“Photos can’t lie, can they?” “You bet they can!” was the inescapable conclusion that some of FIU Professor Oren B. Stier’s students taking his class on the Holocaust reached on viewing some of the National Socialist propaganda presented in the Wolfsonian library.
The students had already been exposed to some of the Third Reich visual propaganda in our collection as I had made a Powerpoint presentation to the class on Monday covering some of the basic propaganda themes used by the Nazis to solidify their grip over the nation. Today, we followed up on that visit with a display of Nazi visual culture and anti-Semitic propaganda and tried to get the students to critically evaluate and deconstruct some of the images produced by the Nazis for mass consumption in Germany and the occupied territories.
GIFT OF STEVEN HELLER
There are, of course, the really obvious distorted images—the perfectly “staged” photos of the short-in-stature, serious-looking führer shot from a low angle with an impressive imperial eagle in the background to make him appear heroic.
And then there are the obvious photomontages—collages of cut-and-pasted photographs that depict Hitler as a towering figure literally backed up by the German masses.
Before the students arrived, I discovered some even more subtle and insidious “artistic liberties” taken by the Nazi image-makers. As Hitler’s official photographer Heinrich Hoffmann created tens of thousands of images of the führer as part of the Nazi “branding” campaign, Hitler’s bachelor status had to be glossed over and turned to advantage. Consequently, images of Hitler being admired by adoring Aryan maidens, or else standing in a fatherly pose with happy, smiling children are ubiquitous. And it was while I was laying out a couple of Third Reich photograph books, I happened to notice that two women pictured on the cover of one view book also appeared (with a flip of the negative and a bit of retouching) on another cover. The effect was so subtle and well-executed that I had never noticed it before.
That discovery prompted one of my colleagues, Digital Library Specialist David Almeida, to continue the search, examining the books more thoroughly to discover if the Nazis had employed that trick between the covers as well. Here’s what he discovered after just a few minutes perusal.