A Sad Smile
While in Paris for the holidays, my apartment was only a five minute walk from the Shoah Memorial, a museum devoted to the Holocaust and the French collaboration therewith. I visited often and experienced scores of emotionally charged displays, not the least being the wall inscribed with over 70,000 names of deported French citizens and immigrants, young and old, which include my own family name (although I was told that my mother’s grandparents were trapped in Poland in the Lodz ghetto and my father’s had emigrated years earlier). Yet the exhibit that most captured my attention, “Scenes From the Ghetto,” was comprised of photographs taken surreptitiously by Jewish ghetto residents and officially by sanctioned German military propaganda photographers in color and black and white. Some were simply horrific while others were as casual as snapshots from our own family albums.
It isn’t clear which was taken first, but it does not really matter. In days, months or a year after the shot was taken (the ghetto was liquidated in 1942 after typhus took hundreds of lives), she would have been rounded up, deported to a concentration camp (KZ) and doubtless murdered along with millions of others just like her.
** Hugo Jaeger was a well known photojournalist before the war, covering many of Hitler’s official events. During the war he was called to service as a reserve officer and assigned to document German occupation and the Jews of Kutno and Warsaw. “In contrast with the blatant anti-Semitism,” as noted in the Shoah Memorial catalog, “of many propaganda pictures, Jaeger establishes a certain intimacy with the people he photographed, often even getting them to smile.” To avoid being caught in the dragnet to find those close to Hitler, he buried these and 2,000 other slides of Der Führer and company in a containers around Munich. He exhumed them ten years later, kept them in a Swiss bank vault and sold them to Life magazine in 1965. They were not, however, published until 2009.