Propaganda und Widerstand

Page 625-629, from chapter VI: Polish Authors, Collectors and Distributors of Photographs between Adaptation, Self-Assertion and Resistance

Page 625-629 > access to source at the UDK > Teilband 2 > Link

Translation of contents with the friendly permission of Verlag Dr. Kovač Hamburg.

Author information: Miriam Y. Arani
ISBN: 978-3-8300-3005-8
Publisher: Verlag Dr. Kovač
Place of publishing: Hamburg
Document type: Book (Monograph)
Language: German
Year of completion: 2008
Publishing Institution: Universität der Künste Berlin
Date of release: 23.02.2022
GND keyword: Wartheland; Poland – people; Germans; photography; self-image; foreign image; Wartheland; Polen – Volk; Deutsche; Fotografie; Selbstbild; Fremdbild
Page number: 1014
License (German): No license – copyright protection

Band II. Aus Kapitel IV: Polnische Urheber, Sammler und Distributoren von Fotografien zwischen Anpassung, Selbstbehauptung und Widerstand

Volume II. From Chapter IV: Polish Authors, Collectors and Distributors of Photographs between Adaptation, Self-Assertion and Resistance

[Excerpt: pp. 625-629]

Vl. Polish Authors, Collectors and Distributors of Photographs between Adaptation, Self-Assertion and Resistance

The preceding chapters described how the Nazi occupation administration in the Reichsgau Wartheland excluded Poles from the press and publishing industry and also as business owners in economic life and confiscated the assets of all Polish publishing houses, printing houses and photographic businesses. In addition, the German civil administration also banned the Poles in the Warthegau from private use and possession of cameras from June 1941. Arthur Greiser, as head of the civil administration at the military commander, had already announced during his first major speech in Posen in the fall of 1939 that now the Germans would be the “masters” and the Poles their “servants”. There was to be a principled legal inequality between Germans and Poles, which was outlined in the aforementioned November 1939 memorandum of the NSDAP’s Racial Policy Office [Rassenpolitisches Amt der NSDAP] and largely realized in the following years in the Reichsgau Wartheland. [1]

The anti-Polish and anti-Jewish population policy of the National Socialist occupying power was only rarely and extremely selectively addressed in the legal German press of the time. The Ostdeutscher Beobachter mainly presented news concerning “Germans” in the sense of National Socialism and German “reconstruction” in the new Gau. [2]

From the Poles’ point of view, September 1939 marked the beginning of a reign of terror that far exceeded what they had feared on the basis of previous experiences of conflict with the German nation. The reconstruction of the related photographic imagery of Polish authors faces far greater difficulties in finding sources than the reconstruction of the then omnipresent National Socialist propaganda imagery. The majority of the photographic primary sources from the Reichsgau Wartheland found in German and Polish depositories were photographs by German authors. The share of photographic images of Polish originators amounted to only about 10% in total, compared to a share of about 90% of photographs of certainly German or very probably German originators. The photographs of Polish originators had all been handed down in Polish depositories; not always, but often, the name of the photographer was also recorded when the images were inventoried. However, there are no written sources on the production contexts of these photographic images.

All Polish contemporary witnesses interviewed by the author who took photographs or collected photographs in the Warthegau at that time generally took much stricter security precautions than was the case, for example, with the Berlin resistance group “Rote Kapelle.” [3]

While Libertas Schulze-Boysen made written notes on the front-line photographs of German homecomers that she collected in Berlin, the Poles in the Reichsgau Wartheland, who collected comparable photographs during the war, generally did not make written records of them. The Polish resistance organizations did not leave behind any written documents, as they could have fallen into the hands of the National Socialist persecution apparatus. For this reason, the following explanations are based primarily on an analysis of the photographic material identified, on statements by Polish contemporary witnesses, and on reflections on the significance of what was portrayed photographically by the Polish originators, collectors, and distributors, which result from a comparison with the contemporaneous “German” photographic publicity and with the secondary historical literature on Polish policy in the Warthegau.

