Maiken Umbach

Maiken Umbach

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.

Location University of Nottingham

Activity

  • @PeterTyson Really interesting -- if horrifying -- examples. Thank you for sharing them. You are quite right, this practice pre-dates the Nazis, as well as continuing to the present. It always worries me that the history of the Holocaust is presented in education as such a unique event. In scale, of course, it was. But in terms of the motivations of individual...

  • Marie, you are quite right: this was not a German speciality. We will get to other more contemporary atrocity photos later this week!

  • Thank you all for these first comments! I think Karen Saxl (comment at bottom of this thread) put her finger on it: these photos are crucially important as evidence, but taken out of context, they can be misleading if we want to understand attitudes in the Wehrmacht. Two reasons: one is that they do not show those individuals who made different choices. I came...

  • @DerekDeegan could not put it any better than you have here, totally agree!

  • Beautifully put, Clare!

  • Hopeless, true, with the benefit of hindsight. But at the time, which sane person would have expected the Holocaust? Even from the Nazi point of view, this is well before the Wannsee conference...

  • Dear Ian, that is hard to tell, because the Salzmanns only very rarely state whether their German friends in the US were Jewish or not. And remember: huuuge numbers of German Jews were classified as such by Nazi race laws when they did not practice that religion. So it is not an objective category. In any case, during WW2, nearly all Germans in the US, Jewish...

  • Yes and no. The Salzmanns started planning their emigration in 1938. It is important to bear in mind that Jewish experiences never follow a single national chronology. Yes, there were national laws. But enforcement on the ground was very uneven. So were attitudes of neighbours, teachers, etc. We know, for example, that Hans S treated a member of Hitlers...

  • Pls see general comment above...

  • Thanks for the nice comments. Re the question "Where can I see all of the photos?": archives rarely digitise private photos. Only very standard Nazi images circulate in large numbers online. Archives also cover the cost of keeping such materials and making it available to researchers by charging reproduction fees. So I could not include more than three images...

  • Thank you for all the thoughtful and moving comments on these images. Some of you have said that they need to have a special place, perhaps even a special exhibition: I think this is an important point. Showing them next to the PK pictures, which are so professional and perfectly designed, has a risk of overpowering these blurry, lyrical images -- and thus...

  • Precisely: and why shouldn't they be similar: they were, after all, quite ordinary Germans! As I posted above, many "German Jews" were also completely secular, or Christian. The Nazis did not just persecute people of the Jewish faith. They persecuted anyone who, according to their definitions of race, had any Jewish ancestry. But of course, once you are...

  • Dear Susan, it is impossible to be precise about numbers, but MANY German Jews celebrated Christmas. It was simply part of the national culture: for what it's worth, my own German family celebrated Xmas every year, too, even though they had ceased being Christians two generations ago. The other thing we have to bear in mind: those persecuted by the Nazis AS...

  • Just wanted to reiterate something Claudia has posted here. Remember how difficult it was for Jews in Nazi Germany to take photos. They took huge risks in taking them -- and also risks in preserving them when they had to flee the country, go into hiding, or even worse, when they were deported to ghettos. People took extraordinary care to preserve such photos,...

  • Thanks for all the comments! Yes, of course, in total, we have hundreds of thousands of photos by those persecuted by the regime. At the same time, we have to bear in mind that many people in this situation had to leave many photos behind, so sometimes, we only have a single image -- as here -- or, in the case discussed by Ofer in the previous step, one album....

  • You are completely right: what you see out of the window of our virtual gallery in the VR is the street at which the Nazi photos were taken as it looks today. Very few people spotted that! I have seen a brilliant film, by Anat Vogman and others, about Muranow today. It is really eerie, because the new houses stand on the rubble of the ghetto, that was never...

  • Thank you for all these fascinating comments. Just a reminder that, for those in the UK, "The Eye as Witness" will re-open, after a Covid-break, In London at the Jewish Museum and in Nottingham at Lakeside Arts, both in January 2022.

  • Some interesting examples of Hugo Jaeger ghetto photos are here: https://dirkdeklein.net/2018/01/17/hugo-jaeger-documenting-ghetto-life/
    Sometimes, we have to bear in mind that conventions get in the way. Jaeger, like all professional Nazi propaganda photographers, had a brief to portray Jewish victims in a certain way. But he also had professional training...

  • Good point! And you are right, the Nazis did not invent this: but they did create some of the most 'iconic' visual representations, which are constantly being recycled now. Near where I live is Lincoln Cathedral. In Lincoln, a famous medieval case of the 'blood libel' occurred, i.e. Jews supposedly killing a Christian baby as a blood sacrifice. The wrong...

