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  • Writer's pictureRony Alfandary


This is a study, written in 1986, of some visual representations of the Holocaust which I analyze phenomenologically and deal with some unanswerable questions as to how is it possible to represent such a period.

As it was written more than forty years ago, at the very beginning of my academic career, it is flawed and needs to be excused in many passages for being naïve, incomplete and often inaccurate.

Nevertheless, I put it here in the public eye as a representation of my preoccupation with the memory of the Holocaust. It was written with a sincerity and even pain as a unconscious response to my sense of youthful guilty obligation towards the memory of my dead relatives

June 2022



"The full story of the Holocaust has not yet been told. All that we know is fragmentary, perhaps even untrue. Perhaps what we tell about what had happened and what really happened has nothing to do one with the other. We want to remember. But remember what? And what for? Does anyone know the answer to this?" [1] This work is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother, Rita Parenti who died peacefully last year, and to the memory of her brothers and sister and their spouses and children who died in Auschwitz.

In Chapter One I will be laying down the personal and political motives for engaging in a study of the visual representations of the Holocaust in reference to public notions in the 1980's.

Chapter Two contains some basic information about the Holocaust and antisemitism.

Chapter Three will be dealing with the work of Roman Vishniac, a Russian Jew who documented the lives of the Eastern European Jewry between 1936 and 1938, and Joe Heydecker, a German soldier, who photographed in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941. In that chapter I shall be discussing the notion of "The Concerned Photographer".

Chapter Four will be discussing the images, and responses, of Margaret Bourke- White and George Rodger, both working as photographers for Time- Life to the sights they witnessed in the concentration camps in April 1945. I shall also relate to the Auschwitz Album, which contains photos taken by the German officers in Auschwitz.

A word about the usage of images in this test. Naturally, they are not here as mere illustrations of points made in the text, but hopefully amount to a parallel, complementary text which makes its own points with the viewer.

I would like to thank the following institutions and individuals without whom this would have not been possible: Nitza Spiro from The Spiro Institute, Barbara Lewis from Goethe Institute, Pergamon Press, Carola Grindea, Samanth Turner from BIPAC, Mrs. Bendel from the Israeli Embassy, the Weiner Library in London, Euan Duff for his tutorship and Monica Stopleman.


My recent academic training has led me to question every creative action or impulse in terms of "why do I do it?" and "does it have a communicable significance and if so what is it?"

The medium of photography is particularly open to such questioning.

Photographers' treatment of some events often tends to be couched in an aura of 'being realistic and truthful', which is used to protect them from scrutiny and from a suspicion of a bias. The resulting authority of the photographer blurs the important distinction between what is the event and what is its representation and also obscures the role that the photographer/observer played in both.

I will question, therefore, the validity of any such photographic work which claims to have an objective bias and so detach itself from the event it is describing. Through such a questioning I will examine the attitude of photographers towards their subject. The event the Holocaust[2], is probably the most significant event in the history of modern times. In this introduction, I shall attempt to elucidate the personal and political significance of writing about visual representation of the Holocaust.

What we, and future generations, will remember and know about the holocaust is predominantly dependent upon what material survives and the way in which this material will be viewed, ie its significance in contributing towards an understanding.

Fig. 1 - Margaret Bourke-White - Leipzig-Mochau 1945

The importance of the visual image in shaping our awareness in this age cannot be underestimated. It is visual information that will leave the strongest impression upon our memories. Eighty percent of what we know about the world, which becomes our memories, we absorb through images, and in our eyes, the artificial ie the constructed image is one that we're more likely to encounter. Francis Ford Coppola, the American film director who is of the post-war generation, has remarked that previous generations of film Makers like John Ford and John Huston, had come into film making from various and disparate occupations, whilst he, Coppola has come into film making from film watching. Unlike Huston and Ford for whom film was a secondary experience, for Coppola, and all of us, film and the visual image, mainly through the television, has become primary and almost replaces life experience.

I do regard the Holocaust as a mere historical phenomenon that had happened and no longer affects our lives. Tied up to this is my firm belief that antisemitism, which lies at the centre of the Holocaust, is not a thing of the past. Antisemitism is still a significant phenomenon, and it is through the channel of holocaust denial that it is has expressed itself most vocally in recent years. It is because of this expression of antisemitism that I am writing this work.

It is a commonly held view that Hitler has eliminated, along with the Eastern European Jewry, antisemitism. It is true that antisemitism in the last forty years has taken a secondary place in the public attention to anti-Black and anti-Asian sentiments, but it is far from being a thing of the past.

The evidence that antisemitism is still active is abundant. Only recently the Republican Party in West Berlin, which is explicitly antisemitic, has gained 8% of the votes for the West Berlin Parliament and on that strength would most definitely have representation in the West German Parliament in the next election.[3] Also in Germany, the spread of virulent anti- semitic and pro -Nazi computer games using Nazi propaganda is wide and clandestinely distributed by 'Adolf Hitler Inc'. [4]

Gili Seidal sites in her the book "The Holocaust Denial"4 numerous examples of how the holocaust as an event is being denied either its existence or its significance. The Revisionist Approach to history, out of which the Holocaust denial arises came to public attention in November 1988, when the president of the Bundestag, Philip Jenninger said, in a speech to commemorate Kristallnacht that many Germans found Hitler fascinating and that such a view is not to be disregarded as Hitler's first few years were a "glorious procession." [5] What Jenninger was trying to do was to restore a feeling of pride amongst the Germans, a feeling that can only be borne of a certain reclaiming of the past in such a way that would make it bearable and which would allow the Germans to feel good about their national identity again.

Jenninger, who had to resign but who stuck firmly to his ideas and said that he was supported by many Jewish friends, is associated with the historian Ernst Nolte, who began in the sixties to disseminate the notion that Nazism was a natural response to the Bolshevik danger that was threatening Germany from the East. He does not deny that the holocaust happened but invalidates its significance as the attempt to exterminate the Jewish people. Unlike ultra- right and neo- Nazi groups, Ernst Nolte has acquired a credibility, which is usually denied to other Revisionist historians by the academic establishment. All the same, Holocaust denial books turn into best sellers, finding an eager audience in Europe. Nolte's views are published in main stream newspapers, such as the Guardian most recently.[6] What Ernst Nolte, Philip Jenninger and the revisionists try to do is to rehabilitate Germany's past by placing the Nazi crimes in historical context in which Stalinist Russia plays a similarly criminal role. Whatever value such comparison may have in itself, its immediate effects id in the trivialization of the Holocaust by grouping it with events that do not share its anti- semitic and genocidal features.

The marginality of the Holocaust denial is such only as a result of the fierce opposition that it receives from Jewish quarters and others. As the events recede, this opposition has now to rely more and more upon documentation of the Holocaust rather that on any live testimony. The further we are moving away from the 40's the fewer survivors will be here to testify to what will always seem unbelievable. Soon, the holocaust will just be a memory in the minds of second and third generation Jews.

For such people, myself included, it often seems that the memory of the experience is worse than the actual experience itself. The pain and the suffering of the victims is, and will remain, beyond my comprehension. But their pain and suffering ended with their deaths.

They were liberated by death, as Schopenauer would say. It is the living Jews, the survivors, and all Jews who are survivors, who have to live on with the memory of that experience.

The Holocaust has become the most significant part of the modern Jewish identity. It is unbearable to live with and impossible to cast off.

Untreated, the memory is like a cancerous growth. It will develop and finally overwhelm the life vitality. But the treatment itself is painful and, like with cancer, there can never be any guarantee for full recovery.

Many Jews would rather pretend it is not there, and since the memory of the Holocaust is entwined with the experience of being Jewish, they would try to deny themselves their Jewishness. This process of self-mutilation which results from the near impossibility of dealing with the memory, could be the final victory of anti semitism. It is only by staying and not trying to forget that we can overcome anti- semitism.

The memory has to remain both a source of nourishment to fuel the struggle against discrimination and as a debilitating wound that never heals and never gives rest.

"People ask, with unconcealed astonishment: "On the Holocaust? Why?" and sometimes add with lowered voices- "Couldn't you find a lighter subject?" I find myself in a position of apologizing, defending, or at least compelled to explain. Writing is not a question of choice. Maybe it is better to liken it to hard labor, when you, the writer, doesn't know what is that stubborn entity which pushes your hand to the papers and demands of you to rub against the elements of your existence."[7]

On one level for me, writing about the Holocaust is a political action as it connects me to the history of the Jews and singles me out as one and, as a result, fuels my indignation and strengthens my defiance. On another level, what emerges is the need to write so as to remind, the world and myself, of the place where life was denied in its essence.

To write so as to remember and attempt in vain to make sense of the Holocaust so as to enable me to live with the inherited memory with some degree of bearability.

Authors like Eli Weisel, and many others, attribute to the Holocaust the significance of ushering a new era into the history of human kind.

