the boy and I

the boy with his hands raised

As I men­tioned here on April 10, when I was in my ear­ly 20s, I tried to imag­ine the life of the boy with his hands raised being led from the War­saw Ghet­to. I spent months with him, I kept his image before me dai­ly. I looked into his eyes, and I tried to look through his eyes.

the boy with his hands raised being led out of the Warsaw Ghetto

the boy with his hands raised being led out of the War­saw Ghet­to

I have known this pho­to­graph near­ly all my life. It is a pho­to­graph known to many oth­ers as well. I men­tioned in my ear­li­er post that it was pos­si­ble that the boy may not have died in the Sho’a.

Since then, I have stud­ied the pho­to­graph more and some of the con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing it. Of par­tic­u­lar help was the book by Richard Raskin: A Child at Gun­point. A Case Study in the Life of a Pho­to. Aarhus Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2004. ISBN 87−7934−099−7. While it is pos­si­ble the boy may not have died in the Sho’a, Raskin’s book pret­ty thor­ough­ly proves that those who either claim to be the boy, or claim that he did sur­vive have lit­tle evi­dence to con­firm their sto­ries.

The pho­to is so pow­er­ful that peo­ple seem to want to be that boy. Oth­ers have writ­ten poems (rather poor, in my esti­ma­tion) to him.

let’s get real

Why does Fis­chl call him “Pol­ish”… because he (Fis­chl) is Hun­gar­i­an by birth? Why not call him “Jew­ish”? If he was sim­ply a “lit­tle Pol­ish boy” there would be no pho­to­graph. Take a good look at the orig­i­nal pho­to above. Is there a star on the boy’s coat? How many machine guns are point­ed at him? (Of course, one is more than enough, but if Peter Fis­chl wants to write a poem about it he should per­ceive its details accu­rate­ly first.) Along with the pho­to, this poem has tak­en on a life of its own; so much so that in order to make the pho­to match the poem, a “star” was “pho­to­shopped” onto the boy’s coat. I’ve brought the two images togeth­er here (the star on the boy’s coat appears at minute 1:57 — 2:09 in the video):

boy with "star" circled

com­pare pho­tos of boy with “star” (cir­cled)

There is no ques­tion that the pho­to­graph is pow­er­ful. It is pow­er­ful enough with­out being edit­ed. Raskin exam­ines the pho­to­graph from a visu­al per­spec­tive. Unlike many pho­tos from the Sho’a this one does not make us avert our eyes because it is too har­row­ing. Nonethe­less, the scene it depicts is out­ra­geous: a young, unarmed, boy (among many oth­ers) is forced to sur­ren­der. A high num­ber of polar oppo­sites are depict­ed (in Rask­in’s words):

  • SS vs. Jews
  • per­pe­tra­tors vs. vic­tims
  • mil­i­tary vs. civil­ians
  • pow­er vs. help­less­ness
  • threat­en­ing hands on weapons vs. emp­ty hands raised in sur­ren­der
  • steel hel­mets vs. bare-head­ed­ness or soft caps
  • smug­ness vs. fear
  • secu­ri­ty vs. doom
  • men vs. women and chil­dren

Regard­ing the boy him­self, he stands alone in his own space. Addi­tion­al­ly, the boy’s face appears near the “Gold­en Sec­tion” or “Gold­en Ratio” of the pho­to­graph. It is an out­stand­ing­ly grip­ping pho­to­graph.

boy with hands raised and the golden ratio

the boy with hands raised and the Gold­en Ratio

The pho­to is one of many, tak­en as the Nazis destroyed the War­saw Ghet­to dur­ing the Upris­ing. It was part of illus­tra­tive mate­r­i­al for what became known as “The Stroop Report”, named for Jür­gen Stroop, the com­man­der of the Ger­man forces respon­si­ble for liq­ui­dat­ing the Ghet­to. (Stroop is the man in the hat, not hel­met, who is not obscured in the pho­to below.) While we do not know for cer­tain who the pho­tog­ra­phers for the report were, two names are close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with it: Albert Cusian and Franz Kon­rad. Either one of them might have been the one to take the pho­to of the lit­tle boy. The iden­ti­ty of only one per­son in the pho­to of the lit­tle boy is known for cer­tain: the sol­dier stand­ing in the sun­light on the right side of the pho­to: Josef Blösche. Blösche appears in at least one oth­er pho­to­graph from the liq­ui­da­tion of the Ghet­to (in the pho­to below, once again, stand­ing on the far right).

Jürgen Stroop directs the burning of the Ghetto (in center, in hat, not helmet, not obscured while Josef Blösche (on the far right) watches

Jür­gen Stroop directs the burn­ing of the Ghet­to (in cen­ter, in hat, not hel­met, not obscured) while Josef Blösche (on the far right) watch­es

other photos of the liquidation

A few oth­er pho­tographs of the destruc­tion of the War­saw Ghet­to have been used else­where. One with which I have had direct per­son­al involve­ment is cap­tioned in the Stroop Report “Heha­lutz women cap­tured with weapons”. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, we do not see any weapons in the pho­to­graph.