  • Helena, yes, I am very struck how often Nazi-style images pop up today. Sometimes, they are direct copies of Nazi caricatures (lots of them on Twitter and other social media), sometimes, as in the example you cite, they are new images that use the same visual symbols: the hooked nose and the crouched pose, signifying that Jews are somehow shifty people, shy of...

  • Dear Ian, we are gathering lots of audience feedback now, both from the physical exhibition, and from an online version we have created (but not yet for general use: we want to test it first, and make improvements before we open it up generally). From the comments we have, the most frequent one on the VR element is: "Wow, it is like you are really there" --...

  • Wow, you watched very intelligent documentaries: sadly, not the kinds that most teachers use in classrooms today. But it is really heartening to hear that they prompted you to explore further!

  • Dear Michael, Yes, agreed! You may also be interested in a step in Week 3, where we will discuss a famous exhibition of thousands of photos taken by Wehrmacht soldiers of atrocities they committed: it was a key event convincing the German public that a racial war of extermination was not just fought by the SS and their helpers.

  • Very well put, Marie! I think it is incredibly important that we do not imagine Nazis as alien "others": so many of their beliefs, and even more so, the beliefs of the millions of people who supported some aspects of Nazi ideology and policy, were rooted in European culture and traditions, including of course colonialism.
    For those who want to find out more...

  • Wonderful, thank you for sharing!

  • Maiken Umbach made a comment

    Dear learners, welcome everyone! It is fascinating to read in these comments stories of such different trajectories that have led people to this topic. Many also include fascinating family histories, from Holocaust survivors to a British solider who drive the bulldozer in Allied the "clean-up" operations at Bergen-Belsen (we will, btw, hear from the curator at...

  • Dear Marie, Yes, there are, although, apart from ours, only 3 on FutureLearn (which are the only free ones), and one of those is currently closed (UCL, specifically for teachers). We list all these, and other further resources we recommend, in the penultimate step of this course in week 3. But just to be clear: there are a lot of other learning resources about...

  • I will ask Derek to comment directly, Michael. My own father was not as implicated. But nevertheless, he fought for the Wehrmacht, if only briefly, in 1945, when the drafted very young men. It took me 76 years to extract an admission from him that once, when marching, he (like all those in his unit) saw a concentration camp and what went on inside. My father...

  • Dear learners: discussion is just starting here, but I note that some of you are asking whether many people just "kept their head down". If you look at the album pages I have used above, I think we can see more here than just "keeping one's head down". Sure, that attitude existed; some albums focus just on the domestic realm: family celebrations, children...

  • Absolutely agree, Michael, a range of different media is key. One thing that really struck us about the VR though: we had *assumed* it was something that would appeal more to younger visitors. But some of the most positive comments we got came from older visitors, and from very varied demographics. I think some young people are already quite blaze about new...

  • You raise a crucial point, Marie. Have you noticed how, while the slogans on twitter etc change, such posts are often accompanied by images that come directly from Nazi sources? I recently saw a post on twitter denouncing the plan to form a football European super league as a Jewish plot: the illustration that went with it came from "Der Stuermer"...

  • Love the notion of an "inner photograph"!

  • Good point! Isn't it odd, how readily teachers share feature films which, like the example you cite, grossly misrepresent realities of the Holocaust, but are so cautious about using real images...

  • Absolutely agree, Karen. In week 3 of this course, we will hear from the director of the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site: they have really changed the way they use graphic photos. Pedagogic studies, but also the hands-on experience of educators, show that simply using photos to shock people does not achieve much, and in some cases, can be counter-productive. This...

  • Excellent point, Fiona. Photos are very powerful: but Nazi photos in particular often do not do justice to the victims. Of course, we can look at such photos very differently now from how the photographers intended. But so much depends on how they are displayed, captioned. Sadly, much current practice, esp in school textbooks, leaves much to be desired... We...

  • Thank you for sharing the personal story, Bruce. As you say, all this is only one generation ago, so many family histories wrapped up in it! I will talk more about my own when we get to some steps about ordinary people's photos...

  • Good to see you again, Randal!

  • I know what you mean, but you might say that even the concept of "territory" is a political one, and one in which maps are complicit. Unlike landscape, natural world, habitat, etc, "territory" tends to refer to a form of (political) ownership. Nation-states, but also larger units, such as ASEAN, or smaller ones, such as Texas, are territories on maps: their...