Albert Camus writes:

"The years we have just gone through have killed something in us, and that something is simply the old confidence man had in himself, which led him to believe that he could always elicit human reactions from another man if he spoke to him in a language of common humanity." There can be no single thought, no single action or deed that is not seen under the shadow of the events of the holocaust and the implication those events have left on us."[8]

The task of remembering those events, of representing them, of preserving and presenting their memory, I perhaps a burden very few are keen to shoulder, but is one of us can avoid without denying ourselves, each other and the future, for a change. But mere preservation and repetition would amount to trivialization of the Holocaust. The lessons that are to be learnt are hard, and therefore unpopular, and affects us psychologically as well as politically. To allow a constructive learning, our viewing of material about the Holocaust has to be put in a proper context which will prevent the images from losing their educational value and becoming merely shocking and sensational.


One of the initial problems that arises when looking at the Holocaust is how to define it within the context of world history, in the sense that being an event that has never happened before, it has to be given unique and specific dimensions. It is unique and specific both from the intentions of the Nazis and in the way in which they executed those intentions. But viewed as a unique and specific event, dehistorised so to speak, detaches it from history and from us.

A common historical view would be that the Holocaust should also be seen as being the logical end result of a long and violent history of Christian antisemitism. It is not known of any other group in the recorded history of humankind that has been so persistently and systematically persecuted and slaughtered as the Jews. Anti- semitism is unique as an expression of racism. The Holocaust is unique and specific within the context of anti- semitism but it is universal in its implications within the context of world history.

Antisemitism as a term, was coined in 1879 from the Greek, by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr specifically to denote the anti- Jewish events in Europe at the time. It has never been used designate sentiments against any of the other groups of people whose origins are supposed to be traced back to Shem, the son of Noah, like the Arabs or the no longer existing Phoenicians or the Assyrians. It can be safely assumed that had any of the other Semite groups lived within other people for as long as often as the Jews, they too would have encountered discrimination and persecution. But living collectively amongst other people has been largely confined to the Jews. The phenomena of a large number of ethnic minorities being visible in countries all over the world is resultant of the industrial revolution and therefore a fairly recent one.

Therefore, one of the significant features of Jewish history since antiquity, is that the Jews have had to live under political and religious regimes that were not their own. Even in "Ertz Israel" of then, it was only for short periods that a Jewish government ruled over a Jewish nation. The history of the Jews as a political nation in their own country is a history of a people under occupation; Babylonian, Hellenistic, Roman, Ottoman, British, the list is long and formidable.

Since the destruction of the second temple and the expulsion of the Jews from Palestine, the Jews didn't live under their own political government till the proclamation of Israel in 1948. During those 2000 years, Jews had lived in an hundred different countries all over the world, in a physical and spiritual exile from the land which traditional they have regarded as theirs by divine decree. The traditional non-Jewish perception of this situation has always been as "The Jewish Problem." In other words, it is the Jews who have a problem because of the fact that they were not accepted and recognized as equal in whatever country they lived in. It was never considered that perhaps the problem was of the non- Jews who discriminated against the Jews. Significantly, the German Jewish community who has tried, more than any other Jewish group to stop being that "Problem" by assimilation, has suffered most in the Holocaust as a collective.

The experience of being different, of being the 'other', is therefore essential to the understanding of the Jewish experience. The inner belief in the righteousness of their faith (without any missionary zeal or intent that usually accompanies such a firm belief), sustained the Jews in their culture, which of course varied significantly from one country to another but always relied on the same unalterable source, the Torah and its interpretation in numerous studies, and gave a unique sense of identity which is the very cause for the negative feelings the Jews have encountered anywhere they went.

It could be argued that it has been the hostility which the Jews have always experienced from others that have kept them together as a civilization. But it is also important to remember that one of the unique features of the Jewish religion is in its concentration on the here and now of life through adherence to strict life codes, which creates a strong link to an historical/ temporal sense, as different from other concentrate on the after life as a reward for the temporal life. The loyalty to their way of life, which of course wasn't observed by all Jews as assimilation was and is a common phenomena, has provoked wonder at times, but more often fear and indignation which could be argued to be based in a feeling of inferiority.

"When a fundamentally homogeneous group is brought into contact with another group, it undergoes physical repercussions which disturb its absolute or relative equilibrium. This group, therefore, strive instinctively, either by separating itself from the new group, or by assimilating it, to restore its equilibrium….the objective group antagonism tends to diminish with the decrease of group different. It gradually ceases in itself to disturb the social equilibrium, but it disappears only with the disappearance of the group character altogether, that is to say, with the end of its life."[9]

Although as a collective, the Jews always conformed to the political norms of the day and always identified themselves with the government, they have remained separate as a social and religious body.

This collective identification with the ruling institutions and classes (usually through financial alliance, finance being for centuries the only area that Jews were allowed to work in), led to viewing the Jews as enemies of any reformist or revolutionary tendencies.

It is commonly believed that the Jews as individuals have always excelled themselves in every area of life. Jews always seem to be prominent in those areas which are regarded as more worthy than others, like the Arts and the Sciences. The examples of individual Jews who have made considerable to the Western Civilization are numerous.

It is this prominence that has been cited as a provocation and as a proof to the anti- semitic claim that the Jews are trying to dominate the world. Whether or not the Jews are more successful that other people is a futile question that reeks of subtle anti- semitism. The Jews, as a group and as individual, are no different than any other group or individuals. It could be argued, though, that it is traditional Jewish way of life, ie the concentration on study and spiritual achievements, that has trained many Jews to be skilled in scientific and cultural pursuits. It is interesting to note here that most of the Jewish individuals who are seen to have made significant contributions to Western civilization, were in fact individuals that have departed from the traditional Jewish way of life and lived as secular people, with little affinity with the Jewish collective!

Although anti- semitism existed before Christianity gained power through its adoption by the Roman Empire in the third century AD, it was only then that it acquired its virulent modern form. Jews were always restricted as to where they could go and what they could do and generally criminalized in the eyes of the law, but it was Christianity that saw it inconceivable for Jews to exist within their old religion in a Christian world. Christianity brought back to life the old pagan image of the Jews as a people hated by God and therefore game for any Christian believer. It used as its rationale the ridiculous accusation that the Jews, rather than the Romans, were responsible for the death of Christ, and never forgave the Jews for refusing to acknowledge Christ as the Messiah.

Was there something special about the German brand of anti- semitism that produced Hitler and the Holocaust? The Teutonic racial purity sentiment which was revived in Germany during the 19th century is uniquely German. The relationship between the German culture and the Jewish culture is complex. The involvement of Jews in German life was visible and occurred everywhere, but particularly in the cultural field. Interestingly, the Jews who lived in the country which gave birth to the most extreme anti- semitism, were often individuals detached from the traditional Jewish culture and terrified themselves as German from the faith of Mosses'!

The term Holocaust, which comes from the Greek, was brought into use in the English language by Eli Weizel in 1957 in order to express the widespread feeling that the crimes committed against the Jews by the Nazis were unique.

When did the Holocaust begin? Was it with the Wanese Conference in 1942 when the Nazis drew up a list of the eleven million European Jews (apart from those in Britain, Switzerland and Sweden) that were to be dealt with in the Final Solution? Or perhaps with the first mass approval of Nazism and its ideology in the elections of '33? So unlike a term as 'The Second World War' which can be defined precisely as a period in chronological terms, the term Holocaust does not refer to a specific event temporarily but is rather similar in its description as, as a disparate example would be the term, 'Renaissance will never completely disappear and are indelibly transformative to western experience, so is the Holocaust, whose implications and sights will carry on to haunt the human memory and consciousness forever.

Why is the Holocaust unique? It is not the first occasion in human history when genocide happened on such a large scale. It is dangerous to enter a debate as to whether the holocaust is worse that other atrocities that have occurred. There is no base for such comparison.

It is the significance that the extermination of the Jews had within the Nazi ideology which separates the Holocaust from any other mass murder. The determination and the murderous efficiency with which the Nazis went ahead with their plans cannot be equaled. It is as chilling, though, to realize, as we do now with the emergence of more new evidence, that those crimes were not committed without the knowledge of the Allied forces. The existence of the concentration camps were known as early as 1942 but no actin was taken by any of the powerful agencies that knew about it, including the Red Cross. The many individuals who escaped occupied Europe and spread the stories of atrocities in the US for example were largely given the treatment of disbelief. But given the context of the reluctance with which both the UK and the US (both clearly aware of the murderous intention of the Nazis) declared war on Nazi Germany, it is hardly surprising they did not rush to rescue the Jews.

