With camera in Combat (part 2)
Lecture presented at the symposium for the opening of the exhibit Vreemden in het vizier/Strangers in focus, Legermuseum Delft, 26. April 2012
3 - Exhibition
The exhibit has eight sections with quite different use of texts, originals and reproductions of photos and albums as well as multimedia of three interviews, letters of a soldier and the projection of colour slides. This structure was used also for the exhibit here in Delft.
1 - Living room
The first room is the installation of a living room with a cabinet as the keeper of the family secret. Private war photos as substitutes of the absent family member filled the cabinet of many households. After the war these pictorial archives were frequently kept hidden for decades. Today they are being brought back out into the open and are controversially discussed by the second generation. Such efforts can help to relive the concealed traumatic memories and to find a language for the unspeakable, often repressed, possible blame. The living room was used in the exhibition as a place for visitors to meet and to speak with the historians of the museum about their proper albums. These visitors often gave their photos to the museum archives. Its the beginning of a new specific source of documents in municipal and state museums for history: not only collecting anonymous albums and picture collections but having relations to the owner in context with other documents like letters etc. And for the individuals its an important effort to give away these former hidden medias to the public.
2 - Propaganda, advertising, cameras and shutter-clickers
This part of the exhibit you will also find in the Dutch version, so I show you only a photo of the German version in Munich.
3 - War albums as pictorial reservoirs of subjective life stories
Here we show original albums in showcases. The biographical account and the historical interpretation of war in the circle of family and friends were already taken into account in the design of the album pages, the choice of photos and the captions. You will see two different original albums of the German collections with photos from the Soviet-Union.
4 - Every day life at war
In this section we show seperate original album pages in vertical showcases so that you can see the pages from both sides. The visitor can study all different kinds of photos: frames, size, colour (white or chamois), as well as the different way of montage and texts. You will see 12 individual album pages here in the exhibit in a frame but only from one side.
As an example of context knowledge by interviewing the owner of the album I show one photo of these 12 pages:
Still ruht der See (The lake is calm and quiet) is the caption written under a photograph in the first of three war albums that belonged to a former Wehrmacht soldier from Oldenburg. In contrast to how the other pictures in the albums are arranged, this one has been stuck in the centre of the page. It shows a body of water lined with tall trees that are reflected in the water. Sunlight shining through the trees creates dappled reflections on the slightly rippled surface of the lake. Leafing through the album, a contemporary viewer might interpret it as an idyllic image of a moment of calm after the war were it not for the testimony of contemporary witnesses that abruptly reveals the dark realities of the war.
The soldiers unit had been ordered to search houses in a village near one of the Loire Valley castles in France. During this operation, contrary to army regulations, he pocketed a cotton shirt and silver cutlery he found hidden among some linen in the cupboards. Shortly after the search was completed, the soldiers were made to line up on the parade ground. An officer who had got wind of the looting then ordered the troops to deposit the articles on the parade ground, and announced that a locker inspection would be carried out. When this was done, nothing could be proved against the soldiers, but by this time silver, china, champagne and other valuable items belonging to the villagers were lying at the bottom of the lake. Both the depiction of the reflective surface of the water and the cryptic caption thus conceal depths that only become apparent when the witnesses accounts are heard, and otherwise remain buried under the burden of silence. The commentary not only adds a supplementary reflective dimension to this picture, it also creates multiple levels of interpretation for the following images. As a common thread, references like these can lead us to more family secrets like this that are kept carefully hidden away in living-room cupboards. When this kind of album is read, the ambiguity of the images allows connections to be made between the individual soldiers perspective upon the war and the historically and subjectively determined experiences of the person viewing it today.
5 - Foreign lands through German eyes
In this section all front parts of the war are shown in reproductions. In the exhibit here we concentrate on the Soviet-Union as a contrast to the photos of the albums of the collection of the Rijksmuseum about the occupation of the Netherlands. I dont speak about these albums now, because its the subject of René and later also of Jet.
Until the 1930s travel abroad was not a matter of course for most Germans. For many soldiers, the war was the first opportunity to encounter foreign people and cultures. Landscapes and cultural sights, inhabitants and prisoners of the occupied countries were popular photographic subjects. They were photographed very differently in relationship to the photographers own culture and race, which was considered superior in any case. Old nationalistic stereotypes of the Russian or the Pole blended with National Socialist propaganda ideas of the inferior sub-humans who, according to this conception, lived in poor and primitive circumstances. This superior racist perspective is particularly evident in shots of Soviet and coloured French prisoners of war who were completely at the mercy of the German photographers.