  • Good point! There are a *few* maps that have the Americas in the centre, thus China to the left, Europe on the far right. They look very strange -- but you are right, our concepts of "West" and "East", which are only relative terms, were deeply shaped by the Cold War. But of course, the binary of Orient and (or: "versus"!) Occident dates back much further...

  • Some really amazing comments here: thank you all for posting such thoughtful and nuanced answers! I agree: a "just war" is always an ideal type: unjust things are done during (and after...) all "just wars" -- it does not mean this is a meaningless category, but it is an abstraction, which means neither that all motives at play in such a war, or all...

  • Welcome to those who have more recently joined and posted here! Really INSPIRING to see people from so many different backgrounds: that's such a wonderful, and quite possibly unique, feature of this platform! Also interesting to see how differently people relate to their own background: one discussion here about whether being from a particular country (here re...

  • Welcome back, Julia! So pleased you decided to join us *again*-- what commendable enthusiasm!! :)

  • Elisabeth, S.W, Ian and others in this threat have commented on the role of peer pressure in causing extreme political behaviour, which transgresses conventional moral boundaries. Clearly, group dynamics are a key factor: and I would certainly argue against the view that propaganda just brainwashed people into doing these things. What I would argue -- and this...

  • How fascinating! Please do share some of your own experiences in this course. I think in some ways, we will be arguing that one cannot simply step outside ideology. But I think there are ways in which we can make arguments more transparent: by being clear about or definition of words, rather than just relying on their emotive power, for example. And of course...

  • Wonderful: I hope you can contribute some examples from your work on Africa to our discussions in this course!

  • Welcome Jim! So interesting about your museum educator role. As I am sure will become apparent in this course, I do a lot of work with museums myself: we co-created an exhibition that currently tours the UK, called "The Eye as Witness", which is seeking to tackle the problem that to this day, we exhibit the Holocaust almost exclusively through the lens of...

  • Great, it is always excellent to hear the voices of teachers in this course. Also, very interesting to hear about how some of these issues play out in a non-Anglophone countries: we always have more learners from the UK, US, Australia, etc. Please do share your views with us in the different discussion steps!

  • Wonderful to see some students here, Georgia! Hope you find this useful: please feel free to ask questions about how to relate some of the content to what you are studying. Also, please do share your perspectives on some of these issues as a young person.

  • Agreed! One of the things I love so much about a forum like this is that it works less as an echo chamber than social media are said to do. In previous iterations, we had people with very different political views having a debate about why they think of core ideas, such as freedom or community, in different ways. So let's prove that online communication can...

  • Ha, great minds.... -- I just posted a note about the "Breaking Point" poster in this thread, below... I think you are spot on: it is very hard to make any kind of propaganda work without suggesting that there is a crisis, and a thus a threat. But given that there are many threats we are facing, in particular places, but also as a human race as a whole, how...

  • Good points. Do you remember the "Breaking Point" poster from the British Referendum campaign? It showed a mass of people walking across a field. There was no indication of who they were, or where they were going. But the implication is that a Western civilisation is somehow overrun by "others": the very fact that these people in the poster could represent...

  • Such an excellent point, Amber! We will return to it in the final week of this course, on consumerism. But here is a question for you: is this new? Were consumer choices ever separate from political ones? Nazi Germany is often portrayed in popular media today as an Orwellian state brainwashing its population from above. That is conventient to believe, because...

  • Welcome everyone! Interesting points raised here already. Amber asked about "commercial propaganda". We will come to that in more detail in the final week of this course, where we look at propaganda and consumption; we start with more traditional examples of political propaganda. But of course, the two are often blurred in practice: not least because in most...

  • Welcome to the course, and THANK YOU to those who have already posted here! We have run this course three times before over the past 7 years, and I am interested in seeing how many of you feel that the problem of propaganda in our daily lives is getting worse (even compared to what learners said in earlier iterations of this course). I wonder why you think...

  • @ElisaBird Available now!

  • True -- but sometimes there are other sources that recorded ordinary people's voices at the time. One excellent examples are secret police reports, who spied on their own populations to gauge public opinion. Such reports are often very different from propagandistic statement about the alleged support that particular governments or movements enjoyed: because...

  • Finally, one practical suggestion. For those of you using oral history: it's worth exploring how accounts you collect compare to those recorded by others of people in comparable situations. For example, why not compare family stories to accounts of the same period recorded in the Mass Observation Project? Or, for countries or period where such a neat archive...

  • Some really wonderful examples here already about how learners have used oral history in their research -- thank you for sharing!! Those who commented on issues of reliability: you are absolutely right to say that oral histories are never totally "authentic". Which was indeed what I was getting at when pointing out the subsequent discussions change the way we...

