The USSR is known for manipulating photographs for political and propaganda purposes. Nearly everyone is familiar with the iconic before and after photographs below. However, otherwise rational people will forget about the Soviet’s proclivity to alter photos and will accept Soviet photographs of the Holocaust at face value. There is also the fact that many people do not know that all of the alleged death camps were in Poland and therefore under Soviet control after they were liberated.
Udo Walendy was a German Holocaust revisionist who lived through WW2. In his article, Documentary Photographs Proving the National Socialist Persecution of the Jews?, Walendy outlines ‘Techniques of Falsifying Photographs, and Their Detection’. There are three types of photo forgery: false captions on genuine photos, alterations of genuine photos, and complete forgeries. False captions can be difficult to detect, but alterations to genuine photos are usually easier to detect due to inconsistencies in details. With modern computer technology, alterations are almost undetectable, so new photos related to controversial historical topics should be rejected as evidence unless the physical material dates from pre-computer days. Complete forgeries, such as photographs made from drawings or parts of other photos, can also be detected through inconsistencies.
Let’s use these techniques to assess the legitimacy of a well known photograph of an alleged German soldier allegedly taking aim at an alleged Jewish mother and child. It was allegedly taken by the Polish Home Army in 1942. Below you can see the photograph being used in the award winning book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, by Daniel Goldhagen.
Here the photo is being used as recently as January, 2023 by the NY Post as a pomo for an article.
And here is the photo from the Alamy stock photo site.
In all of these instances the photo is cropped. The complete image below is taken from this article by David Thomas. A centerfold from the middle has been minimized.
On occasion the entire photograph will be presented and the assertion is made that the men on the right are digging a grave.
For a time The United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum website displayed the full image, but its presence has since been scrubbed.
Wikipedia maintains that the photograph shows a German soldier aiming a rifle at a Jewish woman holding a child. They also claim that allegations of it being a forgery were proven false. However, the allegation that has been supposedly proven false is that the image did not depict a German soldier and that the weapons and uniforms were not authentic. The matter of the uniform and weapons are the least of the issues with the photograph.
Here is the better quality version of the photo again so you can look for the inconsistencies that David Thomas notes in his article (there is also a larger image here). First, there is a lack of a proper shadow for the woman. The standing soldier is behind a ridge but the woman is not, so there should be a shadow directly below her as it is with the other items in the photo. The shadow of the thin vertical object on the right has a deep shadow on it’s left side, as do the crouching men. The woman’s head has no such shadow. I also noticed that the shadows on the right side are a deeper black than the shadows on the left side.
Aside from the shadows the biggest problem with this photo is the fact that the woman’s head is larger than the head of the soldier with the gun, meaning she would be closer to the camera. If the photo were real this would mean that the soldier is aiming beyond the woman, not at her. In the picture below I have added a straight line from the end of the rifle. So not only is the rifle being aimed behind the woman, it is above her as well. I think it’s also interesting how there is great variation in the quality of the photograph. Some are washed out, some are given greater contrast. It’s like the various presenters of the photo were trying to correct for something.
In the conclusion of his article Thomas states, “My take on this is that the woman was added to a photo that included the items on the right and may or may not have included the soldier. What is fairly certain, even it the whole thing is real, is that he’s not shooting at the woman and child.” If you would like to read about further inconsistencies with the photograph read the entire article here.
There is one last thing to address. You may have noticed that the photograph in the Wikipedia article had a few more elements to it. Notably a body lying on the ground on the left side and two rifles with the people holding them out of sight.
So I took the liberty of drawing bullet travel lines for those guns too. What a mess! That standing soldier looks like he’s the one about to get shot.
I also took the liberty to make an artist rendition of how the gun holders standing off camera might have looked. How tall was that guy? And why are the riflemen standing on top of eachother? I can see why publications chose to go with the cropped version.
Continue to part two.