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.
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.
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.
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