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Klarsfeld slaps Kiesinger

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Beate-Klarsfeld.jpg

It was a dramatic slap.

In November 1968, as the Christian Democrats met at their party congress in West Berlin, 29-year-old Beate Klarsfeld walked up to the podium and slapped Chancellor Kiesinger. As she was dragged out of the room, she shouted, “Kiesinger! Nazi! Abtreten!” (“Kiesinger! Nazi! Resign!”), alluding to his 12-year membership of the Nazi Party, and employment at broadcasting and propaganda ministries during the war.

For the slap, Klarsfeld was vilified in the local news, but for her, it was a symbolic slap to the face for the West German establishment. Statute of limitations on Nazi crimes were about to expire in little over a year – on December 31st 1969 – but the political class had not make serious effort to persecute former Nazis. Kurt Lischka, the head of Paris Gestapo, was still employing his comfortable retirement in Cologne, though he had been sentenced in absentia by a Paris court. For ten years, Hans Globke, who previously wrote laws restricting rights of German Jews, served as Chief of Staff and close advisor to Konrad Adenauer, the first post-war Chancellor of West Germany. Kiesinger himself was advised by another prominent jurist of the Third Reich, Carl Schmitt and was succeeded as the minister president of Baden-Württemberg by Hans Filbinger, another Nazi era judge.

But the most egregious of all, at least for appearances’ sake, was Heinrich Lubke, the seventy-three-year-old president of West Germany, who was accused of helping to build concentration camps. The East Germans made the accusations in 1966, but these claims were largely ignored as false, until Stern, a West German magazine, hired a handwriting expert to verify that it had been Lubke’s signatures on concentration camp plans. By February 1968, things were getting out of hand: two students were expelled from University of Bonn for breaking into the rector’s office and writing “Concentration Camp Builder” next to Lubke’s name on the university honor roll. Lubke meekly responded, “Naturally, after nearly a quarter of a century has gone by, I cannot remember every paper I signed. It was not part of my duties to sign blueprints for wooden barracks. Nor do I recall ever having given such signatures.” He clanged onto power for ten more months before forced to resign.

Kiesinger too was on his way out. He was called as a witness to the war crimes trial of Fritz Gebhard von Hahn, accused of murdering thirty thousand Greek and Bulgarian Jews in 1942-43, and the media was keen on putting him on trial instead; he failed to get re-elected the following year.

As for wider West Germany, the reckoning was still a few years away. A slow but dramatic revelations of Filbinger’s Nazi crimes was to occupy German media in the following decade. Kiesinger’s successor as chancellor, Willy Brandt would drop to his knees at the Warsaw Ghetto memorial. This, combined with the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the German telecast of the ‘Holocaust’ mini-series in January 1979, finally placed the Jewish suffering firmly at the heart of the German consciousness. Even then, some myths endured.

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 11, 2017 at 2:47 am

Posted in Politics, Society

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A Massacre at Pancevo

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An enduring myth about the Second World War is the canard that the Germany Army, the fabled Wehrmacht was an apolitical organization largely innocent of Nazi crimes. In his definitive The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality, Wolfram Wette dismissed this view: while the Wehrmacht treated prisoners of war on the Western front honorably, on the Eastern front, its campaigns were barbaric.

This was a view that the Germans themselves were uncomfortable with, until very recently. When an exhibition “The War of Annihilation. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944” opened in Hamburg in 1995 and toured 33 German and Austrian cities in the following two years, it was greeted with protests, denunciations, and even violence in Munich and Bavaria.

At the center of controversy were photos taken by Gerhard Gronefeld, showing an execution in the Yugoslavian town of Pancevo on 22nd April 1941. They showed an ugly, uncomfortable truth: that the ordinary soldiers were just as lethal as the SS in exterminating Jews and civilians. In the photos, executed civilians lie next to a cemetery wall as a Wehrmacht officer pointed his gun at the dying, as a SS-officer looked on. Thirty-six civilians were executed — 18 men were shot, and 17 men and one woman were hanged. The “most terrible scene which I photographed ever,” Gronefeld recalled, and he did not submit the photographs to the army magazine for which he was working. He secreted the photos until 1963, when they were published.

