Building national socialism through photography, 1933-1945
Keresztes, Julie R.
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While most scholars focus on analyzing the content of photographs taken under Nazi rule, this dissertation examines photographic practices as social acts aimed at building the Nazi racial community (Volksgemeinschaft). Nazi officials envisioned photography as both an action and a shared experience which would transform Germans into National Socialists and unite them. Beginning in 1933, the dictatorship promoted photography for those who belonged to that community and set about excluding Jews from it. The dispossession of Jews in the photographic industry reinforced the connection between photography and national belonging even further. Because of the regime’s active intervention in the marketplace, many Germans had come to view photography by 1939 as a pastime that strengthened the bonds between members of this exclusive community, an association which acquired new significance during the Second World War. German soldiers and their families were actively encouraged by Nazi authorities to exchange photographs in order to fortify morale during military conflict. Based on a review of hundreds of albums, it is clear that soldiers and their loved ones understood sharing photographs and compiling photo albums as both a medium of intimate communication and a form of patriotic duty. On the war front, the act of photographing daily routines and the intervals between combat situations provided a way for Wehrmacht soldiers fighting on the Eastern Front and SS-men guarding concentration camps to reaffirm the values of comradeship and family that the Nazis viewed as fundamental to the racial community. Focused as they were on enacting these values, soldiers largely omitted atrocities in the photographs they sent home for their albums. Ultimately, it would fall to concentration camp prisoners to use photography to expose the violence and cruelty on which the Nazi project also depended, but which popular photography under National Socialism had treated as a secondary subject all along.