Our HBC website relies heavily on photography as a primary source. And one of the sources of photographs are images taken by the Germans. We note both official and news photography. Of course in NAZI Germany, press photographs were official photographs, at the least the ones that got published. An important source of unofficial photographs were the individual German soldiers. Photography was very popular in Germany and many Germans had cameras, often excellent cameras. And many soldiers not only took their cameras to war. There were military regulations about this, but they seem to have often been ignored. Many German servicemen were so proud that they prepareed photo albums of their exploits as a record of their exploits and accomplishments. Subject matter varied. Most of the photographs picture barracks life and occupation duty. There are also sight sightseeing photographs. In the East there were many photograohs of the local people who seemed so alien to the advancung Germans who considered themselves more civilized. There are even photographs of the attrocities the Germans were committed which was also against regulations, but some of the men involved were so proud of what they were doing that they wanted a record.
Many Gemans had cameras. And many soldiers took their canmeras to war with them. Germany before World War II was the most important manufacturr of cameras. There were several important manufscturwrs, including Leica and Voigtlander. Zeiss Ikon was notable for the quality of its lenses. They were the best optical company for making binoculars, telescopes, and periscopes. Many a GI got killed or wounded trying to grab a pair of
German binoculars after a battle.
Several European countries had film induustries. The single most important was Germany's Agfa. Agfa dominated the European film market. Outside Europe, Kodak dominated, but Agfa was a strong competitor. The compny was adversely affected and never really recovered from the War. A reader tells us, however, "Even in the 1970s when I worked in camera shops I had many clients who insisted on only buying AGFA film."
The Propagandakompanien der Wehrmacht (Armed Forces Propaganda Company - PK) was the Wehrmacht's corps of war correspondents and photographers. The Chief of the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW) Wilhelm Keitel and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels signed an "agreement on the implementation of propaganda during the war" (early-1938). The Propaganda Ministry (RMVP) wanted a regular supply of suitable material to use for war propaganda. Goebbels wanted to influence both the German people as well as enemy countries. The PK units were organized and ordered to use their camers 'as a weapon'. The agrement betweem the Propaganda Ministry (RMVP) and OKW preserved Goebbels control over propaganda even during war time apparently following Hitler's personal orders. Many of the images clearly were taken for prpaganda purposes. Others were more like historical images to document the conduct of the War and expeiences of German soldiers. There are also images dicumenting war crimes. It is unclear just what OKW planned to do with those images showing war crimes. And we are not sure the PK photographers were actually ordered to take such images. The PK units were initially set up in the Signal Corps. There were initially five PK units, although we are not sure just what these division were. Later the PK units were made a separate service branch--Hinsicht der Amtsgruppe f�r Wehrmachtpropaganda (Official Group for Wehrmacht Propaganda--WPr). THe WPr was commanded by Major General Hasso von Wedel (1898-1961). He reportedly directly to General Alfred Jodl head of Wehrmachtf�hrungsstab (OKW Operations Staff -- WFSt.). The number of PK units were increased. Von Wedel's task was to mediate between OKW/PK units and the RMVP. von Wedel was arrested by the americans after the war and held for about a year. He was not pricecuted and was released (1946).
An important source of unofficial photographs were the individual German soldiers. Photography was very popular in Germany and many Germans had cameras, often excellent cameras. The Germans, even the common soldier might have available to them some of the best cameras (Leica), lenses (Carl Zeiss) and the AGFA film and they took so many pics that many survived the war either in Germany or in the Soviet Union Russia and most Western countries who fought against the Germans (found or took from German prisoners). Many of the German photos from Russian sources might have never even made it to a private collection that was later captured. Some could have been from rolls of film that were still in cameras found on a battlefield or taken from prisoners. And many German soldiers not only took their cameras to war. There were military regulations about this, but they seem to have often been ignored. Many German servicemen were so proud that they prepareed photo albums of their exploits as a record of their exploits and accomplishments. Subject matter varied. Most of the photographs picture barracks life and occupation duty. There are also sight sightseeing photographs. In the East there were many photograohs of the local people who seemed so alien to the advancung Germans who considered themselves more civilized. There are even photographs of the attrocities the Germans were committed which was also against regulations, but some of the men involved were so proud of what they were doing that they wanted a record.