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Controversial though it was, the 1995 Exhibition was a landmark moment. As it toured across Germany and Austria, many veterans, ex-servicemen, and their families donated letters and photos and came forward to recall how the army had been deployed as state executioner. Gronefeld’s photo ran on the cover of Der Spiegel on 19th March 1997. Christian Social Union, the natural party of government in Bavaria, denounced it as an insult to the Wehrmacht, as neo-Nazis marched through Munich to protest the exhibition. An academic at Germany Army’s Bundeswehr University came out defending Pancevo as an act of defense, allowable under the international law*. As for Pancevo, it was once again in the news in the 1990s as the Balkans spiraled once more into a fratricidal war.

* See: Franz Seidler, Crimes Against the Wehrmacht (1997). p.18-19.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 16, 2017 at 6:22 am

Hitler’s Little Jig

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Seventy-one years ago today, Adolf Hitler accepted the surrender of the French government at a ceremony in Compiegne, France. On June 21, 1940, Hitler melodramatically received France’s surrender in the same railroad car in which Germany had signed the 1918 armistice that had ended the First World War, thereby adding an additional flourish to century-long rivalry between France and Germany. (In 1918, the Armistice was singed in that railcar because it had once belong to Napoleon III, who lost the Franco-Prussian War).

It was an episode full of pointless symbolism. Hitler sat in the same chair in which Marshal Foch had sat when he faced the defeated Germans in 1918. After listening to the reading of the preamble, Hitler – in a calculated gesture of disdain to the French delegates – left the carriage, leaving the negotiations to General Wilhelm Keitel (who ironically would sign a surrender of Germany five years later).

After stepping outside, while talking to his generals and aides, Hitler stepped backwards; however, this is not what audiences in the Allied countries saw. John Grierson, director of the Canadian information and propaganda departments, noticed that Hitler raised his leg rather high up while stepping backwards. He looped this moment repeatedly to create the appearance that Hitler was childishly jumping with joy.

In those days of newsreels before films, the scene was played over and over again in movie theaters, and served the purpose of provoking popular disdain towards Hitler. 

The Armistice site was destroyed on Hitler’s orders three days later; the monuments, which included a German eagle impaled by a sword, and a large stone tablet which read “Here on the eleventh of November 1918 succumbed the criminal pride of the German Reich, vanquished by the free peoples which it tried to enslave”, were destroyed. A statue of Foch was left intact so that it would be honoring a wasteland. The Armistice carriage was taken to Berlin, but later destroyed in war. See here for Hitler’s reaction to the Armistice site.

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 21, 2011 at 10:16 am

Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

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Travelogues tend to be disappoint. Instead of travelogues that tell gripping stories about both people and history of a particular locale, travel writing these days obsesses itself with how to travel cheaper and faster, and with some architectural minutiae that fail to interest anybody but third year arts students. I was in Moscow to meet some Russian government officials earlier this summer and they put me at a huge hotel complex outside the city at Partizanskaya. I have been there several times before — Partizanskya being the site of a massive souvenir market — armed with varying guidebooks, but what they failed to tell me was that the distinctive looking statue at Partizanskya Metro Station was that of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, once one of the most revered martyrs of the Russian State.

I first met Zoya several years ago in David Plante’s novel The Age of Terror. The picture above of Zoya’s corpse spurs the novel’s young American hero to travel to the then slowly collapsing Soviet Union in search of identity. When I read it the book, I thought the photo was made-up. It was not, but scholars still debate how much of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya story is. For some, it bored all the fingerprints of the hagiographers of the godless Soviet Union who were all too happy to create martyrs.

The official Soviet story went something like this: When the Nazis invade Russia, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya quit the tenth grade at Moscow. Hair-cropped, and in men’s clothes, the 18-year old joined the Resistance and became one of its most celebrated heros. The Germans finally captured her in November 1941, and subjected her to various tortures — which included belts, punches, lighters, saws and bayonets.  She refused to talk and the Germans led her to the gallows with a card inscribed “Guerrilla” about her neck.