  • @HamishMorrison The purpose of this step is not to engage in advocacy either for or against Depo. Of course, it is important to mention the medical research that demonstrates the many problems it causes. But that is mentioned here as the relevant background to another question -- notably to what extent the racialised history DP in historical, apartheid South...

  • Dear John, I asked my colleague Kate to write this article specifically for the course, because this strikes me as a classic and important example of how current debates are shaped by acknowledged and unacknowledged historical legacies. The idea is that those who campaigning both for and against Depo, in Africa and in the West (for example, in NGOs) need to be...

  • @judithNewman Thanks Judith! :)

  • Absolutely. But I am slightly baffled by how many comments here seem to say, or imply, that I am advocating censoring this history. This is a course about *learning from the past*. So why would be construct a binary here between either ignoring or obliterating history's physical traces, OR gazing at them simply as "pretty" or "quaint"? You are absolutely right...

  • That raises a follow-up question: is it legitimate for democratic movements to resort to similarly grand buildings when trying to express the triumph of democracy over royal absolutism or dictatorship? When the Reichstag in Berlin was built in the aftermath of the first German unification, parliamentarians argued it was right to resort to the visual language...

  • Dear Annie, I largely agree with you. That said, I took my kids to abbeys and fortifications in Normandy this summer, and even though they are only 9 and 13, they were certainly asking questions about why the castles were so heavily fortified, why the Bayeux tapestry is so bloodthirsty, and who the "enemy" was. They grow up in a world where wars and...

  • @DonaldVincent Not sure why my asking whether or not, in your view, heritage curators should invite visitors to reflect on this histories that produced a particular building, built environment, or artifact to your mind constitutes "indoctrination". This is a course about learning about, and from, the past -- and to my mind, you are missing an opportunity if...

  • Sure. But I am not here simply talking about the fact that something happened at some point in the history of a particular place that we may be critical of -- but the specific point that the very attraction of Asmara is the propaganda architecture of Italian colonisers, who were also Fascists. As per my comment above, I don't think that means we should not...

  • Thanks for these comments! I particularly like the comment by Michael (but related points were made by others): it is largely a question of awareness, learning to read the built environment critically, much like we would a written text by a historical figure , party, or movement. I agree it would be absurd to seek to "obliterate" these histories: it is a...

  • Maiken Umbach made a comment

    Great to see how many of you have already started using maps in your own historical explorations! Keep the ideas coming, I am sure they will inspire other learners.

  • So glad you have donated yours to a museum! For historians of photography like myself, it is *so* important to have photos of ordinary people represented in public archives and collections. I am astonished how many of them end up on ebay... Over the years, I have not only visited hundreds of photo archives, but have also built up my own collection of photo...

  • @JuneGrof Yes. This also raises another interesting point: how, and where, photos are displayed affects how we view them. A photo will look different when shown at a concentration camp site or on in a glossy magazine -- or social media, for that matter...

  • Dear Patricia, yes, the absence of labels is often a problem with using family photography. I think it was usually assumed that these photos would become part of an oral tradition, that stories would be told about the people in the photos, and it was not necessary to write them down. This can make it difficult to interpret them when several generations have...

  • @MichaelMischler Dear Michael, there are MANY issues to explore with visual evidence, and written evidence -- we can only cover some examples here, and we have chosen here to focus on "victim" photography", where the most iconic examples come, historically, from the Holocaust, and, more recently, from the crises that Nerris has covered as UN photographer, such...

  • Hmmm -- a lot of learners found it odd that, in a previous step, I raised *any* concerns about official NS propaganda photos of their victims. There seems to be no sense that viewing these photos raises any ethical problems. But you raise such a concern here. To my mind, this photo by Nerris is different in so many ways: it documents, first of all, not the...

  • Wish I shared your confidence in the benign effect of these images... But yes, of course I agree we should look at them. Would it not also be worthwhile, however, to look at the photographs made by those incarcerated in ghettos? It has only been in the last few years that museums have systematically started collecting them -- and very few are on display....

  • Excellent examples -- and one I have thought about a lot. I think there is no doubt that such photos can draw our attention to human suffering and humanitarian catastrophes. So they have an important role to play. But it is always worth comparing them to other images. I saw an excellent TV documentary recently based almost entirely on footage that refugees...

  • Excellent point! I always think it is worth looking for alternative sources (an example are Jewish photos of ghettos, mentioned in this thread, above). I am not saying that they are a "replacement" for NS commissioned photographs: but they give us an insight into what is, and what is not, specific to a gaze that reflects a very particular purpose.