The Holocaust in Poland: Ghetto Photography

Figure 1.--We can usually tell who took photographs in the ghetto by wherther the subjects were looking at the camera. Jewish photographers commonly took photographs sureptiously so as not to be discovered. Photographs like this one here was clealy taken by a German, probbly a German soldier engaging in Ghetto tourism. Reading the faces becomes easier as the time wnt by. At first many Jews were not sure what was happening to them and what the Germans were planning for them. This young woman does not seem to mind the attention of probably a hansome young soldier, although outside the ghetto before the War she would probably would not allowed such a photogrph. Here she is submitting to the German photographer's intrusion -- a inducation of how JHews were stripped of their basic human dignity. Ant German at any time could photograph a Jew without being questioned. Note that the boy in the background is more wary.

Much of the photographic record of the Holocausr comes from the gettoes, most established in occupied Poland. The Germans very restricted photography in the death camps. The Jews were unabke to take photographs and the SS did not permit photographs to be taken, although there were a few exceptions. The ghettoes were a different matter. Both the Jews and the Germans took photographs. The Jews had to take photographs surepticiously. Even before ghetoization, Jews had to turn in possessions like cameras and radios. So any photography was illegal and if discovered probably would have nean that those involved would be shot or hanged. And obtaining cameras, film, and eveloping chemicals very difficult. The motivation for the Jewish photography was primarily to document what the Germans were doing to them. The Germans also took photographs. Most of the surviving photographs were taken by the Germans. Here there were different kind of images. Some were official photographs to be used for NAZI propaganda. Here the Germans had a varity of puroses. In some cases they wanted to show how well the Jews were being treated. These of course were carefully staged photoigraphs. In other cases they wanted examples to show what wretched creatures the Jews were. And among the hundred of thousands of victims after beung starved, beaten, denied medical care, new clothing, minimal sanitation, and other forms of abuse there were many examples of desperate persons to photograph. The ghettoes also became a kind of tourist attraction, mostly for German soldiers. Here their motives are difficult to assess. Some viewed this as a kind of National Geographic experience. Other enjoyed seeing the Jews being punished. The ghetto Jews could not refuse to have their photographs taken. They learned from an early point to deffy a German could mean instant death. The expressions recorded by the Germans speak volumes. Some do not understand what is happening and even fewer understood why the Germans were treating them like they were.

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Created: 10:30 AM 12/1/2015
Last updated: 10:30 AM 12/1/2015