Photographs as Propaganda

When the German army invaded Poland in 1939, they took cameras with them in order to capture what they encountered. One of the pictures shows a group of young soldiers surrounding a traditionally dressed
Jewish man. They are smiling, and some of them are turning
backwards to look at the photographer, as if posing for the camera. Two of them have scissors and they are cutting off the beard of the man.
The soldiers are visibly enjoying causing such humiliation to the Jewish victim who’s
trapped in the middle. His facial expression is harder to decipher
but his body language is not. The Jewish victim is rendered voiceless and powerless, a mere
object of amusement. The photographer is clearly one of the perpetrators,
as his comrades are smiling and posing for the camera. This photograph was taken in 1939 in Poland, and it’s one of the hundreds of pictures that
we have in the Yad Vashem archives. Photographs reflect the norms, values and morals of the
photographer’s society. Those soldiers grew up in a society where
most of the Jews were actually assimilated and looked more like the rest of the society,
so when they come to Poland, they see for the first time those stereotypes they grew
up on and they get all excited and start taking pictures. It is important to note that those soldiers were not under any official orders to abuse
or humiliate their Jewish victims, but apparently they were so proud of their acts that they
did take the pictures and sent them back home, or put them into private photo albums. The hundreds of pictures like the one we’ve just discussed show us that the camera was
actually used as a weapon against the Jewish victims.

Comments 2

  • I agree that photographs can be used as weapons. In the American South, photographs were taken of black men, women, and children that were lynched. People, including families with children posed, smiling, in front of murdered bodies and then the pictures were sold as postcards. All of this, as a way to intimidate and scare southern blacks. A documentation of hatred and a warning. 🙁

  • The evil heart of the nazis can be seen when they abused and tortured their Jewish victims.

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