Systematic or even legalized anti semitism was not a uniquely Nazi German thing but it was only the Nazis that set it in the center if their ideology and regime. It isn’t just the fact that 6 million were killed systematically but that without their death and collective disappearance, the whole Nazi ideology and even concrete reality was endangered. In the concentration camps that ideology came into its perfect and ultimate expression. The Nazism was a movement of purification, of 'weeding out' of all the elements they thought were disrupting the progress of the human race (the Aryan race being the proud and prime set example).

The Nazi ideology create a close world or fiction which gave the German reason to live. In realistic terms, for instance, it was illogical to destroy all the Jews as they were needed in the war effort and indeed could have been central to Nazi victory as the history of the Jews generally shows that the Jews were always prepared to fight and die for the country in which they lived. In the last stage of the war when the Nazis were feeling less confident in their ability to win, rather that concentrate their efforts on the front lines, they diverted well- needed resources to the destruction of the millions of Jews that were still alive. The Nazis were ready, and did, to risk their chances of winning the war for the sake of destroying the Jews. So central was the destruction of the Jews in the Nazi world.

I view the concentration camps as the significant aspect of the Holocaust. As this term has come to encompass all the camps in which the Nazis held prisoners some distinction is necessary.

The first concentration camp, in Dachau, outside Munich, was established in 1933 and operated till 1945. At first its function was to intern and re- educate political prisoners, and any other people who were seen as the enemies of the Nazi regime. Systematic murder was occurring there from the beginning, with the SS members taking advantage of their power to eliminate personal foe.

After the war the Red Cross located 2000 camps all over Occupied Europe. Most were concentration camps where prisoners were held as a stop either before being sent to their death or to an adjacent labour camp which supplied free labour force to all of the German industry.

There were six death camps where the extermination of the Jews took place. Their only function was to dispose of human life as quickly and effectively as possible. They were set up when it became clear to the Nazis that the mobile gas chambers that they used during the first years of the war were not going to be sufficient to eliminate the number of Jews that were being rounded up in the ghettos throughout Europe.

It is difficult to estimate how many people have passed through these camps. An estimate of ten million people is the one most historians adopted, six million of those were Jews who were killed in the six death camps. Most of those died during the war. In January 1945, there were 700,000 prisoners in the still operating 14 camps. 40,000 staff members still served in those, mostly men.

I shall not attempt to chronicle the statistics of horror. Beyond a certain point they lose their impact and begin the distract from the implications that are drawn from them.

I shall not attempt to chronicle the statistics of horror. Beyond a certain point they lose their impact and begin the distract from the implications that are drawn from them.

I shall not attempt to chronicle the statistics of horror. Beyond a certain point they lose their impact and begin the distract from the implications that are drawn from them.



Hitler's attitudes toward the Jews was very clear very early.

"We are going to destroy the Jews. They are not going to get away with what they did on 9 November 1918. The day of the reckoning has come."[10]

Some Jews took heed and fled Germany. Most Jews refused to believe in the reality that was slowly forming around them.

Fig. 2 - Roman Vishniac - Vishniac's Daughter, Berlin 1933

Roman Vishniac, Russian born, was one of the few that took Hitler seriously.

"My friends assured me that Hitler's talk was sheer bombast. But I replied that he would not hesitate to exterminate those people when he got around to it."[11]

It was perhaps his own previous experience of anti semitism that had convinced Vishniac in the seriousness of the situation. Being a member of a well- to- do Jewish family, he had been on the receiving end of anti semitism. For him there was no doubt. Already he was familiar with having to live under a potentially hostile government.

After the Russian Revolution he had managed to smuggle his family out of Russia, disguising himself as a solider. It was Trotsky himself that signed the papers that allowed the Vishniac family to escape what they feared would be the revenge of the Revolutionaries, as they were associated with the Kerensky government which the Bolsheviks toppled.

It is in line with his character that Vishniac undertook the dangerous task of travelling across Eastern Europe for four years. "I Knew I could be of little help, buy I decided that, as a jew, it was my duty to my ancestors, who grew up among the very people who were being threatened, to preserve- in pictures, at least- a world that might soon cease to exist."[12]

Fig. 3 - Roman Vishniac - The Cheder, Slonim 1938

Vishniac was living in Berlin after escaping Russia. He became involved in the cultural life of that city and was pursuing his many diverse interests, from biology through photography to oriental art.

He worked in any available job, which occasionally included portraiture. With the little money he managed to save, he went on his long photographic excursions that took him as far as the Carpthianians in Romania.

Fig. 4 - Roman Vishniac - The Cattle Market, Khust, 1938

He would travel from one village to another, exposing one film after another in his Leica and Rollifex, till he ran out of money and had to go back to Berlin to earn more. More than once he was stopped and arrested by the local police because of the suspicious nature of his activities, and on one occasion spent a whole month in prison while the local police took their time to ascertain the pictures he took were not of military importance.

He travelled under the disguise of a cloth salesman, because he believed it gave him credible cover that would not arouse the suspicion of the people he photographed. The success and the significance of such a device is a point I will come to later.

Early in 1939 it was becoming impossible for him and his family to remain in Berlin and they all escaped to the south of France, where, under the Petain regime, they were arrested and put in a concentration camp. As Vishniac was a holder of a Latvian passport, he and his family were pulled out of the camp by the intervention of the Latvian government after three months, and secured a passage to the US.

Vishniac's photos of the European Jewry were slow to be recognized in the States. Although a book of photos from his vast number of negatives was published in 1947, it was hardly a success and sold no more than a couple of hundred copies. The photos that were chosen for that book by the religious publisher were of a spiritual nature and showed none of the hard living condition that Vishniac documented. Nevertheless, some of those who saw those photos were impressed like Edward Steichen who later said:

"they (the photos) ….. have become an important historical document…are among photography's finest documents of a time and place." [13]

Fig. 5 - Roman Vishniac - Studying Kabbalah in Kraków Ghetto, 1936

Fig. 6 - Roman Vishniac - A Shopkeeper who couldn't pay his rent, Lodz, 1938

The first few years in America were difficult for Vishniac, as they were for many other refugees from Nazi besieged Europe. Slowly, he made his way into the world of microscopic photography which is the field for which he is most renowned. It was not until the 1970's that his photos of the Eastern European Jewry were widely exhibited in two main shows, both entitled "The Concerns of Roman Vishniac". It is this title, and all that it suggests, that I will be dealing with in my discussion of his work.

A not dissimilar story in some ways, but not all, is the story of Joe Heydecker, a German, who lived in Nuremburg. Not of a lot of biographical details is offered by him, in the only published text that is available, but he is eager to suggest the uneasiness with which his family viewed the events in Germany. His parents left in 1933, and his father is reported to have said,

"In such a country as this I will not live".[14]

All the same, they all returned back in 1938 and Heydecker joined the Army. Having been trained as a photographer he was stationed in a document unit which travelled through Germany and Poland during the war. It was on two of his stays in Warsaw that he took most of the photographs that are available to us. Those photographs, like Vishniac's were taken clandestinely, and great care was taken tpreserve the negatives and smuggle them into safe hands. Heydecker's wife Marianne, was the keeper of the negatives till the war was over, risking her life to preserve them.

Once under the Allied occupation, the negative were shown to an American officer. As a result, Heydecker was interviewed on the radio, and according to him, his was the first account to reach Germany about what had happened in The Warsaw Ghetto. He was then sent to cover the Nuremburg trials, which was followed by many years of silence, years which he had spent with his family in Brazil.

40 years after the pictures were taken, they were first published in Brazil.

"I find it hard to explain why nearly forty years have passed before I have felt able to publish these pictures. I believe I simply had not strength enough to write the text though I tried several times. I still feel unable to do so. Now I do what I can to set down what is seared into the memory, weak as it may be, because time does run out." [15]

The book is called "Where is thy brother Able?" and the photos in it were printed by Heydecker's daughter. The accompanying text is written in English, German and Spanish and it split into three sections. The first one describes the events in Warsaw leading to the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt and its liquidation, the second one gives brief biographical account of Heydecker's life and the third one deals with Heydecker's memories of his experience in Warsaw in 1941. In a very different way, he took was concerned photographer.

Both Vishniac's and Heydecker's photos are interesting historical documents. The life they describe, the conditions they depict, are things of the past. Their importance for our remembering process of the period is invaluable.

Fig. 7 - Roman Vishniac - A Street in the Jewish Quarter in Lublin, 1937

Fig. 8 - Joe Heydecker - Warsaw Ghetto, 1940

All the same, applying measures of realism and accuracy is not of the highest relevance. Both have manipulated the reality they witnessed to adapt it to their own notions of what it was. Vishniac was trying to preserve and recreate the community of heart that his ancestors belonged to, while Heydecker was trying to comprehend and overcome his guilt of being a part of the system that created the misery he witnessed. Both documents are reflections of their producer's inner realities as well as reflections of the realities in which the people they documented lived.

