Negatives Containing Rare Photos of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Discovered

Jews being arrested during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 1943.

Never-before-seen photos of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising have been discovered on rolls of film belonging to a Polish firefighter. They are the only photos of the Jewish resistance not taken by the Nazi perpetrators.

The uprising took place in 1943 and was the single biggest revolt by Jews during World War II. Firefighter Leszek Grzwaczewski served in the unit that doused the flames the Germans had lit while quashing the rebels, he was also a surreptitious photographer.

Last month, Grzwaczewski’s family found film negatives containing 33 pictures of the Warsaw ghetto. The pictures show captured Jews being frogmarched to their deaths as well as burning and burnt-out buildings.

A Warsaw Ghetto building on fire.
A fire in the Warsaw ghetto.
Aftermath of a fire in the Warsaw ghetto, 1943.

The photos are slightly blurry and poorly composed, suggesting that they were taken quickly and stealthily. The photographer also entered the Warsaw ghetto more than once based on the different lighting.

Grzwaczewski’s daughter, Maciej, was asked by curators from the POLIN museum to search through her father’s negatives in the hope she would find such rare photos. According to the museum, the valuable images were in the very last box she looked through.

Experts from POLIN museum examining the negatives.

Grzywaczewski also kept a diary during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place between April 21 and May 15, 1943.

“The image of these people being dragged out of there [out of the bunkers] will stay with me for the rest of my life,” he wrote.

“Their face with a deranged, absent look. Figures staggering from hunger and dismay, filthy, ragged. Shot dead en masse; those still alive falling over the bodies of the ones who have already been annihilated.”

Holocaust Photography

Grzywaczewski’s harrowing account speaks to what is the best-known photograph of the uprising and arguably the most iconic photo of the entire Holocaust, known as Warsaw Ghetto Boy.

Warsaw Ghetto Boy, 1943.

In this picture, a small boy holds his hands up while an SS paramilitary member aims a submachine gun in his direction. The boy, along with the other terrified people in the picture, had just been dragged out of a bunker where they were hiding. After being forced out by German troops, they were marched to a train station where they were taken to a concentration camp. The author of the photograph is unknown but is certainly a Nazi perpetrator.

Image credits:Feature photos by Photo: Z. L. Grzywaczewski / from the family archives of Maciej Grzywaczewski, son of Leszek Grzywaczewski / photo from the negative: POLIN Museum.