Churchill and Tommy Gun

The above photograph of Winston Churchill with the Thompson submachine gun was taken during his visit to the coastal defense positions near Hartlepool on 31 July, 1940. The prospects were not looking good for the United Kingdom and her new prime minister. Governments in exile were arriving to London while Home Guard was just being established and ill-prepared; For a month, Hitler had been preparing to invade Britain, and the Luftwaffe had been commencing what would eventually be known as the Battle of Britain. Britain had lost the Channel Islands barely a month before, while it looked as if Russia would join the war from the German side.

The Churchill photograph was timely. It was used to convey Churchill as a war leader. Both sides of the war tried to use this picture for propaganda purposes. The British photoshopped out* two soldiers standing next to Churchill, making him look statesmanlike, determined and menacing. On the other hand, the Germans got hold of the photo, and compared it to those of the gangsters of the American West. The Nazis used this photo in their propaganda leaflets airdropped onto Britain during the Battle of Britain (below).

It was ironic that the British tried to render their prime minister more threatening. Churchill had more military experience than any British Prime Minister since the Duke of Wellington. Although he had been the Prime Minister for only 50 days when this photo was taken, he had been a military man throughout his life. He was a member of the Harrow Rifle Corps while in public school. After failing the entrance exam twice, he was admitted to Sandhurst, and graduated eighth in his class (and leading in tactics and fortifications). He saw action in India and South Africa and served as the minister in all three branches of the military before eventually being selected for the premiership.

* Used in a loose retroactive sense. ¬†ūüôā

Pictures We Would Like To Publish

A newspaper that tells only part of the truth is a million times preferable to one that tells the truth to harm its country, once wrote The Sun. The Picture Post would have disagreed.¬†“Responsibly Awkward” had been the motto of the Post, Britain’s answer to Life magazine, throughout the Second World War. With the nation engulfed in the greatest conflagration it had ever seen, humour was in low supply but the Post steadfastly provided it with pictures of dozing soldiers, sleeping people in underground shelters, and amusing street graffitti. When¬†the Germans were preparing to invade Britain in the darkest days of the war, the paper calmly produced an 8-page feature titled, “How to Invade Britain”, an account of Napoleon’s grandiose but scuttled plans.

Paper-restrictions reduced it to mere 28 pages (from 104 pages before the war), but its patriotism was never in doubt–the paper set up a training school for the Home Guard while its manufacturing units were alloted to create cheap mortar.¬†The issue Picture Post was confronted again and again was that of censorship. This absurdity was exposed in one issue by running multiple images of black-out photos (like above). Below these “Pictures We Would Like To Publish,”¬†captions read:

“Some of the Leaflets our Airmen Dropped on Germany: Our country has at least done something in propaganda. Our planes have dropped leaflets over Germany. But the leaflets are a dead secret. Only Germans may read them. Britons may not. We asked to be allowed to show them to you. Permission refused.”

“British Airmen Shoot Down German Planes: A German raider crashes into a hillside — only one of dozens of pictures we should like to publish. We cannot. we can see the need of a reasonable censorship. We can’t see the need of a black-out. Can you?”

“British Troops Are in Comfort in the Front Line: So well-built are the lines which British troops have occupied in France that even in recent floods they are bone-dry. You see troops enjoying lunch — or would if we are allowed to send a cameraman. Repeated requests to War Office produce nothing but courteous acknowledgments.”

Only picture printed on that page was this one which the original captions scathingly read:

“Our Thanks are due to them for the pictures on these pages: the picture censorship department of the Ministry of Information. Lord Raglan (centre) and two colleagues in the department of the Ministry of Information, which decides which pictures the press may have and which it may not. WIthout their cooperation and far-seeing initiative, we could never have presented these exciting pictures of Britain at war.

The public and authorities were able to laugh these censorships off with typical British “Mustn’t Grumble”. The Post‘s publication peaked at 2 million copies a week in 1943, but it eventually overstepped itself. The government cancelled its subsidies the Post after it questioned the quality of some military equipment in the Middle East. Its last crusade was to release the photos of the destruction of the Farringdon Market by one of the last German V2 raids (March 8 1945), which didn’t happen until 1948!