Hehalutz women captured with weapons; used on the cover of Davka, Vol. 1, No. 4, Summer 1971 'The Jewish Woman'

Heha­lutz women cap­tured with weapons; used on the cov­er of Davka, Vol. 1, No. 4, Sum­mer 1971

The pho­to­graph was used on the cov­er of Vol­ume 1, No. 4 of Davka (Sum­mer 1971) devot­ed to “The Jew­ish Woman”, the orig­i­nal locus of Rachel Adler’s arti­cle “The Jew Who Was­n’t There”. These women were def­i­nite­ly there. The cap­tion in the low­er right cor­ner of the cov­er reads (inven­tive­ly) “The women fight­ers of the Ghet­to Ris­ing, after cap­ture, await their fate with res­o­lu­tion and dig­ni­ty. In a moment shots will be fired.” The cov­er was also made into a poster that was dis­trib­uted around Los Ange­les. Copies of it still hang in some homes.

but I digress… Jürgen Stroops words

While read­ing about the liq­ui­da­tion I came upon this tid­bit:

After a care­ful review of the sit­u­a­tion, I decid­ed to end the Grand Oper­a­tion on the evening of May six­teenth, 1943, at eight-fif­teen in a suit­ably artis­tic man­ner — by blow­ing up the Great Syn­a­gogue near Tlo­mac­ka Street. Krüger had sug­gest­ed this finale dur­ing his War­saw vis­it, giv­ing Jesuit­er plans pre­pared by his top engi­neers in Krakow, show­ing how and where to bore holes and place explo­sives. This oper­a­tion took ten days to pre­pare.

the great synagogue of Warsaw at Tłomackie street

the great syn­a­gogue of War­saw at Tło­mack­ie street

[Jür­gen Stroop in Kaz­imierz Moczars­ki, Con­ver­sa­tions with an Exe­cu­tion­er. Edit­ed by Mar­i­ana Fiz­patrick (Engle­wood Clifs: Pren­tice-Hall, 1981; orgi. pub­lished in Pol­ish 1977), page 164.]

There are 53 pho­tographs in the Stroop Report. We don’t know whether the sequence in which they appear in the Report is chrono­log­i­cal or was set for “artis­tic” pur­pos­es. For sim­i­lar artis­tic pur­pos­es, I imag­ine that the pho­to­graph of the lit­tle boy was tak­en that very last day… May six­teenth, 1943.

May sixteenth, 1943

this is posted on May sixteenth, 2010

My par­ents were born and grew up in Cleve­land, Ohio. Their par­ents were immi­grants from Ukraine (actu­al­ly, pater­nal: Chernigov [Cherni­hiv] Pale of Set­tle­ment and mater­nal, some 450KM north, from “Snof­sk” on the Dnieper), not far from Viteb­sk. At the time they left for the U.S. more than one third of the local pop­u­la­tion of Cherni­hiv and half of Viteb­sk was Jew­ish.

In Cleve­land, their fam­i­lies lived near Euclid Ave. and “the Kins­man Street­car”. My grand­par­ents were either athe­ists or (per­haps the mater­nal ones) agnos­tics. Both sets of grand­par­ents were involved in Jew­ish life. Hil­lel Hurvitz was active in the Yid­dish Work­ers’ Cho­rus. They cer­tain­ly would not have joined the Reform con­gre­ga­tion.

The Temple, Cleveland, Ohio

The Tem­ple, Cleve­land, Ohio

Nonethe­less, we have always known that my par­ents were mar­ried in “the rab­bi’s study at the Tem­ple” dur­ing sefi­rat haOmer. A “spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion” was made because my father was in the army sta­tioned at Shep­pard Air Force Base in Wichi­ta Falls, Texas. Nei­ther of my sib­lings are aware of any pho­tos from the wed­ding itself. In fact, I don’t even remem­ber see­ing their ketubah.

Nathan Hurvitz, Faye Hurvitz as newlyweds

Nathan Hurvitz & Faye Hurvitz as new­ly­weds

So, on May 16, 1943, at approx­i­mate­ly the same time that Jür­gen Stroop declared the destruc­tion of the War­saw Ghet­to as hav­ing been com­plete with the destruc­tion of the Reform Great Syn­a­gogue near Tlo­mac­ka Street, at a Reform tem­ple approx­i­mate­ly 4500 miles or 7000 kilo­me­ters away in the west, though I was not yet a glim­mer in my par­ents’ eyes (my sis­ter was born 10 months lat­er, 3 years before me) my life was begin­ning.

Today, very lit­tle is as it was then. The area of the War­saw Ghet­to was com­plete­ly razed by the Nazis.

