Julia Pirotte was a photojournalist mainly recognised for photographs taken in Marseille during World War II, a documentation of the activities of the French resistance movement. In her photographs, Pirotte also captured the pogrom of Jews in Kielce in 1946.
Photographer. Born in 1907 in Końskowola, died on the 25th of July, 2000 in Warsaw.
Self-portrait by Julia Pirotte. Source: Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw
Born Gina Diament, she grew up in an impoverished Jewish family. In 1934 she emigrated to Belgium where she married Jean Pirotte and obtained Belgian citizenship. There, she studied journalism and photography, and produced her first photo reportages on workers’ movement. Soon after the German invasion on Belgium in 1940, Pirotte emigrated to southern France. There she played an important role in the local resistance movement. She smuggled weapons, forged documents and underground publications. At that time, she would work as a photojournalist for the periodical Dimanche Illustré.
Pirotte also took photographs of Jewish women and children in the transit camp in Bombard where they were kept just before being transported to Auschwitz. She created several series of photographs documenting everyday life under the Vichy government. In 1943 she sent her photo reportage on the France under occupation off for publication the USA. As a member of the Marat FTP-MOI (Francs-Tireurs et Partisans - Main-d’œuvre immigrée) campaign, Pirotte had the opportunity to photograph the activities of Maquis resistance groups in the summer of 1944. She also documented the liberation of Marseille.
After the war, Pirotte returned to Poland with her most precious negatives. She started to cooperate with the Military Photography Agency. As a photojournalist, she worked for periodicals Trybuna Wolności and Żołnierz Polski newspapers, among others. At that time, she produced a stirring reportage of about 100 photographs on the pogrom of Jews in Kielce on July 4, 1946. On that day 37 Jews were killed and 35 wounded. Pirotte took those photographs shortly after the tragic events when the victims were still in hospital and the anti-semitic atmosphere prevailed in town. The dramatic black-and-white pictures feature people mourning the dead and patients undergoing treatment in hospitals. They also include bodies of the murdered victims of the pogrom.
The photographs of Julia Pirotte document the most important political events of her times, such as the World’s Congress of Intellectuals for Peace held in Wrocław in 1948; official state ceremonies; war damages in Warsaw as well as the city’s reconstruction; and portraits of, among others, Irène Joliot-Curie, Dominique Desanti and Pablo Picasso. Her works were exhibited at museums and art galleries all over the world, e.g. in Stockholm, London, the 3rd edition of Photography and Visual Arts Biennale in Liège in Belgium, and at the International Center of Photography in New York in 1984. In Poland Pirotte’s photographs were featured at an exhibition She-documentalists (2008) held in the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw. The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw hosted a broad retrospective exhibition of the artist’s works entitled "Faces and Hands" in February 2012.
"Julia Pirotte" - fragmenty filmu from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
Francoise Thébuad’s book "Julia Pirotte: une photographe dans la Résistance" published by Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi in 1994 paints a broader portrait the photographer’s life and art. Following Pirotte’s death, an album entitled "Pologne: les années-mirage" was published by Centre Culturel "Les Chiroux", Liège 2002.
Julia Pirotte died on July 25, 2000 in Warsaw. She is buried at the Powązkowski Cemetery.
Author: Magdalena Wróblewska, December 2011. Translated by Katarzyna Różańska, February 2011.