The 1982 Swedish documentary The Story of Chaim Rumkowski and the Jews of Lodzone of the simplest, least sentimental, and most devastating accounts of the Holocaustis almost entirely based on the photographs Rumkowski commissioned. Photographer draws on a trove of 400 color slides made by SS accountant and photo- hobbyist Walter Genewein (discovered 40-odd years later in a Vienna secondhand bookstore) and, less austere than the Swedish film, involves two witnesses. Genewein's slideswhich he described as images of "subhumans in the process of being civilized by the German culture of work and organization"are juxtaposed with the recollections of Arnold Mostowicz, a now elderly Lodz ghetto survivor who had worked, under Rumkowski, as a young doctor.
Jablonski repeatedly dissolves the underpopulated streets of present-day Lodz into the wartime ghettoan eerie juxtaposition of a ghostly, slow-motion, black-and-white present and the frozen Agfachrome past (displays of store mannequins in SS uniforms, piles of confiscated clothing, transports leaving for the east). The oddly posed photos of Jewish work-details are the most compellinggrim, hopeful, curious faces with haunted eyes and hunger-sharpened features. Interrogating these images, Jablonski often brings his camera so close that resolution breaks down. These traces can't speak, but Genewein's smug self-portraits are underscored by Mostowicz's mournful recollections of his own coldness and cowardice in the struggle to survive.
The images are further accompanied by a collage of bureaucratic reportsincluding Genewein's letters to the Agfa company and memos to Adolf Eichmann, as well as Rumkowski's official missives (read in the original Yiddish). Photographer may strike some as overly baroque. But its initially distracting clutter of staged photos, stark statistics, and angst-producing drone-music coalesces into an unsettling miasma and then a vortex into Europe's heart of darkness.
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