Tom Dormer provides an introspective account on the ethics of exhibiting Nazi propaganda
The 27th of January 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, a time where the Allied discovery of Nazi’s ‘death camps’ gave an insight into the atrocities faced by Jewish and minority communities during the Second World War. Today, photos of the Holocaust are used in many history books and museums to show the inhumane methods employed by the Nazis. However, some critics have now argued that photographs of Holocaust victims taken by Nazis should not be exhibited, as it risks further ‘dehumanising’ those shown. Should these photos be used as a remembrance of the past, or are we unwittingly imparting Nazi propaganda in the 21st Century?
The main arguments used by critics, is that many of the photographs taken by the Nazis were taking in a way to portray their enemies as compliant, terrified or pitiful. Take, for example, the photograph of ‘Warsaw Ghetto Boy‘ depicting a group of men, women and children forced to leave a bunker by armed German soldiers. The centre of the photograph shows a small, frightened boy stationary, with his arms in the air. The image is one of the most iconic of the Holocaust, with the child exemplifying the panic faced by millions.
are we unwittingly imparting Nazi propaganda in the 21st Century?
Whilst the exact location and photographer is unknown, it’s been suspected that it was taken by a member of Nazi Propaganda Company 689 for the report “The Jewish Quarter of Warsaw is No More!“. The way the people are represented in the photo mirrors their dehumanisation in the report, describing them as ‘lice’, ‘rats’ and ‘bandits’. The photographer juxtaposes the weak, helpless young boy in the foreground with the powerful, armed German soldier behind him, this way signifying the compliance and vulnerability of minorities under the Nazi Regime.
However, just because this photo was made to portray minorities in a bad light, does not mean it should be discarded as a piece of forgotten propaganda. Many photos used at the Nuremberg Trial taken by Allied solders were unfortunately similar to those taken by the Nazis. These photos by the allies give an unedited view on the results of the Holocaust. The issue of photo validity arrises when it comes to knowing what happened at the start of the Holocaust, as almost all photographs taken were taken by Nazis. These photos may have been staged, but the numerous stories of hell and terror from Holocaust survivors were not, with their tales often reflecting the scenes shown in these photographs.
Without pictures to evidence the Holocaust at all, it is almost impossible to imagine its full extent. If the pictures that we use to picture this period were by taken the Nazis, then so be it. The difference between us and them is how we use it. Do we use the photo to interrogate others with our messages of hatred and bigotry, or do we use it as a message to show the worst of humanity, and remember something that should be avoided at all costs.