There, at the village square of Petrisheva, Zoya gave her courageous speech: “You hang me now but I am not alone. There are 200 million of us. You won’t hang everybody. I shall be avenged. Soldiers! Surrender before it is too late. Victory will be ours.” She was hanged, and the Germans left the body hanging on the gallows for several weeks. Eventually she was buried just before the Soviet liberation of Petrisheva in January 1942. The above photo of her body were later found on the body of a dead German officer at Smolensk along with three other photos of the execution process.

Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya became popular with a Pravda article was written by Pyotr Lidov, who had heard about the execution from an elderly peasant. Yet many doubted this official version; they noted that ‘Kosmo’ and ‘Demyan’ were both proper first names, which had been combined to make an all-inclusive family name with the feminine ending kaya (much like Jane Q. Smith). Others said the Soviet authorities were pulling America’s leg with a ridiculous sounding last name that sounded almost like ‘Damn Yankee’. Later, there were acrimonious debates on whether it was just local peasants who hanged Zoya after she destroyed their property. Some questioned whether Zoya myth was created to draw attention away from the other heroine of the Resistance who happened to be a Jewess. No matter what, Stalin immediately named her a Hero of the Soviet Union. Many young soviet soliders carried a photo of her, and the words ‘For Zoya’ were also written on Soviet tanks and planes heading to Berlin. Streets, kolkhozes, Pioneer organizations, a mountain and a minor planet were all named after Zoya. The ultimate accolade came when she was reburied at the Novodevichy Cemetery. There she rests now, surrounded by many Russian luminaries, whose works she allegedly enjoyed in life.

 

(One source I find online says a Pravda photographer named Sergej Strunniknow took the above photo. I find this a little hard to believe but there it is).

 

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 5, 2010 at 10:30 am

Fall of France

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Some say it was taken in Toulon as the French soldiers leave for Africa. Some say it was taken as Nazi tanks rolled into Paris. Others claim it was taken in Marseilles as historic French battle flags were taken aboard ships for protection against the conquering Nazis. No matter what incident prompted him to cry, the French civilian cries across decades from his faded photograph. He cries not only for his generation, but also for his century. The photo, one of the most heart-rending pictures of the Second World War, was possibly taken by George Mejat for Fox Movietone News/AP.

The fall of France, only six weeks after initial Nazi assault, came as a shock and surprise to many. Contrary to popular beliefs, the Maginot Line wasn’t exactly circumvented by the Nazis through Belgium. The Nazis, in fact, broke through the strongest point of the Maginot Line, Fort Eben-Emael, which connected the French and Belgian fortification systems. The fortifications were unequipped to defend against gliders, explosives and blitzkrieg. The Luftwaffe simply flew over it. When the Allied forces reinvaded in June 1944, the Maginot Line, now held by German defenders, was again largely bypassed, a clear indicator that this line, designed with a WWI-like trench warfare in mind, was never actually going to work no matter where the Nazis attacked.

The fall of France was the first crisis for the new coalition government of Winston Churchill in London. For next 20 months, the Great Britain and her Empire would stand alone against the Nazi armies. Not until D-Day, 6 June 1944, would an Allied army return to Western Europe. Greatly emboldened by their success, the Germans would gamble even more heavily on their next major operation – the invasion of Russia. This time they would be less lucky.

This was published in LIFE on March 7, 1949, and didn't name the Frenchman in question

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 23, 2010 at 1:22 am

Posted in Politics, Society, War

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Jesse Owens

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Hitler used the 1936 Olympics as a propaganda tool, inadvertently creating the modern Games, complete with torch relays, grand stadiums, publicity films and screens set up outside to transmit the Games. What the Nazis couldn’t stage-manage were the outcomes, and wonderful story of Jesse Owens smashing Hitler’s theories of racial superiority on the 100m sprint is an oft repeated story. (Enthusiastic crowd reaction on this clip suggests that the German people are less Aryan-obsessed than Hitler.Although his coach warned Owens about a potentially hostile crowd, there were German cheers of “Yesseh Oh-vens” or just “Oh-vens” from the crowd. Owens was a true celebrity in Berlin, mobbed by autograph seekers.)

