cover image My Secret Camera

My Secret Camera

Frank Dabba Smith, Mendel Grossman. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-202306-5

Grossman, a Polish Jew, was forced into the Lodz ghetto at its inception in May 1940. For the next four years, until the ghetto was destroyed, Grossman used his privileges as a photographer for the ghetto administration to covertly take thousands of pictures documenting life in the ghetto. The 17 photographs on these pages show the suffering so copiously described by historians and survivors--soldiers march through emptied streets; freighted with bundles and rucksacks, heavily dressed people head toward what is surely deportation; a solitary child clutches a wire fence. They are heartbreaking. But even more wrenching are the photos of less iconic scenes. Readers see a team of workers smiling as they bake Passover matzoh and teenagers laughing at some delicious joke. Unfortunately, Smith, a rabbi and a photographer, is not content to let the photos speak for themselves, and he scripts a brief narrative, delivered as if by Grossman. It is numbingly formulaic (""My own pain does not matter. I must show what the Nazis are doing to my people. My pictures will tell the real story, even if I die""), and although he explains how the photographs survived despite Grossman's death, nowhere does he comment on how he arrived at his text, for instance, if the names he assigns some figures are real. For all his piety, his commentary underserves Grossman's work. Ages 8-up. (Apr.)