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

  • Dear Jan, your comment on photo 1615 seems to relate to the website of the Art Gallery of Ontario, who own and have digitised a large part of Ross's photographic work. We do not show this photo here, and thus did not make a mistake with the caption. We have no influence over how the AGO caption their own collection.

  • @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...