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Frozen in time

Family photos albums show a different side of Third Reich Germany.
This photo comes from album of Eric Fritsch (middle row, second from right), who was was already a veteran of the First World War. He is shown here with a group of young comrades.

This photo comes from album of Eric Fritsch (middle row, second from right), who was was already a veteran of the First World War. He is shown here with a group of young comrades.

It's been said that...“A picture is worth a thousand words.” This often-quoted passage conveys a message which has proved to be very true, especially since the arrival of modern photography in the 19th century. At first, photographic studios monopolized the art until less expensive and simpler processing made photography available to the average person. Men and women took images valuable to themselves as well as some which would prove to be of historical significance. This was more than evident during the Third Reich, with the thousands of cameras used to capture images of both the mundane and macabre. Photos were then often added to commercially produced, military themed or civilian albums which were readily available to the photo takers and their families.

This interesting SS Standard “Germania” album has a mixture of photos and SS helmet decals.

This interesting SS Standard “Germania” album has a mixture of photos and SS helmet decals.

Note the helmet stickers

Note the helmet stickers

Personal German photo albums of the period are unique collections of an individual’s life during a specific time in history. As such, the variety is extensive with no two being alike. When they were authorized to do so in Hitler’s totalitarian state, soldiers, paramilitary members and civilians alike took millions of photographs to record their experiences both before and during the war years. Members of the army, navy, air force and Waffen SS routinely shot photos of their friends, fellow soldiers, officers, prisoners of war, civilians and others they came across while on or off duty. In addition, they captured images of their initial training, and afterwards, their conquered lands and homeland, showing both the horrors and destruction of battle. They often mixed these with their experiences of visiting unfamiliar, and for some of them exotic foreign lands while on leave. Military servicemen’s albums often contained pictures where early images showed well-groomed soldiers confident and “ready for action”, while later pictures showed the strain of war on their faces and decorated, but disheveled uniforms. Many combined these in their albums with family photos, homesick at the time for the loved ones they often left behind, countless numbers having perished during the annihilation of the Third Reich. Members of the police, SA, DAF, NSKK, Frauenschaft and others proudly snapped photos of their groups in mass meetings, outings, parades and in formations. Hitler youth, both boys and girls, were especially prolific in taking photos of their friends, groups, trips, rallies and encampments, then storing them in their own albums. Having a very distorted view of those they considered as “sub-humans”, certain members of the SS even took “pride” in picturing the cruelty and degradation of the camps where they and their comrades oversaw the murders of millions.

SS Standard “Totenkopf” album front

SS Standard “Totenkopf” album front

An SS Standard “Totenkopf” album features some inside pages with well-preserved snapshots of officers and military men.

An SS Standard “Totenkopf” album features some inside pages with well-preserved snapshots of officers and military men.

Overall, most German military photo albums hold images which show the everyday lives of young men and women who, either voluntarily or not, served their country. Training and comradeship, joking and traveling, fighting and the eventual destruction of the cities and countryside, all were captured in still photos and diligently pasted into album books. With the millions of Germans who died in the war, many of these photos are all that remain of the soldiers or their family members who disappeared, but through their images will live on for years to come. 

A very small (3 x 5 inches) album belonging to a young woman had images documenting her time as a BDM (female Hitler Youth) and after joining the RAD (German labor service). She was a Nazi party member as seen by her photo while wearing an NSDAP badge on her RAD tunic.

A very small (3 x 5 inches) album belonging to a young woman had images documenting her time as a BDM (female Hitler Youth) and after joining the RAD (German labor service). She was a Nazi party member as seen by her photo while wearing an NSDAP badge on her RAD tunic.

An album cover decorated with “My service Time”, photos of the woman and camp flag of the female RAD. The 1936 date inside supports the very early female Rad insignia worn in the photos.

An album cover decorated with “My service Time”, photos of the woman and camp flag of the female RAD. The 1936 date inside supports the very early female Rad insignia worn in the photos.

SS album cover with “Memory of my service time” and SS runes.

SS album cover with “Memory of my service time” and SS runes.

The inside page shows a photo copy of Heinrich Himmler.

The inside page shows a photo copy of Heinrich Himmler.

A Buchenwald camp album created by American army personnel. The inside shows vivid camp photos and contains a set of SS collar tabs.

A Buchenwald camp album created by American army personnel. The inside shows vivid camp photos and contains a set of SS collar tabs.

Camp photos from Buchenwald

Camp photos from Buchenwald

SS Insignia

SS Insignia

The stress of combat is visible on the faces of the soldiers in this photo from Eric Fritsch’s album.

The stress of combat is visible on the faces of the soldiers in this photo from Eric Fritsch’s album.

The inside pages feature two stern officers: one labeled “Der Spiess”, slang for the company Sgt major, while the older officer appears to be a carryover from the Imperial period with his formal standup collar.

The inside pages feature two stern officers: one labeled “Der Spiess”, slang for the company Sgt major, while the older officer appears to be a carryover from the Imperial period with his formal standup collar.

A veterans album given to Josef Stretz on Christmas eve, 1941.

A veterans album given to Josef Stretz on Christmas eve, 1941.

The first pages are filled with copies of political photos while the rest were used for Stretz’s private shots.

The first pages are filled with copies of political photos while the rest were used for Stretz’s private shots.

Prewar travels included visiting other countries and seeing foreign navies. The album’s owner stands at left with his comrades and two Italian sailors.

Prewar travels included visiting other countries and seeing foreign navies. The album’s owner stands at left with his comrades and two Italian sailors.

Ship-board life improved in port with a traveling show presented to the sailors featuring dancing and roller-skating girls. Below right is a dance band encountered during shore leave.

Ship-board life improved in port with a traveling show presented to the sailors featuring dancing and roller-skating girls. Below right is a dance band encountered during shore leave.

This album has a standard Army cover in green with a facsimile breast eagle.

This album has a standard Army cover in green with a facsimile breast eagle.

The inside pages contain high-ranking military figures, absent Hitler’s photo which has been conspicuously torn out.

The inside pages contain high-ranking military figures, absent Hitler’s photo which has been conspicuously torn out.

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