Still Lives: Jewish Photography under Nazism (co-sponsored by The Center for Jewish Studies)

The talk considers photographs that were taken by non-professional Jewish photographers under the National Socialist regime. By the early 1930s, most German-Jewish families had avidly used pocket-sized cameras to document their experiences, from domestic routines and family vacations to participation in political gatherings, youth movement ceremonies, sports and religious events. I argue that, gazing at a rapidly changing environment after January 1933, amateur Jewish photographers utilized their cameras to reflect on the new reality, to make sense of it, and to reclaim agency in it. My analysis of the photographs underscores their dialog with the visual imagery of the time, in particular the photographers’ (conscious or otherwise) effort to restage familiar iconography outside of its original contexts. A careful analysis of tens of thousands of such photographs—available in numerous archives and private collections—provides us with an exceptionally rich source for the study of Jewish experiences in Nazi Germany: of the various ways Jews perceived the new reality, sought to understand it and to confront its implications.