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Ghetto Photographs

Ghetto Photographs HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE 108 Photographs taken in Nazi-created ghettos, can provide students with an important visual understanding of how Jews struggled to maintain their humanity in the inhumane conditions in which they suddenly found themselves in. Used in conjunction with historical information about the creation and functioning of the ghetto system, they offer learners another visual tool to approach the topic of life in the ghettos while honing their critical thinking and analytical skills. Again, the gaze of ghetto photographs is crucial to any understanding of this topic. Some of the most iconic and familiar images to us were taken by the perpetrators themselves. As such, they must be contextualized as to their purpose, intent, and the role they may have played in the realm of Nazi propaganda. The perpetrators, not infrequently, staged photographs to send deliberate messages about how they treated the Jews, and at times to confirm prejudices and myths about European Jewry. This is critical for students to understand. They cannot always take the photographs at face value. They cannot always believe what they see. One of the most useful collections of photographs 3 representing a perpetrator gaze was taken by German soldier Heinz Jost. Yad Vashem has developed an online teaching resource based upon the more than 150 photographs Jost took in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941. 4 It can be used to illustrate the harsh reality of life in the Warsaw Ghetto as well as the overall conditions. Jost’s gaze is particularly haunting as he is not stationed in the ghetto, but enters the ghetto as a sort of “tourist” to witness daily life and record scenes and happenings with his camera. Although it may seem strange to use today to imagine a soldier choosing to enter a ghetto during his leisure time to photograph daily happenings, it was a fairly common occurrence among German officers. One might to describe Jost’s gaze as a type of grief or dark tourism, whereby an individual travels to a place of death and tragedy to see it for himself, and document the environment. However, the sense of compassion and desire to draw attention to injustices that is frequently associated with grief tourism does not appear to be Jost’s intent. The photographs were carefully arranged and securely stored for many years. In their online description Yad Vashem notes that: “They were arranged by him, together with other photos of Warsaw and his army experiences, in a fine, leather-bound album that read, “Das Warschauer Ghetto. Ein 3 Other online collections can be found at and 4

Kulturdokument für Adolf Hitler” (The Warsaw Ghetto. A cultural document for Adolf Hitler). 5 Such contextual information, which does not always accompany Internet resources, are crucial to understanding how and why this collection of photographs was taken, why it may have survived, and certainly provides valuable insight into the gaze of the photographer. Yad Vashem’s accompanying educator resources makes this photographic collection an important and accessible tool for both students and educators. Nazis and their collaborators were not the only photographers of ghetto life. The Judenräte (Jewish Councils charged with administering the ghetto for the Germans) frequently employed Jewish photographs to capture daily life. In some cases, such as the Lodz Ghetto, photographers such as Mendel Grossman 6 and Henryk Ross 7 were charged with photographing the productivity and efficiency of the ghetto as a means of demonstrating its usefulness to the Germans. As official photographers they had access to most areas of the ghetto and so were able to capture the full spectrum of life in the ghetto. Lesser known individuals also photographed ghetto life and for this discussion I have chosen a photograph from the CENTROPA archive (image 3). Taken in 1941 in the Opole Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland, the accompanying interview with Lilli Tauber, the photograph’s owner, provides important contextual information as to the origins, fate, and meaning of these primary source documents. In her CENTROPA interview, Tauber notes: “My father inscribed things on some of the pictures and sent them to Vienna. In his letters to his relatives my father expressed both his thanks for all the parcels they sent to him and my mother, and his fear of an uncertain future.” 8 Such details not only contextualize the photograph historically, but also the establishes the personal and familial connection. The people in the photographs are not positioned as family members and friends of the Taubers, creating an intimacy with the subject. 109 HOLOCAUST EDUCATION IN PEDAGOGY, HISTORY, AND PRACTICE 5 ibid. 6 7 8

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