Fig. 9 - Roman Vishniac - The ice-cream was good. A Little more would be even better. Mukcachevo, 1936

Fig. 10 - Joe Heydecker - Warsaw Ghetto, 1941

Both in the introduction to "The Concerned Photographer 2" book and exhibition, Edward Steichan writes:

"The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each man to himself, and that is the most complicated thing on earth and also as naïve as a tender plant."[16]

Within the book we find, for instance, the photographs of Don McCullin, who is notoriously known for his compulsive obsession with recording awareness control.

During his travels in Poland, Germany Russia and Czechoslovakia, Vishniac exposed several thousand negatives, out of which about two thousand survived. The largest collection made from these photos is in the book "A Vanished World "which includes 180 photos. They are arranged in informal, non-narrative groupings, thematically describing different aspects of the Jewish community. A sense of a narrative emerges eventually, creating a composite picture, based on the imagination of the viewer. Most photos have commentaries by Vishniac with them, describing the circumstances if the time and quit often reflecting on Vishniac's feelings.

Vishniac's professed intention was not to save those people but rather to preserve their image and their way of life. He was realistic in his assessment of the tragic situation and of his own impotence in it.

Fig. 11 - Roman Vishniac - Warsaw Ghetto, 1938

What he was aware of was the importance of the Eastern European community in the continuum of Jewish history. To a people whose link to the past is fundamental (the yearning of returning to the Holy Land being one of the strongest drivers in the Jewish civilization) that sense of continuum is essential. The part that the Eastern European community plays in the Jewish history is now wiped out. The culture is a dying one. The language that was spoken by those people, Yiddish, is nearly extinct, and that is only 40 years after it was the center of a very lively culture activity. A look at these photographers without some knowledge of the culture that vitalized the people in them could be argued to be akin to looking at a book written in a language we don't understand. Vishniac was aware of that and his favorite presentation of these pictures was in an audio- visual presentation the atrocities of war. None of his photographs would qualify to be fulfilling Steichen definition. Nor do they appear to be trying to. McCullin sits very comfortably within the macho truth questors tradition of the photojournalists who traverses the world in search for more distraction from any human concerns. Therefore, the mere inclusion of some like McCullin under the category of concerned photography, invalidates the value of the term.

Steichen's statement is quite shrewd, for within it is one of the contradictions that are inherent in the "Concerned Photographer" myth. Cornell Capa, another espouser of the tradition and the convener of the Concerned Photographer exhibition writes:

"If they (the photographs) alone cannot bring change, they can, at least, provide an undistorted mirror of man's actions, thereby sharpening human awareness and awakening conscience."[17]

The naivety that Steichen mentions is painfully evident in Capa's sentimental statement. It is this bleeding-heart sentimentality that runs like a thread through the ideology behind the Concerned Photographer tradition. Ultimately, it connects with the same impotency that the photojournalists had to face in 1945, confronting the atrocities of the concentration camps. The impotency manifests not only in the witnessing, but also in the inability to use the photographers in a way that would elevate them from the status of decontextualized, free floating, formalistic patterns of light and shadow. Unlike the Photojournalists who, as I'll discuss later, emphasized their impotence by publishing their photos in scrap- book like monographs, which obscure the photos' significance, both Vishniac and Heydecker published their in contained books with editorial where he reflected on the images and their meanings.

Vishniac photographed everything, almost indiscriminately. He travelled from town to village. Thus, a gathering of wise students in a Yeshiva listening to the words of the sage are photographed with the same involvement as the shoemaker in his small workshop. His photos are an impressively balanced and intimate account of the life he encountered. Nothing escaped his eyes, good or bad: Shops that are bereft of any customers or items for sale; interiors of damp and squalid rooms where a family of seven has to share the same narrow area with the workshop of their father; the sad eyed cart pusher whose hard day of work would hardly earn him enough to feed his family, and most days there was no work; the gathering of business of trade on the street; the many different ways and appearances of the Jews, each to his own heart; children and old people confined to their homes because of the scarcity of shoes; scuttling students of the Torah on their way to their studies, heads bowed and eyes low; farmers ploughing their land; and bearded men carrying logs of wood.

Fig. 12 - Roman Vishniac - Rabbi Baruch Rabinovitz, Mukachevo, 1938

Fig. 13 - Roman Vishniac - A Shoemaker, Warsaw, 1937

Fig. 14 - Roman Vishniac - Warsaw, 1938

Fig. 15 - Roman Vishniac - A Community Kitchen for the Poor, Prague 1937

Fig. 16 - Roman Vishniac - The Luxury of a Bath, Warsaw, 1936

Vishniac collected everything he came across. Nothing escapes his compassionate gaze, as if by photographing them he gave them an extra breath of life. Perhaps he collected these images as he would later collect specimens for inspection and photograph under his microscope. The same fascination is evident in both occupations. But…

"Everything made by human hands looks terrible under magnification – crude, rough and unsymmetrical. But in nature every bit of life is lovely. The more magnification that we can use, the more details are brought out, perfectly formed."[18]

Was it his disappointment and disillusionment with human work and humans that encouraged him into his magnificent study of animal and plant life? In his microscope photography he insisted on only photographing living specimens. It is easy to understand, as what he photographed in Europe was dying, in his mind's eye. That quality, of photographing humans he felt would be dead soon, comes over most shockingly in one particularly prophetic photo which shows a group of young girls showering in a summer camp. It is as if Vishniac had a vision into what would be the fate of these girls later, when they would stand in a different "shower" room and be gassed.

Fig. 17 - Roman Vishniac - Children at Summer Camp, Slonim 1936

What was Vishniac relation to the people he photographed?

"They had a special kind of face, those people, a special kind of whisper, and a special kind of footstep, they were like hunted animals- a terrible thing to be. I can never forget them."[19]

As a Jew, Vishniac was sensitive to the plight of the people he photographed. With less foresight and luck, he would have shared their horrible fate.

His sensitivity is put in a different context as we remember that he took some of the photos without the knowledge of those people. Because of the Jewish religion prohibition of making images (making images of men is sacrilegious as it is forbidden to make images of God and as man was made in God's image), but also because of his attempt to be unobtrusive, Vishniac chose to make his photographs without the knowledge or consent of the people photographed.

With his desire to preserve those people, he broke one of the Ten Commandments, which are at the center of the tradition he wanted to save. It could all the same be argued that it was more important to preserve their memory than to observe a ridiculous anachronistic superstition. It is interesting to remember that later in his life, Vishniac was always careful is not damaging the microscopic life that he photographs and even went to great lengths to return it to its natural habitat.

Vishniac himself was a secular Jew and so was his background. The life he was trying preserve was, as he admitted, the life of his ancestors, a relic. All the same, this occasional and slight distance is over-whelmed by the sense of affection and compassion that emanates from those portraits of a life that no longer exists.

It is sad to realize the Vishniac himself held the prevalent view at the time that the Jews didn't resist. It is a view which ignores abundant evidence to the contrary. But Vishniac view reflects on the role he assigned himself.

"Mind you, their (the Jews) utter faith in God might have precluded their looking for a human savior. I knew it was my task to make certain that this vanished world did not totally disappear."[20]

He emerges as the savior the Jews didn't look for.

The image of the little girl who cannot go outside because she has not shoes and on whose wall her father draws flowers to replace those outside, had become a symbol, not unlike Anne Frank, for the innocence and the life that was destroyed by the Nazis. That image was the first that was exhibited of all the others and has featured widely in many publications. It is an image of an orphan and a victim.

Fig. 18 - Roman Vishniac - Sara, Warsaw, 1939

I would suggest that it is such an image many including Vishniac, have chosen to attach to the Jew as it invites pity and sorrow which is borne out of the guilt that many feel In relation to the Holocaust.

Fig. 19 - Joe Heydecker - Warsaw, 1940

Fig. 20 - Joe Heydecker - Warsaw, 1940a

That guilt is no doubt a major element in Joe Heydecker's motives.

"That is my guilt, I stood there and took photographs instead of doing something, even then I was aware of this terrible insoluble problem. To ask what I should have done then is a coward's question. Something, kill one of the guards with my bayonet, life my rifle against an officer, desert and go over to the other side, refuse service….today, I feel there is no excuse."[21]

Heydecker was in Warsaw first when the Jews from all over the city were being gathered into the Jewish quarter (till then there were about 120,000 Jews and 40,000 Poles in that quarter. During the war, from 1940, the Poles moved out and the total population of the Jews rose at one time to half a million In a space meant for 200,000). He witnessed many instances when Jews were being humiliated by the German and the Pole guards. Some of his photos show German sentries searching the bodies and belonging of the passengers through the gates. It was still possible then to leave the ghettos. In the text accompanying the photos he gives sombre account of how the humiliations that the Jews suffered from the guards, were encouraged by the bystanders. His attitude towards the question of whether people knew of what was being done to the Jews is very clear.

