By Karen Petree
He’s not looking at me directly, as if he’s too afraid. But I don’t want him to. I stare at him apprehensively where he’s frozen for 1/100th of a second in 1943.
Though there are a lot of people in the group of Jews being evacuated from the Warsaw Ghetto, the boy is the main subject. He is a bit separated from the group, many of whom seem terrified but caught up in the action of moving. His hands are held in the air as if he were playing the bad guy in a child’s cops-and-robbers game. But his expression is one of dark fear most Americans are unaccustomed to seeing on the face of a child.
This photo of the Warsaw boy was taken by a Nazi in 1943 as the ghetto was liquidated following an uprising. Jürgen Stroop, an SS official, included the image in a report on the operation he sent to the SS chief Heinrich Himmler. It is one of many iconic Holocaust photos taken by a perpetrator. But what do we really see when we look at Holocaust photos?This is what happened. This is what it looked like. This is one face out of an unfathomable number of dead. But in 1943 the photographer was just documenting a day’s work to let his boss know things went smoothly.
In the FASPE journalism group we spent some of our sessions talking about these photographs and the experience of looking. In a hotel conference room in Oświęcim, the Polish town that the Germans called Auschwitz, we talked about the ethics of looking at the countless images of Holocaust victims hanging in museums and memorials around the world.
What would we know of the Holocaust without such images? It is the photographs, not the headlines, that sear themselves into memory. But there is a cost to seeing them.
Please read the rest of the story on the FASPE blog.