It is oft mentioned that the Nazi leader refused to present Jesse Owens with his medal, shake his hand and subsequently stormed out of the stadium. However, Hitler was not even in the stadium when Jesse Owens was securing his medals, and his absence was more to do with his row with the Olympic organizers than with Owens . Hitler had congratulated German athletes on the first day, only to be informed by the IOC officials that he should congratulate all athletes or none, in order to show neutrality as the presiding head of state. In a characteristic fit of petulance, Hitler refused congratulate anyone after the first day of the competition, not even the German athletes. (Hitler did snub a black American athlete on the first day; just before Cornelius Johnson was to be decorated, Hitler left the stadium.)

Jesse Owens tried his best to correct the myth-making that went on around him: he admitted that he received the greatest ovations of his career at Berlin. he recalled:  “When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing [Hitler] …. Hitler didn’t snub me—it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram”. Such was an atmosphere of segregation back in the U.S. that Owens was never invited to the White House to be congratulated. When there was a ticker-tape parade in New York in his honour, he had to attend the reception at the Waldorf-Astoria using the back elevator set aside for blacks. (Even in Berlin, he was allowed to travel and stay together with whites).

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 21, 2010 at 10:31 pm

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Nuit et Brouillard

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The photo was taken at the camp of Pithiviers, in the Loiret department, one of two main concentration camps for foreign-born Jews in France. At the foreground, unmistakably guarding the camp was a French gendarme, with a telltale kepi. If an image could ever perfectly encapsulated the culpability of the Vichy Government in persecution of the French Jewry, this was it.

But in 1955, it was too close for comfort, coming as it did after many long and arduous years when numerous ministers and prominent citizens were hauled in front of courts and tribunals. First featured in the documentary Nuit et Brouillard, the anonymously-taken photo was an unequivocal denunciation of French collaborationism, and the censors demanded that the kepi be cut. Director Alain Resnais first refused, but finally relented and decided to put a beam across the damning hat to hide it; on the other hand, he refused to change the narration that mentioned Pithiviers. The film was released to widespread acclaim and awards.

A few months later, the Germans demanded the film withdrawn from Cannes Film Festival. Both the German and the French governments viewed the film as divisive since it came during negotiations for the Treaties of Rome (eventually signed in 1957). However, unlike the censorship of the kepi which went virtually unnoticed and mentioned only once in press, the French press reacted unanimously against the proposed withdrawal, noting that the filmmakers were very cautious in defining the difference between the Nazi criminals and the German people.

In retaliation, the predominantly French selection committee asked Germany’s own submission Himmel ohne sterne to be withdraw and the Germans left Cannes in protest. Widespread protests from deportees’ associations, members of the Résistance and the Communist Party as well as the threat from the Festival organizers to resign finally forced the government to give in. The film was staged ‘outside the programme’ in the main Festival Hall auditorium, where it received a standing ovation. The Berlinale invited Resnais to stage his film there, defying its own government.

In a way, the controversy over Nuit et Brouillard altered Cannes’ history too. In that monumental year for self-inflicted censorship, films from Britain, Finland, Poland, Norway and Yugoslavia were also excluded. This debacle encouraged the organizers to reshape the Festival in accordance with cinematographic quality rather than diplomatic niceties.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 21, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Dora Concentration Camp

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Although many of his photos and film have been shown repeatedly on television across the world, the name Walter Frentz remains unknown. Hitler’s photographer, Frentz had been there all along — from the beginning of Hitler’s dictatorship to those hectic final days in the Fuhrerbunker. In between, he took photos of Hitler and his dog, the private lives of top Nazi leaders, party rallies in Nuremberg, the 1936 Olympics, von Ribbentrop’s historic mission to Moscow and Hitler’s triumphant entries to Warsaw and Paris.