Anne Frank

If a single individual could be held up to ‚Äúpersonify‚ÄĚ 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.

Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub

Lee Miller, covering WWII for Vogue teamed up with the American photographer David E. Scherman, a¬†Life magazine correspondent on many assignments. The above¬†photograph by Scherman of Miller in the bathtub of¬†Adolf Hitler’s house in¬†Munich is one of the most iconic images from the Miller-Scherman partnership. The New York Times had this to say: “A¬†picture of the F√ľhrer balances on the lip of the tub; a classical statue of a woman sits opposite it on a dressing table; Lee, in the tub, inscrutable as ever, scrubs her shoulder. A woman caught between horror and beauty, between being seen and being the seer.”

The night after Miller visited Dachau, on April 30, 1945 — Hitler had committed suicide in Berlin just earlier that day¬†— Miller and Scherman entered Munich with the American 45th Division that was liberating the city. They happened upon a dilapidated and normal-looking apartment building on Prinzenregentplatz 27, and realized, upon entering, that it was Hitler’s Munich apartment. It was here that Chamberlain signed away Czechoslovakia.

They billeted there for three days, surrounded by china and line marked with swastikas and the initials A.H.¬†Scherman slept in Hitler’s bed; Miller¬†had her picture taken at the F√ľhrer’s desk.¬†Scherman recalled that while Miller bathed, an angry lieutenant banged on the door, towel and soap in hand. It is believed that there was also a similar photograph with the roles reversed: Scherman as the subject, and Miller as the photographer.¬†The duo later headed to a villa belonging to Eva Braun three blocks away, also napped on the bed and tried the telephone marked ”Berlin.”¬†Miller wrote to her Vogue editor Audrey Winters:

I was living in Hitler’s private apartment when his death was announced, midnight of Mayday … Well, alright, he was dead. He’d never really been alive to me until today. He’d been an evil-machine-monster all these years, until I visited the places he made famous, talked to people who knew him, dug into backstairs gossip and ate and slept in his house. He became less fabulous and therefore more terrible, along with a little evidence of his having some almost human habits; like an ape who embarrasses and humbles you with his gestures, mirroring yourself in caricature. “There, but for the Grace of God, walks I.”

When the photo came out, it was considered an extremely poor judgement. For some, Miller posing nude in the tub of one of the most repulsive men in history was nothing more than a ill-timed reflection of the adage, “To the victor goes the spoils”. For others, it represents the power of life over death, “The living do what they can and the dead suffer what they must”. Lee Miller herself shied away from the controversies but reprouding the image very rarely and noted that she was merely trying to wash the odors of Dachau away.

(A commenter below has alerted to me about a¬†missing negative from this series, which allegedly shows¬†Miller undressing/getting into the tub. It was burnt in the darkroom, and Anthony Spencer has tried to recreate it in¬†a large-scale print, ‚ÄúIt cries itself to sleep‚ÄĚ (1973). I haven‚Äôt managed to get hold of it myself.)

A less famous variant

The Kremlin Bombarded

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Unlike most photographers, she was as famous as her pictures. Margaret Bourke-White was an institution, and personification of the formative years of LIFE magazine. The images she captured are memorable enough on their own: a line of flood victims in Kentucky stretched in front of a billboard braying prosperity; Gandhi at the spinning wheel.

In July 26th 1941, she became the right person at the right place as¬†the German bombardment of the Kremlin began.¬†She was the only foreign photographer in Moscow–she was dispatched there because one of the Life editors, Wilson Hicks, believed that Germany would invade the Soviet Union soon.

Although the Soviet officials had announced that their soldiers would shoot anyone spotted with a camera, Bourke-White was granted an exception. On the night of July 23rd, she went up the American embassy roof where the Soviet air wardens couldn’t see her.¬†At one point, a bomb exploded nearly, blowing every window of the embassy. Bourke-White had the sense to seek the shelter just seconds before.