Fig. 21 - Joe Heydecker - Warsaw, 1940b

Fig. 22 - Joe Heydecker - Warsaw, 1940c

"There was no secret about it, and it was no novelty, anything so generally known and which could be talked about so easily, which was part of the "spiritual" kit of every soldier in an army of millions, cannot be regarded as a specially kept secret."[22]

He himself confesses to have known. He doesn't shy away from admitting that he was not sure what he himself would have done had been ordered to execute Jews or participate in the transport east (to Treblinka).

Apart from the photos taken clandestinely at the entrance gates to the ghetto, Heydecker took some photos inside the ghetto, into which he ventured (against the Nazi regulations) in search of an old friend.

The rest of the photos in the book are from that excursion. The ghetto by then was hugely overcrowded, with sanitary conditions deteriorating fast. Food was scarce and heating was not available at all. As he was walking through the streets, people were taking their hats off, as they were ordered to do by the Nazis. He was soon approached by a Jewish member of the Nazi appointed local police, who tried to act as his guide. Whenever Heydecker pointed his camera at any one, they would take their hats off and freeze in front of the camera. Heydecker would try to get them to act naturally, which they couldn't, as is only reasonable considering their experience with the authorities that Heydecker represented with his uniform. It is the same gaze that Primo Levi writes about, which I will mention later, the gaze that is exchange between participants in a power relationship where one has all the power and the other none.

Fig. 23 - Joe Heydecker - Warsaw, 1941

Fig. 24 - Joe Heydecker - Warsaw Ghetto 1941

Fig. 25 - Joe Heydecker - Warsaw, 1941a

All the same, faced with the obvious terror of his subject, Heydecker kept walking through the ghetto, kept taking photographs, motivated in the same way as Vishniac was in taking photos of those that didn't want to be photographed for the sake of the memory of the future, so that the world remembers and knows what had happened. Like Vishniac, Heydecker admits his impotence but all the same prints and publishes the fruits of that impotence.

"I marched through the streets of the ghetto, a grotesque object, a sort of automaton form another planet, and the crowded street parted before me….I made my request as politely as I could to be allowed to take a portrait, but it made no difference, they bore it with the same kind of resignation as if I were ordering their arrest."[23]

There is an honesty about Heydecker's exploits that does not exist in Vishniac's work. Both are outsiders, observers, voyeurs, travelers and truth seekers. But while Heydecker owns up to this and admits his guilt as his motive and does not try to disown his impotence, Vishniac constructs a sentimental view of the life he photographed in order to excuse his actions. His loyalty his more ambiguous; as a Jew he feels a responsibility towards those people, a responsibility he may feel he betrayed. For Heydecker there was never a question of not betraying those people; his betrayal was inherent in his being, in his being a German soldier and remaining so even while knowing of what the bearers of his uniforms were doing.


It is not possible to understand the experience of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, it is difficult, and perhaps cowardly, not to try, and the number of works that have dedicated themselves to trying testifies to this contradiction.

Understanding could lead to accepting and therefore to incorporating the experience of the Holocaust into normative human behavior and by so doing actually condoning it.

This is by no means an exhaustive study of visual representation of the Holocaust. The material I have chosen is highly selective and I am very aware of the existence of other material which I have chosen not to include here because of the limited scope allowed in this dissertation. Nevertheless, I hope that the conclusions I have drawn could be applied to other material.

I have chosen to use extracts from Primo Levi's book "If there is a man" as a parallel course to attempting to gain insight into what it was like. I chose that book not least because of its popularity in England. As I am dealing with the Holocaust as not just a thing of the past, I felt it was important to use a text which has proved to be accessible to contemporary audience.

I have said earlier that it is not with the level of realism or accuracy that this discussion is concerned. Those cannot be determined despite their historical importance, because of the unreal nature of the Holocaust. What the following discussion is concerned with in dealing with some representation of the concentration camp's experience is the level of compassion employed, or not, by the photographers.

I make a distinction between compassion and between pity. The former indicates an involvement with the subject matter that doesn't allow the humiliating structure of relationship between the observe and the observe to be maintained while empowering both the photographer and the photographed. Roman Vishniac, with all his transgressions, is such an empowered and empowering compassionate photographer.

The pitying photographer, the humanitarian whose heart bleeds faced with the sight of human atrocity, is an important creature, who used their camera to remain within the safe terrain of their own sentimental feelings and so never make an effort to become involved. Their main motivation is of guilt and alienation from the world they live in.

The Nazi ss officers who documented the activities in the camps are, at their best, such photographers. Joe Heydecker is amongst that group.

He, and others, are safe to "feel" for victims, as this "feeling" requires no action but makes them feel better about themselves. The victims themselves benefit none, but are further humiliated by being used as the target for the sloppy sentiments of their tormentors.

The photographs taken by the photojournalists who arrived at the death camps and the concentration camps with the allied forces in 1945 are now used to demonstrate and represent the experience of the holocaust, especially in the mass media. Their historical importance as evidence is crucial. Can they be relied upon as being accurate? Such a question opens the discussion of whether these photos are, or should be viewed as being, realistic and also invite an investigation into the motives and the role of their producers, the photographers.

Recent developments in communication studies have pardoned photographs from having to be realistic. It is no longer assumed that photos are merely copies of the events they document. It is now encourages to question the involvement and the level of interference of the photographers in the construction of the representation they make of reality.

Such views were not, however, a common consideration amongst the photojournalists of the 40's. It is still therefore valid to ask whether those photographers could have been aware of the enormous responsibility, ie of their photos coming to be evidence, that they were undertaking by using their cameras.

I would suggest that they did. If it wasn't for that feeling of responsibility towards the world to reveal the truth of what they were witnessing, I can see no other positive motivation for their actions.

By positioning themselves behind their cameras they excluded themselves from any other possibility of concrete usefulness. Their only self- declared function was to report.

It could be argued that there was no altruistic motive to their actions and that in fact they were nothing but highly paid voyeurs, caught up in their own frantic truth- seeking, restless search, wandering from one site of catastrophe to another in vain search for some existential self-revelation, without having any real concern or compassion towards the people they were photographing.

The question of realism further diminished when one considers the nature of the Holocaust. In the words of Elizabeth Maxwell who had recently organized an exhibition of drawings done by prisoners in the camps:

"The murder of 6 million Jews cannot be depicted in words, music or any visual form. No language or communication through art can speak fully of the tragedy, nor evoke adequately those 6 million people who have been wrenched from us." [24]

Whether these photos are realistic or not cannot be verified. It is no longer relevant either. Indeed, it can be erroneous, and dangerous to speak of truthful representation of reality. All we have of the Holocaust now are representations with varying degrees of credibility.

The search for realism is akin to the search for a single truth or rationale which can only be constructed at the cost of ignoring the multi- faceted, complex and often contradictory nature of all events.

I would therefore suggest again that rather than realism and truthfulness, what should be the guiding line is the quality of human compassion and concern that can be sensed in the various representations I shall follow on to discuss.

What that quality dependent upon is both the effect those images have on us and the choices that the producers of those images had to face at the time. The issue of those choices is one encountered often in the documentation of the Holocaust. It is always out of reluctance that the choice to represent that which is indescribable is made. What has to be faced in dealing with the Holocaust unbearable and the choice to engage in that is an unhappy and reluctant one, but one that has to be made all the same. It is a choice that the producers of the images in the 40's had to face, as do those who deal with the material today.

Primo Levi wrote about his experience in Auschwitz in 1958, 13 years after the Russians reached Mona-Bonowitz, the subsidiary camp to Auschwitz where he had spent 2 long winters.

"In our day many men have lived in this cruel manner, crushed against the bottom, but each for a relatively short period; so that we can perhaps ask ourselves if it is necessary or good to retain any memory of this exceptional human state. To this question we feel we have to reply in the affirmative."[25]

Fig. 26 - Margaret Bourke-White - Mochau Leipzig, 1945

For Levi, there was no relief. He committed suicide in 1987.

When Margaret Bourke- White reached Buchenwald, she arrived with the 3rd Army, led by General Patton. She was working then as a photographer for Time Life, a job that had taken her all over Europe and with which she continued after that morning in April 1945.

"I kept telling myself that I would believe the indescribably horrible sights in the courtyard before me only when I had a chance to took at my own photographs."[26]

Fig. 27 - Margaret Bourke-White - Buchenwald, 1945

It is a telling statement. It reflects the level of detachment Bourke- White had to employ while facing the horrible sights in the camps. She could not bring herself to take it in. She remained behind her camera and hoped that she would be free to be moved by the images once she was within safe distance from them, once the reality that would forces her to bare herself of her detached observer's role would be mere black and white grains of silver on her prints. Faced with reality, she denied it and chose to absorb herself in the forthcoming security of its representation. By detaching herself from that reality, she detached herself from the victims and immediately aligned herself with those who have inflicted the pain upon them.

