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Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History
Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Istorijos Muziejus

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EXHIBIT OF THE MONTH

 
Published: 2020-10-08

 In 1992, the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History took over part of the collections of the former LSSR Revolution Museum, which also contained several dozen photographs from the Kaunas Ghetto (1941-1944). In one of them, there is a boy sitting on the stairs and holding a cup full of sunflower seeds. The boy’s identity remains unknown, but Zalkė Genkindas (b. 1928, later known as Solly Ganor), a former prisoner of the Kaunas Ghetto, recognized the boy on the photograph and told that the child was constantly wearing a fur hat and that everybody referred to him as Aldona, because he very often sang a Lithuanian song about a girl named Aldona. The boy's parents were killed at the beginning of the war and he lived in the ghetto with his aunt, who found a way to get sunflower seeds when on forced labour, and Aldona was selling them illegally on the streets of the ghetto. Both died during the evacuation of the ghetto in July 1944.

 

Aldona, like many other Jews in the Kaunas Ghetto, was secretly photographed by mechanical engineer Zvi Hirsch Kadushin (1910-1997) who risked his life to do so. Facing the threat of complete annihilation, it seemed important to him to capture the community of the Kaunas Ghetto on photographs and thus resist if not death then at least oblivion. For this purpose, he employed a Leica camera, bought photo films from Lithuanians in the city, and crooked some developers from the German hospital where he worked. At night, Kadushin would develop the photographs in his tiny kitchen or would hand them over to his Lithuanian acquaintance in the city who was an amateur photographer himself. At first, Kadushin hid the developed negatives in empty milk bottles. He would use wax to seal the bottle lids, tie the bottles to a rope and hide them in a dried well in the ghetto. Later, fearing that the place was not safe enough, he buried the bottles in different other places. As of spring 1944, Kadushin kept hiding in the house of Vincas Ruzgys from Kaunas. When the Red Army entered the city, he retrieved his negatives from the hideouts. Soon afterward, Kadushin retreated to a refugee camp in Germany and took his treasure with him. From there he found a way to the United States. When already settled in Hollywood under the name of George Kadish, he divided his photo archive into three parts. One of the parts went to the Beit Hatfutsot Museum in Tel Aviv. Yet another, which included the original negative of this photo, went to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The rest of the archive the author kept for himself. It is believed that Kadushin donated the photographic prints which stayed in Lithuania to the Jewish Museum established in 1944-1945. However, during the later Soviet occupation the identity of the author who had left for the West was deleted from the prints and the photographs, together with other exhibits, were handed over to the Revolution Museum.
 
Today Kadushin's photographic legacy is one of the most unique records of ghetto life in the world. His photographs are widely used in both museum exhibitions and the Holocaust publications. 
 
Prepared by Šarūnė Sederevičiūtė, museology specialist and educator of History Research Department and Holocaust Exposition
 
© From the holdings of VGMJH
 
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