Photographs crucially defined National Socialism for contemporaries as well as later generations. Yet outside some instances of formal propaganda, scholars have paid little attention to photos – with ethical consequences that continue to affect the ways we remember Nazism and its victims today.
Millions of photos were taken in this period by hobbyist and casual photographers; an estimated 10% of Germans owned a camera in 1939, many more participated in the practice. These photos are records both of people's engagement with the dictatorship, and of their efforts to distance and separate themselves from it.
They are evidence of the interaction between ideology and subjectivity, of politics and lived experience: materially, because many albums mixed personal photos and ideological artefacts, eg, newspaper cuttings, and metaphorically, because many people positioned themselves in and through photos, as participants in public life under Nazism, at political events and rallies, in organised leisure programmes, child evacuations, volunteer and compulsory labour services, or in the war.
Some photos also offer insights into alternate private worlds that individuals sought to construct as a refuge or a place of separation from politics. In the case of Jewish Germans, photos show different emotional dispositions, contracting social spaces, narratives of emigration and escape, or experiences of persecution, in ways that challenge the official photographic record.
- Michael Wildt (Professor for Modern German History at Humboldt University Berlin)
- Daniel Wildmann (Director of Leo Baeck Institute London and Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary University of London)
- Tim Cole (Professor of Social History and Director of Brigstow Institute at the University of Bristol)
- Alan Marcus (Associate Professor at Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut)
- William Niven (Professor in Contemporary German History at Nottingham Trent University)
- Judy Cohen (Photo Archivist and Chief Acquisitions Curator at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
The National Holocaust Centre and Museum are project partners. Together, we have been awarded a further grant from Arts Council England, to create the exhibition The Eye as Witness: Recording the Holocaust, which will tour the UK in 2020 and 2021.
We have also appointed two international museum curators who work within our project team. They are Herbert Justnik, from the Ethnographic Museum, Vienna, Austria and Magdalena Vukovic from the Photoinstitut Bonartes in Vienna.