Her gaze represents the gaze of the world, which refused to believe. It is her non comprehension which the world shared when faced with the reality of the concentration camps.

It is difficult and perhaps unfair to criticize Bourke- White for the choices she had to make on that cold April morning. To a large extent she was responding in a way which can only be expected of someone who puts themselves in the position of the reporter. It is possible that had her role been different, had it had more possibility for personal action within it, she would have reacted differently. But having the camera in her hand, she used it, uncritically to do what she thought she was capable of doing. What she could do was limited by the choices she had in front of her. The impotence of her actions is not so much a result of her personality but of her role.

On the same morning, in the same place, when the weak winter sun was breaking through and warming the snow covered ground in Buchenwald, General Patton ordered his soldiers to go to the nearby Weimer, and round up a thousand German civilians to be brought to the camps and witness the result of what they and known was happening but which they chose to ignore. The outraged soldiers came back with two thousand civilians, who were then told to walk around in the camp amongst the heaps of bodies. The photos Bourke- White took show those civilians staring at the death around them, the women holding handkerchiefs to their faces, the men standing with their hands in their pockets, concealing a nervous response. That was the initial response of the world to the destruction, one of the disgust and nervousness, one of observers standing around the traces of human lives with the detachment that their lives and well being granted them.

What they were witnessing was not the experience of the Holocaust nor the experience of the death camps. They were experiencing death ,death on a scale perhaps never seen before by them but all the sane death as they must have thought about it, lifeless bodies, sacks of bones.

What even General Patton could not force them to experience or to witness is the experience of dying, which is the essential experience of the concentration camps. To experience that they would have to have been there. Nor can any photograph represent, however crudely, such an experience. This distinction between death and dying is crucial to the understanding of the experience of the concentration camps.

Jean Amery wrote about

"The total collapse of the aesthetic idea of death…there was no place in Auschwitz for death in its literary, philosophical, or musical forms. No bridge led from death in Auschwitz to 'Death in Venice'."[27]

Such death, as in Death in Venice, has led people of all races and nations to find metaphors to facing up and understanding our own fate and mortality. The 'Haftling' (prisoner) in the camp who tried

"To establish a spiritual or metaphysical attitude towards death... stumbled… against the reality of the camp which condemned the hopelessness of such an attempt."5

"One has to fight against the current; to battle every day and every hour against exhaustion, hunger, cold and the resulting inertia; to resist enemies and have no pity for rivals; to sharpen one's wits, build up one's patience, strengthen one's will power, or else to throttle all dignity and kill all conscience, to climb down into the arena as a beast against other beats, to let oneself be guided by those unsuspected subterranean forces which sustain families and individual in cruel times."[28]

If it seems that such experience is not remote from the known spectrum of humanity, Levi writes elsewhere:

"we say hunger, we say tiredness, fear, pain, we say winter and they are different things. They are free words, created and used by free men who lived in comfort and suffering in their homes. If the Lager (concentration camp) had lasted longer a new, harsh language would have been born; and only this language could express what it means to toil the whole day in the wind, with the temperature below freezing, wearing only a shirt, underpants, cloth jacket and trousers, and in one's body nothing but weakness, hunger and knowledge of the end drawing near."[29]

An indication to Bourke -White's insensitivity to the human suffering she was witnessing and her adherence to the documentary\realist notion of producing well- composed, well- lit, sharp pictorial images at any cost is seen in her usage of a flash gun when she came to photograph some of the survivors inside the huts. The camera in itself was enough to place a distance between her and the prisoners, but using the blazing light was not essentially different from using a spot light to interrogate prisoners. The gaze of the prisoners reflect that feeling of being under the scrutiny of a more powerful being than them, a being with a superior authority.

Fig. 28 - Margaret Bourke-White - Buchenwald, 1945a

Fig. 29 - Margaret Bourke-White - The Living Dead of Buchenwald

The relationship between Bourke- White the prisoners is one of subordination. Bourke- White has compete control of the situation. In fact, she created it with her usage of the artificial lighting.

Without the shock that the sudden bright light, the faces of the survivors would not have looked the way they do. The people that she photographed were still frightened of authority and probably always will be. She appeared just as an extension of that authority, with her healthy appearance and the luxury of owning clothes and personal belongings (Primo Levi writes about the ultimate degradation of not being able to even own your own hair in the Lager)

I am not arguing a case for technically flawed, blurred and unclear photographs as being a more adequate response to the experience of the concentration camp, although such a case has some validity in it. The point about producing neat photos is in the attitude that is required for such a task. I question whether it is possible to assert the distance and coolness required for such an attitude and still maintain a level of compassion and concern.

Primo Levi wrote that for him there will never be any reality outside the reality of the 'Lager'. These photographs are the result of the mingling of the reality of the Lager with the reality of the world outside. These photographs are the attempt of the photographers, who as photojournalists perhaps believed themselves to be the conscience of civilization, to exonerate themselves as humans from the association with both the people who committed the crimes and those who suffered them. Taking those photos is the attempt to include what they encountered in the camps within the accepted range of human experience.

Such as attempt to ignore the atrocious uniqueness of what they were witnessing can only be achieved by a detachment from that experience.

A different kind of choice was made by George Rodger, who, like Bourke- White and most of the photojournalists at the time, was working for Time Life. He too travelled extensively with the Allied forces throughout the war. In April 1945, he arrived in Belsen and was one of the first people to witness the shocking sight of countless bodies lying all around throughout the enormous camp. Some prisoners were still alive but in very bad condition. He was standing and photographing as the Polish peasants were assisting the soldiers in trying to save those that still had some life in them. At first he was treating it as if it was just another event to be covered under his duties. It was when he realized that he was wishing in his mind that the bodies were arranged differently, in a way that would create a "better" photograph that he stopped taking pictures. He realized that he was turning corpses into art and could proceed no further.

Fig. 30 - Margaret Bourke-White - Buchenwald, 1945b

Unlike Bourke- White, who was also shocked at what she was witnessing but carried on all the same, Rodger stopped taking pictures and left the camp without talking to anyone. Thus began his journey, during which he was reported missing, till he reached Denmark a few days later. Rodger ten had a nervous breakdown, which he related to his experience in the camp. After recovering, he began travelling in Africa in what must have been a search for the simplicity and the innocence that he had lost in Belsen. While in Africa, Rodger resumed taking photographs, this time of the local people, and their ritual. In 1974 he published a monograph of his work which includes one of the photos he took in Belsen, as well as those he took before then and those he took in Africa later. The book is laid out in a way that doesn't distinguish between the photo taken in Belsen and the others.

All are given equal status, ie all decontextualized, and lose their specific meanings. The moment in Belsen loses its significance as the result of the careless juxtaposition with the other images.

Was the choice Rodger made by stopping taking photographs in Belsen any different that Bourke- White's who continued? Had he stopped from working as an observer altogether, rather than continue to observe others in a way that could not help but be detached, his choice in Belsen would have been exceptional and commendable, but Rodger was not essentially effected by what was going on in Belsen. What he was shocked by was not the fate of the Jews but the realization of what was going on in his mind. Ultimately, he was not moved compassionately.

Declining to be interviewed by me, he added that the experience in Belsen was still very painful for him. Is it his guilt that is still tormenting him?

At that moment in Belsen, when he stopped being the detached observer and allowed himself to be affected, Rodger became empowered and lost his impotence as a photojournalist. But for reasons that can only be speculative, he could not sustain the silence, which George Steiner prescribed to all artists working in the post- Auschwitz era. Perhaps, not unlike others who survived the Holocaust, he felt ordered to life by the death he saw.

There is no doubt of the genuine rage and feeling of injustice that Bourke- White felt, nor the sincerity of her belief in the effectiveness of her work. She had the right ideas and like most Germans wished for the lesson to be learnt.

"Unless we do this (learn the lesson) this war will be without meaning for us, and some of the hope for a good world Will die in the hearts of men everywhere." [30]

While George Rodger grasped perhaps the horrible sense of his impotency while being in the act of documenting in Belsen, Bourke- White was reaching a similar forlorn conclusion later.

"We turned out back on our greatest opportunity to do something constructive with the youth of Germany. We had no plan, no desire, no willingness, it seemed, to teach a democratic way of life."[31]

All the same, both continued to work, not learning the lesson their experience was teaching them. It is this hypocrisy that is most telling.

What do they tell us, these horror images? I feel that their effect is actually adverse to beginning to come to terms with the reality of the concentration camps. They are too strong, they affect us on such a gut level that debilitates us. Such a reaction is indeed appropriate in the face of those horrors. But it is one which allows the viewers to detach themselves from the content of those images and their meanings. Because of their shock effect, these images become inaccessible and may prevent viewers from realizing and coming to terms with the fact that the Holocaust happened to people like them, that it could have happened to themselves, and furthermore, that the crimes committed were committed by people like themselves. These images have the dangerous potential of transferring the events of the Holocaust to a fantastic, half- fictitious plane, where no one can draw conclusions from them and related then to their own lives. The danger of state- fascism are still too near and real for us to allow that to happen.

