Witnessing the Holocaust

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Witnessing the Holocaust The New York Times We all know the who, what, when and where of the Holocaust, but the why is a mystery still, an archivist said. If you can get bystander photos, that explai


But, Ms. Cohen said, “It’s important not to read history backwards.”

“We must keep in mind that nobody knew how it would end,” she said, “so for a long time, people thought, as bad as it is that we have to wear Jewish stars, we might go on with daily life.”

But, she added, “Once Jews were being rounded up, you didn’t want to be photographed because that would be a death sentence.”

Only four witness photographs are known to exist of the Nazi extermination camps, and they were taken in August 1944 at Auschwitz-Birkenau, most probably by a Greek prisoner, Alberto Errera, who was later killed by a guard. The negatives were smuggled out of the camp in a tube of toothpaste. No one knows how Mr. Errera got the camera, and the images are blurry, shot hastily at an angle. They show naked women and burning piles of dead bodies.

A controversy erupted in the Dutch news media about the images, after Emile Schrijver, the general director of the organization that runs the National Holocaust Museum and other Jewish cultural sites in Amsterdam, decided that the photographs would not be included in the show, an exclusion that Mr. Kok and Mr. Somers, the NIOD researchers, opposed. Mr. Schrijver said in an interview that the photographs did not fit in an exhibition focused on the persecution of Dutch Jews, because the subjects were known to be from Hungary.

Three of the four photographs are also already on display across the street at the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a Holocaust memorial, where they are part of a larger exhibit that explores brutal, humiliating or otherwise difficult imagery of the mass extermination.

“If we are going to show images like these, the context has to be 100 percent historically correct,” Mr. Schrijver said. “We’re not afraid to show them, but we feel we show them in the context that we believe is necessary, which also contains a discussion on how to deal with them.”

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