Fake Nazi atrocity photo
One of the most well-known photographs which allegedly documents the Holocaust is a photo allegedly taken by a German soldier of a German soldier shooting a woman and child, while men are working at the scene digging their grave.
This photo, however, in no sense documents the 'Holocaust.' For argument's sake, let's assume for a moment that the photo is authentic. First, there is no evidence that it depicts a German soldier. According to Hugo Haig-Thomas, the 'uniform is quite wrong. The soldier in the photograph wears boots or puttees which come up almost to his knees whereas German soldiers wore boots which came only halfway up their calves. What is more, the soldier in the photograph is wearing wide breeches-type trousers which the German soldiers never wore in the field.' Another commentator observes that 'his cap looks more Soviet than German. He's wearing a Russian or Soviet uniform, that in itself is enough to question the provenance of this photograph.'
Second, the photo provides no indications that the woman and child are Jews - it's impossible on the basis of this photo to ascribe them any nationality or religion. Third, even if the man is a German soldier and the woman and child are Jews, it's still far from clear that he's shooting AT them. In fact, his rifle appears to be pointing beyond them. The picture can therefore be interpreted as something other than an atrocity scene. Writes Haig-Thomas, 'To the right of the picture you will see a group of men who are taking cover behind what appears to be some farm machinery from shooting or some danger coming from the right. The woman with the child is running forward to join the men taking cover. The soldier is, in fact, firing beyond the woman in the direction of the danger.' Fourth, as Bradley R. Smith has asked, if the men on the right are digging a grave, where is the removed material? Why would they scatter it about rather than piling it right next to the hole?' The taking cover explanation seems to make more sense.
The reality, though, is that the photo is a fake - if you look carefully, you will see that the image of the woman and child looks unnatural, as though the woman's feet are not QUITE touching the ground, a sign that it was inserted after the original picture was taken. It's clear that some trouble was taken to do this, but that certain obvious mistakes were made in the process, such as fixing her location in the photo in a way that made it look as if the soldier was shooting beyond her. This was the result of the photo faker placing her too far in the foreground, presumably to make sure that the picture was visually striking. This may be why the photo shows two rifles at the far left. They seem to be pointing in her direction, and were presumably added to reinforce the impression that this was about the woman being shot.
The name of the photo faker is Jerzy Tomaszewski who, during the war, was was a photographer for the Polish resistance and government-in-exile. Tomaszewski has given himself away by claiming copyright on the photo. The official story is that this is an authentic German photo which was contained in a letter sent home by a German soldier who was on the Eastern Front and intercepted in 1942 by the Polish Home Army, which monitored mail from the east that passed through the post office in Warsaw. Letters and photos of interest were copied and sent on to the Polish-Government- in-exile in London. Reportedly the words "Ukraine 1942, Jewish Aktion, Ivanogrod" are written on the back of the photo.
If this story is true, there can be no question of copyright. How can Tomaszewski own the copyright for a photograph taken by a German soldier? Clearly, he has been caught up in his own lies.
In any case, the story is clearly preposterous and gives rise to numerous questions:
1) What was the name of the German soldier? (Since his letter was intercepted, it should contain that information.)
2) Why would a soldier have sent a photo like this home? (Soldiers involved in atrocities would not have wanted to advertise that fact to their relatives and friends back home.)
3) Why would German censors allow a soldier to send home an incriminating photo of an atrocity?
4) What is the name of the member of the Polish resistance who claims to have intercepted the letter containing the photo?
5) Where's the letter? Let's see it, to confirm that it actually exists.
6) What does the letter say about the photo? (Because if it doesn't say anything about the photo we have to trust the word of the unknown member of the Polish resistance who we are told intercepted it that the photo was found inside the same envelope as the letter.)
7) Why doesn't the USHMM post online the reverse of the photo, so we can see for ourselves how it is identified?
8) Where is the the negative from which the photo was made? (For those who don't know much about photo fakery, you can usually only tell for certain whether a photo is fake or not by examining the negative.)
Without answers to all these questions, there are clearly no considerations whatsoever for regarding the photo as anything other than a fake.
My conclusion is that Tomaszewski was trying to create a Nazi atrocity photo that would be as visually effective as the famous shots taken during the Spanish Civil War by American photographer Robert Capa.