles and Jews, explains Zuzanna Schnepf-Kołacz.
POLIN Museum is preparing an exhibition for the anniversary of its founding
Nothing is known about the people in the photos. – Alina Margolis was hiding on the Aryan side and would go to see what was going on, but she was watching and people like them might have attracted the attention of szmalcowniks – says Michał Okoński, journalist of “Tygodnik Powszechny”.
Rudolf Damec had a need to document, but also to help. A Jewish woman, Helena Ronin, was hiding in his house. The photos will be presented at POLIN from April 18 at the exhibition “Sea of Fire Around Us”.
The exhibition will present the fate of Jewish civilians during the ghetto uprising. Their silent resistance was as important as the one with a gun in their hand. – This whole story is so that we understand that each of us with small gestures, small actions can not be indifferent and can oppose evil – explains Joanna Fikus.
Main photo source: photo. R Damec, POLIN Museum Collection, R. Damec family archive