Yet, notably absent were the atrocities; Frentz reportedly witnessed a massacre of Jews in Minsk while traveling with SS leader Heinrich Himmler. There is no photographic evidence of this incident, and Frentz himself was sworn to secrecy. In taking photos of forced labor in the construction of the V–2 missiles at the Dora concentration camp and Mittelwerk underground factory near Nordhausen, Frentz came closest to the harsh realities of Second World War but they too were sanitized versions of history — a history Nazi leaders wanted to see.

Today, the slave labor behind V2 rockets is almost forgotten — in fact, 2,000 prisoners, worked on it and almost half of them didn’t survive. When the first V2 rocket hit Britain in 1944, it was one of the most complex weapons ever employed. However, after 15 years and huge sums of money, it did not prove to be the decisive weapon that Hitler had hoped would force Britain out of the war. The prisoners working on the missiles sabotaged some of them that around 20% of rockets that left Dora had flaws.

Frentz’s close friend, Armaments Minister Albert Speer sent him to film the Dora mines in the summer of 1944. Speer hoped the photos would persuade Hitler to maintain support for the V2 program. In an early use of Agfa color film, Frentz took staged photographs to showcase the efficiency of forced labor. Instead of stick-wielding kapos, back–breaking excavation and construction work, piles of emaciated dead bodies, corpses burning on open pyres, and public hangings, the Nazi leadership were instead shown skilled assembly work and healthy prisoners in clean clothing. The photographs also omit the presence of the SS and Wehrmacht in the factory. These Dora photographs lay forgotten in an attic for more than 50 years until February 1998, when Frentz’s son discovered them in a suitcase.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 12, 2010 at 6:06 am

Anne Frank

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If a single individual could be held up to “personify” the Holocaust, that person would be Anne Frank. On June 12th, 1942, Anne received a modest red-and-white-checkered, clothed covered diary for her 13th birthday. On that day, she wrote in neat schoolgirl hand: “I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do in anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me.”

Three weeks later, to escape an order of deportation to Germany, Anne and her family went into hiding. Their home for the next 25 months was a secret attic behind a bookcase at an old building at 263 Prinsengracht Street in Amsterdam (now renamed Annefrankhuis, and is a memorial to the 100,000 Dutch Jews who perished in concentration camps). Anne Frank retained both her diary and sunny look to life behind her confined quarters. Her ambition was to be a writer and she used her diary to deal with both the boredom and her youthful array of thoughts, which had as much to do with personal relationships as with the war and the Nazi terror raging outside.

On Tuesday, August 1st, 1944, Anne wrote her final entry in her faithfully kept diary. The hiding place that Otto Frank found for his family, the Van Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer was raided by Nazi forces three days later. They were betrayed by Gestapo informers and its occupants were deported to Auschwitz. The Allied forces which had landed in Normandy two months before arrived too late to save the Franks. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen three months before her 16th birthday.

Her diary was discovered by friends, and published by her father, the only member of the family to survive. The Diary of a Young Girl, published in 1947, includes photos of Anne and the people she hid with, plus a map of the secret annex in the house on Prinsengracht. On the cover was the above haunting photograph taken by an automatic photovending machine in 1939. The simple photograph of Anne gazing away with wistful innocence into distant dreams that never materialized seems to be asking ‘why?’ to incomprehensible horrors unleashed by the Holocaust.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 22, 2010 at 4:45 am

Posted in Society, War

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Millimetternich Assassinated

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In February 1934, in a desperate bid to prevent a German takeover of Austria, Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss abandoned parliamentary government and established a dictatorship. Although no democrat, Dollfuss was convinced that his own brand of Austrofascism could stand as a bulwark against national socialism of Germany and communism of USSR.

Nicknamed “Millimetternich’ (a nod to his diminutive 5′ height and to Prince Metternich), Dollfuss used Austrian troops and Fascist militias to suppress the Social Democrats, which resulted in more than 1,000 deaths. On July 25th, 1934, less than a month after the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ when Hitler purged stormtroopers who had helped him to power, Nazi groups in Austria launched a coup d’état. In Vienna, Nazis stormed the chancellery and shot Dollfuss through the chest. The orders for the execution had come directly from the highest Nazi circles. 