What is so infuriating about Bourke-White's and Rodger's impotency in not only the choices they Made about photographing in the camps, but the later choices they Made about how those images were used.

Both have allowed those images to be included in their monographs, alongside the many disparate images that they had taken during their long and prolific careers. There was no attempt to allocate the images from the camps their appropriate place within the monographs, and they are treated with the dame level of indifference as other, less loaded images. They lose their significance and become, at best, mere, shockers, or, at worst, patterns of meaningless shapes.

The extent of Bourke- White's impotent indifference can be realized when we remember that she had spent long hours trying to get good exposures of the light trace that the bombs were leaving in the night sky, bombs that landed and killed many, and quite often delaying artillery units till she was ready with her equipment!

Fig. 31 - Margaret Bourke-White - Bombing of Moscow, 1941

For those images to achieve any educational value, they have to be viewed within a special context, constructed carefully, with clear intention of instructing and not only shocking.

A different observer can be found in the Auschwitz album. This is an album of photos discovered in Auschwitz by a survivor, Lili Meier, after being liberated. In it are 185 photos taken by an anonymous German officer. The book is divided into several sections under various headings like 'Arrival of Transport', 'Men on Arrival', 'Birkenau' and others. It is a classification that is borne out of the Nazi mind. It is concerned with showing the process by which the Jews were treated in Auschwitz.

Fig. 32 - Arrival of a Transport

Fig. 33 - Personal Effects

This album is a typical illustration of the logic that drove the Nazi ideology. It is a logic that is created from within a fictitious world that believes in its own created facts and which uses those same ones to justify itself, in a circular argument manner. Jews are no longer human beings but merely types that can be catalogued. Their degradation through the book is observed with the analytical coldness of one who believes in his right to dispose of them because of their inferiority and the incompatibility with the new order. It is the gaze of the ultimately detached observer, detached from the humanity of those he photographed.

Fig. 34 - After Delousing

The photojournalists that covered the 'liberation' of the camps were moved by what they saw.

"I longed for it to disappear, because while it was there I was reminded that men actually done this thing men with arms and legs and eyes and hearts not so very unlike our own. And it made me ashamed to be a member of the human race."[32]

But by the fact of being moved, being shocked and horrified, they removed themselves from the experience they were witnessing. They refused to believe it was real or human in the sense that they were real and human.

The photographer of the Auschwitz album is within the experience, he is the creator of that unreality. There is no detachment from the event, only from the people in it. He participates in the logic that created that event, unlike the photojournalists who participated in the humanity of the victim but could not include themselves in the event itself. His gaze is a Nazi one.

"He (the Nazi officer) raised his eyes and looked at me…

That look was not one between two men; and if had known how completely to explain the nature of that look, which came as if across the glass window of an aquarium between two beings who live in different worlds, I would also have explained the essence of the great insanity of the Third Germany."[33]

Most of the photos in this book are of crowds; crowds upon arrival on the platform, getting down from the train which has carried them in a long and torturous journey; crowds being lined up on the platform before the Selection which determines who will die immediately in the gas chambers (which can be viewed in the corners of many photographs) and who will die later, slowly, from hunger and cold; crowds walking silently and bowed- head; crowds of frightened and numb looking men, women and children huddling together in front of the camera; crowds lined up in the infamous roll calls; crowds marching to receive their meagre portions of thin soup; crowds of drained and vacant people awaiting their fate and looking into the camera with no expression on their faces.

Fig. 35 - Assignment to Labour Camps

Fig. 36 - Selection

It is those images that testify the Jew as a symbol of the modern man; alienated in a mass society, overcome by numbers, In the camps the Jews are forsaken by their father, their spiritual father, the patriarchal God who lets them suffer unheeded. This experience of the father loss is a prevalent one to individuals in modern time; it is synonymous with the loss of the significance and relevance of the values that sustain people in their lives and the inability to find other to replace them.

The identity of the German officer who documented the arrival of the deportation of the Hungarian Jews is unknown. Nor are his motives obvious. Despite the fact that the Nazis were never too cautious about having their cruelties documented, there is no other such thorough documentation of the camp. Unlike the other German observer, Joe Heydecker, there is no sign here of remorse or chest beating.

The book was cynically titled by his producer "The Resettlement of Hungarian Jews", still attempting to conceal the reality of events in Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and likewise, the photos themselves were carefully selected, throughout the process of production, to avoid showing scenes of violence. That resistance existed in Auschwitz we know from testimonies of survivors, but the Nazi photographer maintains the fictitious reality of the Nazi ideology that such scenes would upset. Some such photos, all the same, have survived and bear silent witness to the courageous spirit of the prisoners. It is that same spirit which was responsible for the destruction of one of the gas chambers in October 1944.

Fig. 37 - No Longer Able- Bodied Women

Fig. 38 - Birkenau

It is unlikely that this album was meant to be used as propaganda.

When the Nazis produced their propaganda films about the camps, they took great efforts in staging scenes that described the reality of the camps in favorable light. There was no attempt to do so in this book.

Is it possible to talk about the concerns of the anonymous photographer of the Auschwitz camps?

The inhumanity of his actions was only suppressed by the fate of those that he photographed. He is the ultimate voyeur, the ultimate intruder. The people he photographed were on their way to their death, had no claim to life anymore and could be used to study as a specimen of an extinct race.

Despite his careful omission of close up of German soldiers, a few photos contain recognizable Nazi faces. These photos were used in the trial of the 26 officers from Auschwitz, 12 of which were identified through the photos. If it wasn't for these photos, these Nazis would not have been convicted.

Fig. 39 - After Delousing

Concerned as he must have been to conceal the identity of the captors and vilify that of the Jewish prisoners, ultimately, he ended up doing just the reverse; condemning the Nazis and giving us a candid record of the suffering of the Jewish prisoners.

Another attempt of dealing with representation of the Holocaust which I would like to discuss briefly, is the art produced in the concentration camps by the prisoners. Through that discussion I would try to find out how it is possible to survive the experience and use it in an expressive way that has a grain of hope and growth within it.

This cannot be an exhaustive discussion of the work produced in the camps. Janet Blatter defines Holocaust Art only such work that was produced by people who had artistic tendencies and skills, in the broadest sense. Therefore work by children, although abundant, is not considered.

"Art has to be an act of conquest, the discovery of a new sphere of human consciousness, and thereby of a new reality…. there is no true art without this exploratory quality, without this frontier venture to make conscious the preconscious, to express what has never been expressed before and what hitherto had seemed inexpressible."[34]

To describe something outside the boundaries of human experience, such is the duty of the art of the Holocaust. To describe hell.

Fig. 40 - Pierre Mania - The Transport, Buchenwald 1943

"People say there is no progress in religion, but in this century, we have shown how inadequate were previous visions of hell. Christian orthodoxy maintains that eternal damnation is what we all deserve. A hundred years ago, preachers would exert themselves mightily to suggest the horrors in wait, and perhaps the most imaginative and effective among them might have persuaded a sensitive listener that the fires of hell were something like what Auschwitz would turn out to be."[35]

That which would have been described as fantastic in the work of Bosch or Goya, for instance, today, with our scanty and never sufficient knowledge of the Auschwitz experience has to be admitted into our newly nadired awareness of reality.

George Steiner advocated silence in the face of such unwelcomed expansion of the human awareness. And yet he himself tried with many words to work through the pain and horror that ordered him.

Fig. 41 - Hellena Olomuchi - Peddler with Yeloow Star, Warsaw 1941

His silence, I would suggest, carries within it an element of guilt for still being human after human kind was gassed in Auschwitz and for the audacity of having to remain alive and remember.

Why did people create art in the camps? Janet Blatter finds three such reasons. A link to former identity, a bridge to the future and as means of transcending the present.

"Nothing belongs to us anymore; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we will have to find in ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains."[36]

To retain something of the former identity, to remind themselves of their previous existence in a world that was different and conceivably is still different for somebody else.

It is interesting that of the work produced in the camps (I am guilty of grossly grouping works and camps together in a way that suggest a unified or cohesive experience or expression which of course didn't exist), seems to be unconcerned with the reality of the camps but with things like Landscape or even camp scape that eliminates the detail that make those camps what they are. Some of that work was commissioned by the Nazis (indeed, most of the work that survived is done by people who had access to art materials because of the work that they were doing in the camps. Their experience therefore is different as it didn't involve, for instance, menial work that very few survived). But not all, and the clue to its existence is in the need to remind themselves of the world outside, through connection with scenes from memory or merely through the practicing of artistic skills that had been used before arrival in the camp,

"So as to furnish documentation for a quite study of certain aspects of the human mind."[37]

Fig. 42 - Otto Karas-Kaufman - Faraway Landscape, Teresinstadt, 1943

The artists of the Holocaust were working in the knowledge that if they were caught they would be executed or at least tortured. Such was indeed the fate of several people in Theresienstadt, the Nazi "show camp ", who were caught transferring drawings, that depicted a different reality than the official version to the Red Cross people. It is relevant to mention that even equipped with those drawings which showed explicitly the sufferings of the victims, the Red Cross still failed to mobilize itself, or others into action, even after the visit to the camp in 1944.