We are not entirely sure of the motives of the German soldiers who took these photographs. The fact that they mostly took photographs in rural areas of the peasantry, commonly of ragged men, women, and children suggests that they were recording the poverty and backwardness of the society that they were destroying. Of course some of this was a result of Stalins's collectivization and the diversion of resources from the countryside to urban workers industrializing the Soviet Union. Certainly novelty was a factor. Some of these photographs seem rather like those a tourist might take when viiting a poor country. Coming from developed Germany they would not have been familiar with such backwardness and poverty. Novelty encourages photography. These images also seem to confirm many of the basic NAZI prejudices about their superiority and Soviet/Slavic backwardness. Eome German soldiers saw themselves embarked on a great crusade to remake the world and wanted to document their accomplishments. We believe that few of the soldiers taking these pivtures were aware of Hitler's plans for the Slavs, although most probably knew that Jews were being killed.
One interesting observation is the number of children, especially Russian children, that appeared in German soldier photography. We do not see many Jewish children, but we do see many Slavic children. And NAZI race teachings targetted the Slavs as a threat to Germany. This was not a campaign any where near the virulenc of the antis-Semtic campaign, but it was a part of the NAZI racial theories pushed in the schools and Gobells-controlled media. The draw of children is not hard to understand among away from their familes in a stange land. We do not know of any author who has addressed this subject and the motivtion what the appeal was. Children are appealing subjects, especially children caught up in the vortex of war, The impression we get from the photographs we have archived is not really sympathy nor is it any malevolent intention. Rather we see a kind of condescending attitude, comnfirming NAZI racist attitudes. It seems similar ijn many ways to American racist depction od blck children ijn the south. We note the German soldiers sharing cigarettes with the boys. A good example are two unidentified boys that the German soldirtr labeled as urchins.
The NAZis through the SS committed some of the worst attrocities of the 20th Century. The most prominant was the NAZI Holocaust targeting the Jews. Other attroicities were aimed at other ethnic groups, especially the Gypseys and Slavs. There were also attrocities associated with the shooting of civilian hostages. While the SS was the central frce involved, the Wehrmacht played a major contributing role in the Holocaust and was invoved in numerous reprisal actions against civilians. Many of these actions involved youths and sometimmes even children. HBC has chronicled much of the crimes committed by the SS and German military. We have noted another side of the Germany military. Quite a number of soldiers, we think mostly officers took photographs during their assignments and compiled photographic albums. Some of these privately compiled albums have come up for sale in Germany. We also notice sales from the Ukraine. We think these albums may be war booty brouht back tonthe Soviet Union as war booty. We note in many of these albums photographs of children. They of course give a rather different image of the individual German soldiers than that we have from the terrible policies implement by NAZI officials. We are not sure how to interpret these images, but it is an aspect of the German soldier that we think needs to be explored. Unfortunately, many of these photographs are not identified.
We notice large numbers of photographs that the Geran soldiers took of Soviet civilans. Most of these photographs were taken rural areas rather than in the cities. And they look to us to have been taken during Barbarossa in 1941, not subsequently in the War. Many of these photgraphs come from the Ukraine, although they may not have been taken there. Soviet armies overran and largely destroyed the Wehrmacht in five major offensives during 1944. This leads us to the question of how German photographs came into Soviet hands. Perhaps the personal affect of German soldiers were obtained in these offensives. Or perhsaps Soviet soldiers brought back German war albums as personal war booty. German soldiers were no susposed to have personl cameras and take photgraphs, at least in war zones. But apparently many did. I think this could have mostly been officers. We are not entirely sure of their motives. The fact that they mostly took photographs in rural areas, commonly of ragged men and children suggests that they were recording the poverty and backwardness of the society that they were destroying. These images seem to confirm many of the basic NAZI prejudices about their superiority and Soviet and Slavic backwardness. The expressions on the faces of the civilins do not seem to be one of fear. Rather the impression one gets is tht the civilians had not idea what the German goals were. It should also be remembered that only near the final phase of Barbarossa did the Germns move into areas populsated by ethnic Russians. One notable observation is that the Soviet rural population looked ragged, they were often dressed warmly--something that could not be said about the invading Germans.
We are collecting images of the War to illustrate the various pages. We are especially interested in images showing children during the War. Some of these images are quite well lnown. Others have never before been published as far as we know. Our purpose here is to show how children were affected by the War, both as civilians and as actual participsnts in the fighting. Some of the images are identified and dated and can thus be placed on the appropriate page. Even when not identified We have also found images that are unidentified, we are often use them to illustrate pages in a general way. We have found some images, however, with no provinance an depicting scenes that we can not fully explain. Perhaps HBC readers can offer some insights on these images.
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