Nachman Zonabend, a survivor of the Lodz ghetto, who is credited with having rescued the Archive of the Aelteste der Juden (the chairman of the Lodz Ghetto Jewish Council) that was compiled by a group of Jews working in the statistics department, formally known as the Department of Population Records, during the period from 1940 to 1944. Zonabend is the son of Abram and Malka (Rozenberg) Zonabend. He was born October 12, 1918 in Leczyca, Poland, the hometown of his mother. Zonabend had seven siblings: Tojwie, Szajna, Frymet, Wolf, Izak, Noach and Brana. In his youth Zonabend attended a religious primary school, but did not go to high school. Instead he went to work and took vocational courses related to the production of leather goods. During the German occupation of Poland Zonabend lived in the Lodz ghetto, where he remained until its final liquidation. He worked in the post office which was located in a house on Plac Koscielny (Church Square) that was adjacent to the building housing the ghetto archives. From November 1940, when the decision was made to establish an archives to document Jewish life in the ghetto, Zonabend was involved with the small group of men --photographers, painters, draftsmen, writers and chroniclers-- who took on the project to collect for posterity all manner of printed material, literary and artistic works and photographs. Zonabend attended their meetings and watched the ghetto photographers, Mendel Grosman and Henryk Rozencwajg Ross, develop images in the dark room of the statistics department. He also assembled his own collection of prints and artistic works, which he later stashed away in a hiding place in his apartment on Pasterska Street. Following the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto in early August 1944, Zonabend was one of the approximately 1,000 Jews left in the ghetto by the Germans to clean up. During the fall of 1944, Zonabend managed to elude his Nazi guards on several occasions and execute his plan to retrieve as much as he could of the ghetto archives. On his first foray into the deserted ghetto, he slipped into the former print shop, where he gathered up a complete set of ghetto announcements. He then proceeded to the former office of ghetto chairman Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, where he scooped up papers that were scattered about and hid them in large glass jars, which he then buried in a remote square. His own collection of photos, drawings and paintings he buried in another location. Finally, he went back to the building that housed the ghetto archives and found a set of abandoned suitcases and a trunk that were packed with the most important archival material, including the Lodz ghetto chronicles. These, Zonabend dragged to a deserted courtyard in the ghetto. He threw the suitcases down a dry well, while the heavier trunk he left in the corner of the courtyard. Both, he covered over with bedding that had been left behind by the deportees. After the liberation of Lodz by the Soviet army in January 1945, Zonabend returned to the ghetto, where he discovered that looters had emptied the trunk, but had failed to discover the suitcases in the well. These he pulled out and dragged to his apartment. In the following years, Zonabend gave portions of the archives to different Jewish institutions: the new Central Jewish Historical Commission in Lodz, the YIVO Institute in New York and the Ghetto Fighter's House in Israel. Zonabend emigrated to Sweden in 1947, where he has lived ever since. Four of Zonabend's siblings --Tojwie, Wolf, Izak, Noach and Brana-- survived the war.
[Source: Zonabend, Nachman, "The Truth About the Saving of the Lodz Ghetto Archive," Stockholm 1991]
Mendel Grosman (1913-1945), Lodz ghetto photographer, was the son of Shmuel Dawid Grosman (b. June 15, 1882) and Chana Ruchla (b. February 13, 1887). Mendel was born on June 27, 1913. His oldest sister Rut immigrated to the United States in 1919. He had one brother Jakub who died of an appendicitis, and two other sisters. Feiga Grosman Frajtag was born 1910. She was married to Szymon Frajtag (b. 1904) amd had a son, Jakub (Jankush) born in 1938. His younger sister Roszka (Rojza Miriam ) was born on January 20, 1918.
Though raised in a Hasidic home, Grosman took an early interest in painting and studied with the artist Szylis, before devoting himself to photography. During the 1930s Grosman photographed the Habimah theater during its tour in Lodz. He was also commissioned by a Jewish children's health organization to photograph a series of images for an album on the Jewish child in Poland, but the album was never published. During World War II, Grosman was forced to move into the ghetto, where he lived with six other members of his extended family. At the end of 1941 the Lodz ghetto Jewish council created an official photography section made up of eleven photographers, including Grosman and Henryk Ross, whose job it was to take photographs for identity cards, photograph official ceremonies, ghetto products and exhibitions, and ghetto buildings that were about to be demolished. In addition to these official photographs, Grosman took thousands of illegal photos documenting Jewish life and death in the ghetto, including the Jewish youth movements in Marysin, street scenes shot from his apartment window, the fecalists at hard labor, hangings, deportations and bodies piled in the morgue at the Jewish cemetery. He also took many pictures of his extended family, especially his young nephew Yankele (Yankush) Freitag, who for Grosman symbolized the ghetto child.
Most of Grosman's immediate family died in the ghetto. His father died on March 7, 1942, his mother died on July 16, 1942 and his brother-in-law Szymon Frajtag died the same year. His nephew Yankel died of hunger in 1943. Right before the final liquidation of the ghetto in August 1944, Grosman asked his friend Arie ben Menahem to help him hide his collection of 10,000 negatives. They placed a portion of the collection in a wooden box and hid it inside a hollowed out section of wall beneath a window pane in his apartment. Another portion of the collection, including some prints and a camera, were hidden with the help of another friend, Nachman Zonabend, in a cellar.
Deported during the liquidation of the ghetto, Grosman ended up in the Konigswusterhausen concentration camp in Germany. When this camp was evacuated on April 26, 1945, Grosman was sent on a death march, during which he was shot to death by an SS guard after tripping along the way. His sister Fajda was deported to Auschwitz where she perished.
After the war much of Grosman's photographic collection was retrieved by Zonabend and Grosman's sister, Ruszka. Roszka (now Zilbar) sent the wooden box of negatives to Kibbutz Nitzanim in Palestine, where Arie ben Menahem was then living. These negatives were later lost when the kibbutz was overrun by the Egyptians during the Israeli War of Independence and its residents taken captive. In Egypt, Ben-Menahem saw a picture in a local paper with the caption "bread line in Tel-Aviv," which was actually one of Grosman's Lodz ghetto photographs. To him, this was proof that the negatives still existed, but all efforts to locate them have been in vain.
[Source: "Mendel Grosman" video produced by Aliza Tzigler, Videofilm International 1988]