The above most picture showed the spires of Kremlin silhouetted by German Luftwaffe flare, with the antiaircraft gunners dotting sky over Red Square. The second showed the Kremlin lit up by flares from anti-aircraft shells and seven Nazi parachute flares which provided light for German bombardiers.

All during her stay in the USSR, Bourke-White tried to photograph Stalin; she had been refused the opportunity on her earlier visits.¬†When Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt’s adviser, reached Moscow on July 30, he found Bourke-White already there. The second time he met Stalin on July 31st, he got the permission for Bourke-White to photograph the meeting too.

The Execution of Leonard Siffleet

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Australian Sergeant Leonard Siffleet was part of a special forces reconnaissance unit in New Guinea, then occupied by Japanese Imperial forces. He and two Ambonese companions were captured by partisan tribesmen and handed over to the Japanese.

All three men were interrogated, tortured and confined for approximately two weeks before being taken down to Aitape Beach on the afternoon of 24 October 1943. Bound and blindfolded, surrounded by Japanese and native onlookers, they were forced to the ground and executed by beheading, on the orders of Vice-Admiral Michiaki Kamada. The officer who executed Siffleet detailed a private to photograph him in the act. The photograph of Siffleet’s execution was discovered on the body of a dead Japanese soldier by American troops in April 1944.

As a part of a propaganda effort, it was published in many newspapers and in Life magazine but was thought to depict Flight Lieutenant Bill Newton, VC, who had been captured in Salamaua, Papua New Guinea, and beheaded on 29 March 1943. The photo became an enduring image of the war.

(Siffleet’s executioner, Yasuno Chikao, has been variously reported as having died before the end of the war, and as having been captured and sentenced to be hanged, with his sentence subsequently commuted to 10 years imprisonment. In Europe, the mortality rate of the Allied prisoners of Germans was 1.1%, while it was 37% for the Allied prisoners of Japanese).

Executions at Nuremberg

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Above clockwise: Streicher, Jodl, Sauckel, Frick, Ribbentrop; below, clockwise from topright, Keitel, Rosenberg, Seyss-Inquart, Frank, Kaltenbrunner, Goering.

Nazi_death2Although the Nuremberg Trials had been a media circus, only a selected group of reporters were allowed into the execution chambers of the Nazi war criminals. The authorities feared that the Nazi leaders would get sympathy or they would become martyrs if the executions turned into a media spectacle. Eight journalists from Big Four countries were selected by lottery, but only one photographer (and he was from U.S. Army) was allowed behind the close doors to report the last moments inside the prison.

The French judges suggested the use of a firing squad for the military condemned, but the other judges deemed undignified execution by hanging more appropriate. The hangings were carried out on 16 October 1946 by the executioner John C. Woods. Of the 12 defendants sentenced to death by hanging, two were not hanged: Hermann Göring committed suicide the night before the execution and Martin Bormann was not present when convicted. The remaining 10 defendants sentenced to death were hanged. The bodies were brought to Dachau and burned (the final use of the crematories there) with the ashes then scattered into a river.

The pictures of the executed corpses made by Edward F. McLaughlin (the U.S army photographer) were released in November (to dispel the rumors that the hangings which were conducted secretly, were bungled or never carried out), and were received by much disapproval. Many feared the criminals becoming the martyrs through these pictures. The British government voted against releasing the pictures on moral grounds, and no British publications reproduced them, honoring their government’s desires. The pictures were forbidden in the German press. LIFE magazine, above, however , reproduced them.

 

 

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dumdum-patreon

Now that you are here: I am doing something crassly commercial here. I just signed up for Patreon. Patreon is a fundraising platform. In their words, “Patreon is an Internet-based platform that allows content creators to build their own subscription content service.”¬†As you may notice in last few years, I have been posting very infrequently. But I want IP to go on for a long time and be sustainable. Linking a monetary value to a new post (not a ‘monthly salary’ — which is another way of doing Patreon) should give me a marginal incentive to write more. As far as the blog is concerned, nothing will change. No paywalls. Patreon is more useful for YouTubers and podcasters, but let’s see how it goes for me:¬†https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos¬†