• University of Nottingham

Photographing the Holocaust

What insights do photos offer into histories of National Socialism and the Holocaust? Are they authentic sources, or ‘fake news’?

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Learn to decode photos and visit secret archives for a new view of history.

This course, created by academics from Nottingham and the UK’s National Holocaust Centre and Museum, invites you on a visual journey of discovery.

Explore with us how photos can offer new insights into the history of National Socialism and the Holocaust – and what problems we face when relying on the “perpetrator gaze”.

Find out how the historical picture changes if we consider the secret photo archives created by the victims of Nazism. Discuss how seeing history in a new light can change our view of the present, and how to view photos of victims of persecution and violence today.

Explore life in Nazi Germany through personal and propaganda photography

Using the medium of historical photography, you’ll explore what happened to individuals in Germany during Nazism and the rise of Hitler.

You’ll examine how people’s photography engaged with the official Nazi visual culture - including which elements of it they rejected or ignored.

Study German politics and historical photography with insights from the Holocaust Museum

This course is delivered by the University of Nottingham’s lead educator in history, Maiken Umbach, and is run in collaboration with the Holocaust Museum. You’ll have special access to fascinating displays from the Holocaust Museum itself and benefit from the specialist knowledge of museum staff.

By the end of the course, you’ll have an in-depth understanding of the problems of the Nazi’s political propaganda photography and you’ll know all about the humans behind – and in front of – the camera in Germany during WW2.

Course image: Stroop Report Warsaw ghetto uprising, National Archives and Records Administration, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Skip to 0 minutes and 22 seconds Photos are like a window to the past. In my job, I work with images that bring us close to some of the worst crimes in human history, the Holocaust, for example. These are images of the deportations, the ghettos, the camps. They are evidence of some of the greatest crimes against humanity. But photos also show us those who suffered and were lost forever. 6 million Jewish people alone were murdered during the Holocaust, but their faces, their life before Nazism, is recorded by the camera.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds But through whose eyes are we seeing this past? This course will tackle the problem that the photos we use to imagine and learn about the Holocaust today were mostly taken by the perpetrators. What does it mean if a Nazi propaganda photographer held the camera? Can we trust such evidence, and how might the picture change if we look at this history through the photos taken by the victims instead. [TRAIN HORN BLOWING]

Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds Seeing a photo is always subjective. Our different experiences and identities affect how we view images. That’s why we’re so excited to be going on this journey with you. We are a team of academics from the University of Nottingham and staff from the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. In this course, we will be sharing our insights with you on photography. But we’re also really eager to hear about your views and responses through the course and to discuss these with you. Join us on this visual journey into the past.

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds But it leads us back to the present– photos of victims on our television screens and on social media every day, the body of the dead child, Alan Kurdi, on the beach, photos of the plight of the people of Yemen, Sudan, or Syria, or the children in the cages at the US-Mexican borders. Photographing the Holocaust will help you hone your visual literacy and orientate yourself in a world that is flooded by images. But we also want to learn from you. Your opinions really matter and will help us do better work on your behalf. Sign up today. Join the discussions. We look forward to meeting you very soon.


  • Week 1

    PERPETRATOR PHOTOGRAPHY: The Camera as a Weapon

    • How we “see” the Holocaust today

      What do photos of the Holocaust and Nazism reveal -- what do they conceal? Discuss these questions with experts from the University of Nottingham and from the UK's National Holocaust Centre and Museum.

    • Photos of the Holocaust in Nazi Propaganda

      Most Photos of the Holocaust were taken by Nazi Propaganda Photographers. But in what sense were they "propaganda"? What did the perpetrators photograph, and why? What did they leave out?

    • Perpetrators take private photos...

      How did Germans photograph Nazism and the Second World War? Gain insights into the private photo archive of countless Germans who took part.

  • Week 2

    PHOTOGRAPHY BY VICTIMS: The Camera as an Instrument of Resistance

    • Jewish Photos: A different view

      How did Jewish people in Nazi Germany capture experiences of discrimination, exclusion, and flight exile with the camera? Do their photos from the pre-war years reveal a different picture from official sources?

    • Holocaust Photography as Defiance

      After 1939, Europe's Jews suffered immensely in ghettos and camps. But many continued to take secret photos of these events. Explore the unique archive they created, and discover how it differed from the perpetrator view.

    • Photography and Survival

      Some Jews survived the Nazi Holocaust: they got visas to emigrate, or they came, as lone children, on the Kindertransport; others were liberated from camps in 1945. What do photos means to them?

  • Week 3


    • The Public Life of Holocaust Photos after the War

      Holocaust photos became important evidence of crimes against humanity. But even if they were taken by 'liberators' rather than perpetrators, what sort of image of the victims do they show?

    • After-Effects: Victim photos today

      The influence of the Holocaust on the post-war world was profound. How did its legacy shape visual culture? How do we photograph, and see, victims of more recent conflicts and persecutions?

    • To See or Not to See?

      Photos of people fleeing war and persecution are all over the news and social media today. But are we really seeing them?

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Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Apply historical knowledge to contemporary political challenges
  • Assess photography as a source of information and tackle visual bias
  • Compare photography by perpetrators and victims of violence and persecution
  • Evaluate visual and written sources about National Socialism
  • Explore the role of different media, including texts, images, art and immersive technologies in Holocaust commemoration and learning

Who is the course for?

Anyone interested in modern European history, National Socialism, the Holocaust, and those who are keen to enhance their media literacy in contemporary contexts.

Who will you learn with?

A lead educator on this course, I am Professor of modern history at Nottingham, and specialize on history and photography, and the legacies of National Socialism and genocide.

I am Senior Researcher at the National Holocaust Museum and create exhibitions and educational programmes to commemorate the Holocaust and address Antisemitism. Here, I am one of the lead educators.

Who developed the course?

The University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham is committed to providing a truly international education, inspiring students with world-leading research and benefitting communities all around the world.


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