“Julia Pirotte, photographer and resistant”

thursday 09 march 2023wednesday 30 august 2023

« People ask me how I do with this camera to capture images that are exhibited all over the world (…). When I feel a heartbeat, I know it will be a good picture. » – Julia Pirotte


Who is Julia Pirotte ?

Julia Pirotte (Golda Perla Diament) born on August 26, 1907, grew up in a poor Jewish family between Końskowola and Lublin, Poland. Her father was a miner. At 17 she was arrested for her activism in the Polish Communist youth movement and spent four years in jail. In 1934, with help from the International Red Aid organization, she fled Poland to join her sister Mindla, a refugee in France. 

On the way, Julia fell hill and had to interrupt her journey in Belgium, where she took a job in a factory and married the trade unionist Jean Pirotte. In Brussels, she took night classes in journalism and photography. In 1938 and 1939, she began her photojournalism career with a study of Polish miners for a trade union magazine and a reportage in the Baltic countries for the Foto WARO press agency. 


Left : Exchange of pots in the square. Lithuania, 1938-1939. © Julia Pirotte/Institut historique juif de Varsovie.
Right : Mindla Diament. France, ca. 1939-1940. © Julia Pirotte/Mémorial de la Shoah.



When Nazi Germany overran Belgium in May 1940, Julia fled south. With comrades she met during the exodus, the young refugee settled in Marseille because of the factories there. She began working in an aircraft plant and as a photographer on a private beach. In 1942, she was hired as a photojournalist by local publications, including Le Dimanche illustré, La Marselliaise and Rouge Midi. 

Julia documented the dismal living conditions in the Vieux-Port slums, the plight of Jewish women and children interned in the Bompard camp and the operations of the maquis. She and her sister Mindla joined the Resistance very early on. As a liaison agent for the FTP-MOI group, she smuggled leaflets, weapons and forged documents. On August 21, 1944, she took part in the liberation of Marseille, documenting the event with her camera.


Left : Girl in Bompard Camp. Bompard Camp, Marseille, France, 1942.  © Julia Pirotte/Mémorial de la Shoah.
Middle : The Battle of Marseille. Marseille, France, August 21, 1944. © Julia Pirotte/ La contemporaine. Bibliotheque. Archives. Musee des mondes contemporains.
Right : Freedom demonstration after the liberation of Marseille. Marseille, France, August 29, 1944. © Julia Pirotte/La contemporaine, Bibliothèque, Archives, Musée des mondes contemporains.



Julia Pirotte returned to Poland, where reconstruction was in full swing. Her brother Majer died in a gulag in the USSR and her sister Mindla was executed in Germany after her arrest for resistance. In 1946, she was one of the only photographers in Kielce just after the pogrom. Her reportage is a poignant testimony on antisemitism, which was still rife in the country of her birth. In the following months, she traveled with Polish miners being repatriated from France. In 1948, she covered the World Congress of Intellectuals in Defense of Peace in Wroclaw, making portraits of participants including Pablo Picasso, Irene Joliot-Curie and Aime Cesaire. At the same time, she co-founded and directed the Press Agency WAF. 

In 1957, Julia went to Israel to experience life on a kibbutz. Back in Poland, she continued working for the Polish press, but at a much slower pace. In the 1980s, her photography began gaining recognition and was exhibited in many cities, including New York, Arles, Stockholm, Charleroi, Paris, Warsaw and Bratislava. On February 15, 1996, France awarded her the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. She died in Warsaw on July 25, 2000.


Left : A little girl on a ruined street. Warsaw, Poland, 1947. © Julia Pirotte/Musée de la Photographie à Charleroi.
Middle : Funeral of the victims of the Kielce pogrom. Holy Cross voivodship, Poland, July 1946. © Julia Pirotte/Memorial de la Shoah.
Right : « The New Man or the Power of the Worker ». Warsaw, Poland, 1947. © Julia Pirotte/Musée de la Photographie à Charleroi.



Suzanne Spaak (Bruxelles 1905 – Fresnes 1944)

As a member of the Franco-Belgian section of the Orchestre rouge intelligence network and a leader of the Mouvement National contre le Racisme (National Movement Against Racism, MNCR), Suzanne Spaak organized and coordinated efforts to rescue Jewish children. She was arrested by the Gestapo on November, 8, imprisoned and tortured in Fresnes and shot on August 12, 1944. Suzanne Spaak played a decisive role in Julia Pirotte’s career as a photographer and gave her the Leica camera.

Photo : Portrait of Suzanne Spaak by Julia Pirotte. Brussels, Belgium, 1939. © Julia Pirotte /Mémorial de la Shoah.





Mindla Diament (1911 – 1944)

Julia’s sister, refugied in France before war, Mindla Diament joined the FTP-MOI Resistance network, becoming a liaison agent. Arrested at a checkpoint in Chalon-sur-Saône, she was jailed in Dijon and the Sante prison in Paris before being deported to Germany on December 3, 1942. A court in Breslau sentenced her to death and she was guillotined on August 24, 1944.

Photo : Mindla Diament. France, before 1944. © Julia Pirotte /Mémorial de la Shoah.






Curator: Caroline François, in charge of exhibitions, and Bruna Lo Biundo, independent researcher
Graphic design: Estelle Martin.

Free entrance

Mezzanine at the Shoah Memorial in Paris

Read the press release