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EDITOR’S REFLECTIONS: TO BUY ORIGINAL HOLOCAUST PHOTOS OR NOT

by Rhonda Spivak, March 20, 2012

 
I had an unusual experience this past trip to Israel. I met a Palestinian Arab who is an Israeli who asked me if I or anyone I knew would be interested in buying photos taken in the Holocaust. Based on the expression on the face of another man who had seen them, it was clear they would be very difficult to look at.

I have never had to contemplate whether a Jew ought to buy Holocaust photos. On one hand, it's clear to me that this type of material ought not to be sold but donated to a museum. The idea of enriching someone selling these photos is morally offensive and repulses me. On the other hand, if Jews don't buy this kind of thing, I shudder to think where they will end up.

The Palestinian man was an antique dealer, and had come across these photos in the course of his work. I began wondering where he would have heard about these photos--Maybe form a German dealer or someone who had taken them or whose family member had. Could they have come from someone in Israel? Is this the kind of thing Arabs are buying ? Jews wouldn't be selling this.

I asked the man what was the price he was selling them for-not because I really thought I was going to buy them, more out of curiosity to see what he priced them as. He answered "I don't know."

Since this happened, I decided to go on E-Bay and see if there are holocaust photos for sale-and there are original photos, including gruesome ones.

As time goes on, it may well be that more and more of these Holocaust photos will appear, as the generation who took them dies off, and their descendants want to sell them.

What will be the policy of Jewish communities on buying this? Should they be bought to enable us to educate future generations of children ?

As Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism [CISA] says, during the Holocaust "The Germans took countless photographs of their exploits across Europe, particularly in the East. There were official war photographers recording the conflict for news and propaganda purposes but individual soldiers also had cameras and took their own pictures. Some made scrapbooks and photo albums of their war experiences.

"In fact, the famous Wehrmacht Exhibition of 1995 (Vernichtungskrieg. Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944 or “War of Annihilation. Crimes of the Wehrmacht, 1941 to 1944”) used the photographs and letters of soldiers from this period to document the fact that the regular German army, not just the SS, was deeply complicit in the destruction of European Jewry. The German public was shocked and outraged by the exhibit, which clearly demonstrated the enjoyment and widespread participation of German soldiers—their brothers, fathers, uncles, and grandfathers—in the humiliation, torture, and murder of Jews in Eastern Europe."

 

So the question is whether the Jews ought to be buying these trophy and other photographs from this period, many of which were no doubt taken by the murderers.


I don't have the answers--but I think it's time to begin the conversation. There will be a time in the not too distant future where there will no longer be the ability of young people to hear firsthand from survivors about their experiences. Will these original photos be valuable in teaching about the Holocaust?
Should Jews be buying and donating them to institutes such as CISA for the purpose of using them to teach about the Holocaust ?  
 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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