I give you three more examples of contextualisation of these photos exhibitied here.
Depictions of executions whereby the victims were forced to dig their own graves can be found in many documentary accounts of the Holocaust and the crimes of the Wehrmacht. Among the sets of photographs that were examined in the context of my research project there is one such picture sequence. The photographs are numbered on the back, and although they contain no precise details concerning the place or time, they were probably taken around 1943 in the Soviet Union. At first, the photographer was standing behind the firing squad and trained his sights on the man from a distance of several metres; when the execution was being carried out he moved to a position behind a bystanding soldier. The photographer then shooted the final image of the victim at close range from the edge of the pit.
A ban on photographing executions was issued in 1941, but this did not change the soldiers interest in viewing such scenes. This observation is supported by many photographs in the albums, for example the picture of a mass grave in the Soviet Union where rubbernecking soldiers can be seen standing around the mass grave, and the photographer himself casts a black shadow over the dead bodies.
The album of Fritz Bopp (who is not my father!)
How closely these everyday scenes were also integrated into the war narrative being told in the photo albums can be seen in a page from the album of a soldier who served in Poland and the Soviet Union, and whose son compiled and labelled the photographs on his behalf: a picture of soldiers enjoying Weihnachtsfeier in Kassel (Christmas celebrations in Kassel)with gifts of wine and cigarettes is presented alongside one of Russian Partisanen am Galgen (Partisans hung on gallows). In a letter to his wife dated 21 September 1941, the soldier described the latter scene and how the photograph was taken:
Yesterday, here in Rudnia where we have landed up again, they hanged 5 Russians who shot one of our comrades. I watched with the others. On a big open square so that all the Russians saw it. We took a picture, hopefully it has come out well.
A particular form of discrepancy between the moment when the picture is taken and its duration in a photo album occurs when, on leafing through the albums, one suddenly finds empty spaces where photographs have obviously been removed although the captions and traces of glue remain, and where the gaps in the albums narrative account are not immediately apparent. This happens especially with depictions of violent acts.
In the album of Georg Möller, one page of which included the picture of a hanged man, this picture suddenly went missing, although it had been there five years before when the former soldier first submitted the album. What had happened? After the soldiers death his wife had angrily torn it out before releasing the album for the exhibition. In the process, however, the part of the photograph showing the hanged mans head in the noose remained stuck to the cardboard. The author of this album had deliberately placed this image next to one of graves in snow. In front of the crosses, a sign with the inscription 6 comrades slain by the heinous hand of partisans places these images in the context of the so-called partisan war that was waged by the Wehrmacht from the beginning of the invasion of the Soviet Union onwards. With the definition of the term partisan, which applied to all soldiers, troop units and civilian groups who carry out peoples war-like actions behind the lines , military commanders were free to use the operations as instruments of terror against the civilian population and to murder Soviet Jews.  As the danger of partisan attacks and subsequent retaliatory measures was ever-present, images like these were an integral part of the former soldiers memory of the war, whereas for his wife this subject matter was inhuman, with the result that she removed the picture perhaps also out of a feeling of shame and fear that her husband could have been involved in these murders.
The horror of war the violence may be omitted as an image but is conveyed to the viewer through the denial of communication, and for this very reason all the more strongly provokes further projections. Thus the desired empty space develops into tormenting forces () with even greater intensity. Because at the moment when the picture was taken, something was done to people; without this act there would be no photograph. That is what gives it such explosive force.
 Set of photographs belonging to Fritz Ringel, research project archive.
 Official gazette of the Waffen-SS, volume 2, no. 11, 15 June 1941.
 Letter from Fritz Bopp to Anna Bopp, no. 71, 21 September 1941, research project collection.
 Letter by General z.b.V. im Oberkommando des Heeres, Eugen Müller, from 13 September 1941, cited in Verbrechen der Wehrmacht, p. 435.
 Ibid., p. 429.
 Thomas Bernhard, Auslöschung, Frankfurt am Main, 1988, p. 246.
 Cornelia Brink, Vor aller Augen: Fotografien-wider-Willen in der Geschichtsschreibung, in Werkstatt Geschichte, 47, 2007, pp. 6174.