woensdag 3 januari 2018


Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The first post in the new Prentwerk photoblog is rather different from what I had anticipated. I was planning to do a bit on Erik Kessels and ‘found photography’, but all of a sudden a publication of a very different nature came my way. And quite a serious one it is, too. Nothing glossy, nothing artistic or nothing conceptual about it. Poorly reproduced photographs printed on cheap paper, published with one aim only: exposing the Nazi atrocities of World War Two.

I find there is something slightly uncomfortable about this change of subject, something to do with ‘art’ and ‘life’, and perhaps a vague sense of shame for concentrating on 'art', while at the same time unimaginable atrocities like these are going on in the world, even today. Photography is not only about art, is it? At any rate, it shouldn’t be. It should capture life as well, even at its most unpleasant. If it is doesn’t, what’s the use? But I’ll have to think that over, I suppose.

The publication in question is a small, flimsy catalogue published in 1945 to accompany an exhibition of photographs. In the year following the defeat of the Nazis, exhibitions of photos showing the horrors of the concentration camps were a way to show people both in Europe and the US what had been done by the Germans and their allies, and, eventually, to build support for the idea of war crimes trials. Apparently, one such exhibition was organized in the Netherlands, although the brochure states neither place nor publisher. We are merely informed that the photographs were provided by the U.S.I.S. (United States Information Service, Photographic Section, Amsterdam) and Jan Schiet, photographer, Amsterdam. Despite the title, however, there are no pictures nor text referring to Arnhem, the Dutch city on the Rhine that was the scene of the failed operation Market Garden in 1944. The Arnhem material may have appeared only in the exhibition itself. It seems likely that the photographs of the destruction of the inner city of Arnhem were all taken by Jan Schiet, an Amsterdam photographer who is mentioned in a short notice on the inside cover. But none of them are included here.

The photographs are of a particularly gruesome nature. They show us what the allied forces found when they liberated Dachau, Buchenwald and other concentration camps: corpses, starving inmates, humanity at the verge of despair. Perhaps the most intriguing is the famous and controversial photo supposedly depicting Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel in Buchenwald (first published in the New York Times on May 6, 1945 with the caption Crowded Bunks in the Prison Camp at Buchenwald’, taken inside Block 56 by Private H. Miller of the Civil Affairs Branch of the U. S. Army Signal Corps on April 16, 1945.

But this is a picture with a story. It is the photograph that Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight David Eisenhower ordered, in April 1945, to be posted in every German town and city to show the defeated population the ‘true meaning of Nazism’.

A huge blown-up version then went on tour in the United States for the same purpose, to impress on the American people what evil they had gone to war against. It was plastered on the front pages of newspapers across the country. Thus it became one of the most iconic images representing WW II and of what later came to be known as the ‘Holocaust’.

It was only much later, however, that the photograph was exposed as a fake. The standing figure on the right was not there in the original picture at all. It was added later, for dramatic effect. Moreover, severe doubts were cast on the true identity of one of the other men, allegedly Elie Wiesel, celebrated author of books on the Holocaust and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1986, who claimed he recognized himself in the picture. Fierce controversies arose, fired by his opponents who made it their mission to denounce Wiesel as a fraud (‘Show us your tattoo!’) and who even set up special websites to prove their point (see below).

According to my American colleague Dan Wyman, the only other antiquarian bookseller to offer this title, to whom I am indebted for some of the information presented here, OCLC lists only 4 copies of this brochure worldwide, all in the Netherlands (Sept 2015). One of them is in the library of the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam.


 - Tentoonstelling van fotografische opnamen van Duitse concentratiekampen en verwoest Arnhem -

¶ No place, no publisher, 1945. Pap, stapled, 15.5 x 12 cms, 32p, illustrations in bl/w. With 7p of text, containing 78 descriptions of photographs, and 25p of bl/w photographs. Title and text in Dutch.

- In good condition, with slight signs of use (small fold in front cover, small tear and some spotting of back cover.

For a detailed discussion and more photographs, see


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