Alarmed by these events, Italy — which was then Austria’s fascist Ally — mobilized, delaying Hitler’s plans to annex Austria proper. However,  the assassination crippled Austria, creating two rival dictators — cautious yet appeasing Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg and his vice-chancellor, Prince Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg, “a boot-licking hero worshipper of Benito Mussolini”. Two years would pass before von Starhemberg was forced out by Schuschnig, who disagreed with Starhemberg’s anti-Nazi views.

By 1938, Mussolini was in an alliance with Hitler and Austria was encircled. Schuschnig frantically tried to reach agreements with Hitler but the inevitable was fast approaching. On 20th February 1938, Hitler gave a speech before the Reichstag where he declared, “The German Reich is no longer willing to tolerate the suppression of ten million Germans across its borders.” Soon, an ultimatum was sent to Vienna to cede power to the Austrian Nazi Party or face invasion.

Thus invited to form a government was Austrian Nazi leader Aruthr Seyß-Inquart who promptly requested military occupation by the German army. The Anschluss had began; a unification was later overwhelmingly approved by a referendum (99% in favour), the Jews having been disenfranchised a few days prior.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 6, 2010 at 8:36 am

The Execution of Masha Bruskina

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In October 1941, at Minsk, Belorussia (then occupied by the Nazis), a 17-year-old Soviet Jewish partisan Masha Bruskina was arrested. Her crime? Along with two others, she was accused of killing a German soldier. Before being hanged, she was paraded through the streets with a plaque around her neck which read (in both German and Russian): “We are partisans and have shot at German troops”.

On October 26, 1941, she and her two comrades were hanged by the Nazis. In order to frighten the people into submission, the commander of the 707th Infantry Division, decided to hold a public hanging adjacent to a yeast factory. Every step of this grueling experience by documented by an unknown Lithuanian collaborating with the Nazis in seven infamous pictures.

After the war, the photos were made public — Masha’s two companions were immediately identified, but “the unknown girl” in the photo was not identified until 1968. Soviet authorities, however, refused to recognize her or to award her a posthumous medal. This snub was caused by the prevailing sense of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. In addition, her execution was two months before that of the renowned Soviet resistance fighter Zoya Kosmodemianskya — who was the symbol of Russian women’s resistance to the Nazi occupation.

See the works of Lev Arkadiev and Ada Dikhtiar, who popularized Masha’s cause.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 30, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Posted in Politics, War

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Yevgeny Khaldei and Hermann Goering

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Khaldei_Goering

Best known for his Reichstag flag rising picture, Yevgeny Khaldei (1917-1997) was the premier Red Army photographer from 1939 to 1948. Eventually, he was dismissed by Stalin’s anti-Semitism, but in 1945, he was the Soviets’ frontline photographer in the International Miltary Tribunals in Nuremberg. Nuremberg was a difficult assignment many photojournalists. Access to the courtroom was tightly governed under rules drafted by the Americans. Three glass enclosures were distributed along the edges of the room, and photographers were confined to them, two-by-two, and given only three minutes to shoot. One enclosure faced the dock, another faced the justices, and the third faced the those who had gathered to observe the proceedings. Khaldei finally circumvented the restriction by bribing an assistant to one of the Soviet justices with a bottle of gin in exchange for a better seat – the seat that yielded one of the most interesting photographs of Hermann Göring and the Trials.

Hermann Goering was extremely angry that the soldiers allowed a Russian (let alone a Jew) to photograph him. Dressed in his Soviet naval uniform (which further annoyed Goering) Khaldei pursued Goering aggressively: “I took lots of pictures of Göring because I thought, ‘Hitler is dead.’ That makes Göring public enemy number one. I took pains to be near him at all times.” With the help of an American MP and his baton, Goering was forced to face Khaldei’s lens, and even to have his picture taken with him. Towards the end of the trial, before the sentencing, Khaldei had his photo taken standing near Göring by a colleague. With the exception of his mother, Khaldei’s entire family had been slaughtered by the Germans in 1941.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 9, 2009 at 1:40 pm

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