Warsaw Ghetto destroyed

from the Wikipedia: Ruins of War­saw Ghet­to, smashed into the ground by Ger­man forces, accord­ing to Adolf Hitler‘s order, after sup­press­ing of the War­saw Ghet­to Upris­ing in 1943. North-west view, left — the Krasiński‘s Gar­den and Swię­to­jer­s­ka street, pho­to tak­en in 1945

Almost noth­ing of the wartime rub­ble remains. Deb­bie and I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vis­it War­saw dur­ing Pesach of 2006. We made a point of find­ing a bit of The Wall.

the Wall of the Warsaw Ghetto

a remain­der of the wall enclos­ing the War­saw Ghet­to

The res­i­dents of War­saw have built a new city and the area of the Great Syn­a­gogue near Tlo­mac­ka Street is now known as Bank Square (the Blue Tow­er) Błęk­it­ny Wieżowiec.

yet, the boy lives on

As I men­tioned in my April 10th post­ing, I have used the image of the boy with his arms raised for my own pur­pos­es.

leaflet detail

leaflet detail

I am hard­ly alone in this. Aside from the “poem” by Peter Fis­chl, Raskin reviews a num­ber of instances in which the image of the boy with raised hands appears in artis­tic and polit­i­cal works. Though I have been unable to find the film on YouTube, Raksin gives a very detailed (with stills) recon­struc­tion of the movie With Raised Hands (Pol­ish title: Z pod­nie­siony­mi reka­mi) by Mitko Panov. The film won the Gold­en Palm Award for Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in 1991. In Rask­in’s words:

The film is pure fic­tion in the sense that the writer/director imag­ined what might have hap­pened when the pho­to­graph was tak­en.

From the stills and shot-by-shot recon­struc­tion avail­able in Rask­in’s book, it is both very inven­tive and mov­ing.

Oth­er cre­ative works include the British tele­vi­sion show The Glit­ter­ing Prizes (the final episode) and the works of Samuel Bak. I can imag­ine that many Chris­tians would feel that these two images by Bak are an affront to their reli­gious sen­si­bil­i­ties. And, on many lev­els I agree. Nei­ther the boy, nor any of the mil­lions of Jews and oth­ers mur­dered by the Nazis died for any­one’s sins.

Shmuel Bak paints the boy with hands raised

Samuel Bak paints the boy with hands raised

I under­stand and appre­ci­ate how Chris­tians might feel when a sacred image is used by oth­ers to express some­thing that they might not iden­ti­fy with. And so I cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly reject this attempt at “equiv­a­lence” when Israeli artist Alan Schech­n­er uses the image and con­nects it with a young boy cap­tured dur­ing the Intifa­da in a video that has one boy, recur­sive­ly, hold­ing the pho­to­graph of the oth­er.

Alan Schechner's transformations

Alan Schech­n­er’s trans­for­ma­tions

a confusion of categories

I am not alone in oppos­ing Alan Schech­n­er’s use of the image. But, I also dis­ap­prove of this use of the image because of what I sense is a creep­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of oth­er events as “equiv­a­lent” to the liq­ui­da­tion of the War­saw Ghet­to. This week, as I write this post, a but­ton is avail­able for auc­tion on eBay which iden­ti­fies the mas­sacre of Sabra and Shati­la in 1982 with the destruc­tion of the War­saw Ghet­to.

laple button comparing Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 with Beirut in 1982

lapel but­ton com­par­ing War­saw Ghet­to in 1942 with Beirut in 1982

These two events are of dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories, and can­not be com­pared. At the same time, while we need to beware of our strength and be ever vig­i­lant of abus­es, we also need to guard against such com­par­isons. And so…

The fol­low­ing but­ton also uses the image of the boy with his hands raised. I have nev­er worn it, nor would I. It was pro­duced, prob­a­bly, some­time in the ear­ly 1970s by the Jew­ish Defense League in New York.

do not forgive; do not forget

the boy with his hands raised (lapel but­ton)

Date: 1970s
Size: 5.1
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: cel­lu­loid

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see all the but­tons shared to date.

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4 Responses to the boy and I

  1. Walter Rothschild says:

    Some of the pho­tos, espe­cial­ly that of the two young women who had been arrest­ed (OF COURSE their weapons would have been tak­en away from them by this point) were used on the cov­er sleeve of an LP of Yid­dish songs by a Ger­man group ‘Zupfgeigen­hansel’in the 1970’s.

  2. stan kohls says:

    Hi, Mark.
    Inter­est­ing sto­ry about that famous pic­ture.

    In 1975 I spent a few weeks in DDR, much of it stay­ing with an elder­ly cou­ple who had been friends of my par­ents in Berlin, before they fled in March ’39, min­utes ahead of the Gestapo. The cou­ple had been Com­mu­nists since before the Nazis came to pow­er in ’33, and had risked their lives to keep my mater­nal grand­moth­er alive by bring­ing her small pack­ages of food every few days, until she was tak­en to Auschwitz in ’42.

    Stay­ing with this Com­mu­nist cou­ple in E. Berlin (Koepenick) was a real eye-open­er for me.

    One sto­ry they told me was about the sol­dier hold­ing the rifle just to the right of the boy: in ’53 he was locat­ed teach­ing in the DDR, and was brought to tri­al and hung. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, anoth­er friend of mine, com­pos­er Earl Kim, who taught music at Har­vard (known for writ­ing a vio­lin con­cer­to for Y. Pearl­man), wrote a piece inspired by that pic­ture. He said the boy’s eyes haunt­ed him for years…


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