What makes these works effective in a way photographs could never succeed in conveying the experience of the Holocaust is for me the knowledge that the people who made them were there and their only motivation in creating them was because they had no other choice but try and do it as a way of protecting their sanity.

"These pages that I now begin to write would lead to certain death if ever they were found. But what is death? How few of those I knew here are still alive today, how close to death we all stand. I can die here any moment even if I take the greatest care…why should I not endeavor, even in the midst of these conditions, of this cruelty to tell this gruesome story that no longer gives us goose flesh?"[38]

It is commonly asked of the Jews why did they go like sheep to the slaughter, why didn't resist? The question can find one of its many answers in the story of all those artists who risked their lives and drew and wrote about their experience in camps, hoping that there was some notion of humanity outside the world of the lager which would receive and be moved by such a message. That hope we know now to have been a false one, for instead of a questioning the Jews (which by the time of arrival to the camps were devastated through the experience of being interned for hours on the trains leading east), it is the world in general and the Allies in particular who need to be questioned as to why they did nothing to help, as they, unlike the Jews, had the political and military power to help.

It is ultimately impossible to resolve whether visual representations of the Holocaust, and of the concentration camps, are successful in conveying the experience of being there. Time after time, we come across statements by survivors (see Weisel page 1) who profess their own inability and inadequacy about telling the story. All the same, the reader and viewer is moved to some sort of mental picture which shatters all previous notions about humanity and the degradation it will suffer and inflict.

"This ….usurps the bulwarks of our civilization-childhood, family, love, a sense of the human spirit, reason, an idea of the will as a faculty that shapes if it doesn't always control the future, and a durable faith in the uninterrupted process of time and history- as this placement occurs, the reader finds himself unconsciously maneuvered into an alien territory devoid of familiar land marks; and if he persists, he becomes himself a temporary inhabitant of I 'universe concentraitaonnaire, recreating, in collaboration with the artist, the features of a reality that history has declared extinct but which continues to haunt the memory and imagination with echoes of an unquenchable despair."[39]

Is not the profoundest effect of the holocaust in the disempowerment of its survivors and of anyone who 'chooses to anticipate' in it by viewing or reading about it? In the words of a survivor, recently in London:

"It must have taken me 25-30 years to come out and say I will be political again. I was so intimidated when I came with the children's transport to England… this is what it does to you and this is why I am now getting older and older, more political, fighting more and shouting more…and look where we are."[40]


If I was to create an imaginary continuum upon which to place the various photographers according to their level of involvement and compassion, Margaret Bourke White would occupy the traditional cold and blue end of the spectrum, detached from her people and her audience, while Vishniac, who had an animated relationship with his photographs and the people in them, would appear at the other end.

They all share an infuriating impotence to affect and influence the life or death, around them. They document, more than anything else, the failure of the medium in which they operate, to fulfil its ambition as a tool for subversion and instruction.

They succeed in capturing a fleeting moment that only within the context of memory instructs us.

None of those representations can, nor claim to show us what the Holocaust was like, but each work constitutes with and because of its failings, a piece of evidence that becomes part of a whole which carries a message we cannot ignore, no matter how incomplete. After all, the whole picture will always be more than the sum of all its parts.


Alexander E, Rhetoric Advances Theft of Holocaust, in The Oregonian 4 January 1984, p 12

AP, A Praise of the Hitler Years Sparks Bundestag Revolt, in The Guardian, 11 November 1988, p 14

Arendt H, Eichmann in Jerusalem, A report of the banality of evil, Harmondsworth: 1984

Bettelheim B, The informed Heart, London: 1961

Bondi I, George Rodger, London: 1974

Blatter J and Milton S (eds), Art of the Holocaust, London: 1981

Bohm- Duchen M, Arnold Daghani, London: 1988

Bourke White M, The Taste of War, London: 1985

Burgin V (ed), Thinking Photography, Houndsmill: 1987

Callahan S (ed), The Photographs of Margaret Bourke White, London: 1973

Canovan M, The Political thought of Hanna Arendt, London: 1974

Capa C, The Concerned Photographer 2, New York: 1972

Coenen G, The Art of German Drawings VI, London: 1988

Duff E, The Graven Image: 1987

Edelson M, The Magnification of Roman Vishniac, in Camera 35, New York: 1978, pp 38-42

Green G, The Artists of Terezin, New York: 1969

Heydecker J, where is Thy Brother Abel? Brazil: 1981

Israel Pocket Library, Anti Semitism, Jerusalem: 1974

Kirkead B, Roman Vishniac, New York: 1974

Langer L, The Holocaust and the Literacy Imagination, New Haven and London: 1975

Levi P, If this is a Man, Harmondsworth: 1979

Maser W, Hitler's letters and notes, London: 1973

Maxwell E and Halter R (eds), Remembering for the Future, London: 1988

Meier L, The Auschwitz Album, New York: 1982

Peter M (ed), The Pacifist Conscience, Harmondsworth: 1966

Sabin F, The Photomicrographic World of Roman Vishniac, in Omni No 13, New York: 1974, pp 72-80

Sarte J P, Anti- Semite and Jew, New York: 1965

Seidel G, The Holocaust Denial, Leeds: 1986

Reichmann E, Hostages of Civilization, London: 1950

Tagg J, The Burden of Representation, Houndsmill: 1988

Thomforde A, Nazi Fantasies Surface in Schoolboy's Floppy Discs, in The Guardian 15 November 1988, p 13

Toynbee P, Guilt Edged, in The Guardian 21 January 1988, p 14

Vishniac R, A Vanished World

Rothfels H, The German Opposition to Hitler, London: 1970

Wassertein B, Britain and the Jews of Europe 1939-1945, Oxford and New York: 1988

[1] Weisel E. Jewish values in the post-Holocaust future, in Judiaca 16, New York: 1967, P 283 [2] The mere labelling with a word, a symbol, which is the first representation, is an act of detachment that separates us from the experience and allow us to look at it from a certain distance. [3] Roch T. Racist party wins votes in West Berlin, in The Guardian, 23.1.89; P 7 [4] Tomforde A. Nazi fantasied resurface in schoolboys floppy discs, in The Guardian, 15.11.88 P 23. [5] Seidel G. The Holocaust Denial, Leeds 1986. [6] AP. Praise of the Hitler years sparks Bundestag revolt, in The Guardian, 11.11.88 P 14. [7] Schwarz W. Tell it like it was, in The Guardian 28.12.88 p 35 [8] Camus A. Neither Victims nor executioners, in Mayer P (Ed) The Pacificist Conscience, Harmondsworth: 1966 p 424 [9] Reichman E. Hostages of Civilization, London 1950, P 32 [10] Wasserstein b, Britain and the Jews of Europe 1939-1945, Oxford and New York: 1988, P 134 1. [11] Kirkead E, Roman Vishniac, New York: 1974, p 172. [12] Ibid., p 17 [13] Ibid, p 21 [14] Heydecker J, where is Thy Brother Abel? Brazil: 1981, p 14 [15] Ibid, p 16 [16] Capa C, (ed) The Concerned Photographer 2 , New York: 1972, p 7 [17] Ibid, p 5 [18] Kirkead E: 1974, p [19] Kirkead E: 1974, [20] Ibid [21] Heydecker J: 1981, p 18 [22] , p. 27 Ibid [23] Ibid, p 30 [24] Maxwell E and Halter R (eds), Introduction in Remembering for the future, London: 1988, p 5 [25] Levi P, If This a Man, Harmondsworth: 2979, p 93 [26] Bourke White M, The Taste of War, London: 1985, p 261 [27] Langer L, The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination, New Haven and London: 1975, p 71 [28] Ibid [29] Langer L: 1975 [30] Levi P: 1979, p 98 [31] Ibid, p. 130 [32] Langer L: 1975, p 56 [33] Bourke White M: 1985, p 261 [34] Ibid, p 6 [35] Ibid [36] Levi P: 1971, pp 111-112 [37] Kahler E, The Tower and the Abyss, New York: 1967, p 151 [38] Gill A, Stories from the Valley of Death, in The Independent, 3 December 1988, p 31 [39] Levi P: 1979, p 8 [40] Thomson I, Burning Heart Crushed by a Ghastly Phantom, in The Independent, 3 December 1988, p 31

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