1. Thematic overview of various producers, collectors and distributors

As already indicated, the Polish creators, distributors and collectors of the surviving photographs can only be partially named. Apart from a few Poles who were more closely involved in resistance organizations, there were a large number of Poles who, to all appearances, did not join any underground organization, but who nevertheless acted in contradiction to the standards of the National Socialist occupying power in their handling of photographs. The members of Polish resistance groups, who also purposefully produced and forwarded photographs as part of their conspiratorial activities, formed a minority. A much larger number of Poles secretly photographed or, as photo lab workers, secretly duplicated photographs of Germans which were of outstanding importance from the Polish point of view. Among the Poles in the Warthegau, three groups of people can be roughly defined who produced, reproduced, passed on and disseminated photographic images under National Socialist occupation in the Wielkopolska region:

  1. Poles who took photographs privately or collected photographs without a clearly defined political objective. Also included in the analysis are photographs by unknown German authors who captured certain phenomena of the National Socialist occupation period, which were of such high interest to Polish society that these photographs were handed down and published by Poles after 1945.
  2. Poles who actively and in an organized manner participated in the resistance against the National Socialist occupying power. Because of the relatively small proportion of institutionally surviving photographs of Polish originators, privately surviving photographs of the Polish Scouts in Resistance 1939-1945 (Szare Szeregi) were included here. [4]
  3. Poles who officially worked in German photographic enterprises and pursued their own goals in parallel to their official work assignment.

In the following, significant events and political developments will first be explained from the social perspective of the Polish population on the basis of corresponding photographs by Polish authors or Polish collectors and distributors. The term “collector” is used here to refer to all those persons who – regardless of whether they took photographs themselves or not –  accumulated photographs of other originators in their private space to a significant degree.  The term “distributors” is used here to refer to all those persons or organizations who deliberately reproduced photographs and forwarded them to third parties who had not previously been in possession of such photographs. Following the overview of some significant pictorial themes from the social perspective of the Polish population, is an outline of the working conditions and activities of Polish photo lab workers in German photo businesses in Poznan and the work of the Polish resistance organization Szare Szeregi in relation to their photographic legacies from the Wielkopolska region.

Fig. VI.01: Florian Zajac, house at ul. Wyspianskiego 18 after the German air raid in Poznan (Posen), September 1, 1939. Silver gelatin paper 8 x 5.5 cm (APP-PZZ Sign. 32)

Fig. VI.02: Florian Zajac, house at ul. Matejki 5 after the German air raid in Poznan (Posen) September 1, 1939. silver gelatin paper 8 x 5.5 cm (APP-PZZ Sign. 32)

Visible works of physical destruction

One of the photographs taken by Florian Zajac [5] on the first day of September 1939 in the center of the Polish city of Poznan (Posen) shows an apartment building partially destroyed by a German air raid on Poznan from a ground-level perspective (Fig. VI.01). Another photo of his, taken from a window, shows another residential building in the city center destroyed by a bombing raid (Fig. VI.02). Not many such photos survived from Poznan, as the city was hardly bombed at the beginning of the war. The small Polish town of Wielun (1939-1945: Welun or Welungen) in the area of the later Reichsgau Wartheland suffered most from the German air raids on September 1, 1939. Three quarters of the buildings in this small town were destroyed by the German Luftwaffe in the time of approximately one hour with 70 tons of bombs from the Sturzkampfgeschwadern 2 (“Immelmann”), 76 and 77; the German pilots strafed the fleeing Polish inhabitants from low altitude with airborne weapons. [6]

At the beginning of the war, buildings destroyed by the effects of war in the area of what was to become Warthegau were photographed by both Poles and Germans invading the country. The sudden extraordinary destruction was picture-worthy for Germans and Poles equipped with cameras, as long as they themselves were not directly threatened in their existence by the fighting. A large number of German soldiers arriving in Poland were able to take photographs in the shadow of the front without any hesitation, comparatively speaking. The inhabitants of the Polish town of Wielun, on the other hand, were so severely threatened in the fundamentals of their existence by the German military attack that they were no longer able to photograph what threatened their lives.

Fig. VI.03: unknown Polish photographer, public shooting of the five Poles Stanislaw Bednarz, Wiktor Bilon, Jozef Furmanek, Wojciech Kwiatkowski and Jan Pietraszewski on the market square in Szamotuly (Samter) by Einsatzgruppe VI of the Sipo, October 13, 1939. silver gelatin paper 9.1 x 13.9 cm. Condition: Bumped edges, small creases (MZGwS o. Inv. Nr.).

Other extraordinary events of the highest importance, which were also photographed by Poles, but quite predominantly by Germans, were the public executions of Polish “hostages” carried out by German executive forces after the occupation. The resistance of the Polish population, expected by the National Socialist regime, was to be broken by having Polish hostages vouch with their lives that no Pole would do violence to a German. As early as September and October 1939, uniformed German units carried out public shootings of selected Poles in small towns in the Poznan region. Often, German uniforms rounded up the inhabitants of the respective town to watch the execution.

Arthur Greiser, as the head of the civil administration, during the time of the German military administration (1.9.-25.10.1939), urged that more Poles be publicly executed in the military district of Posen. In his guidelines for the administrative structure, he gave a secret instruction according to which the new German district administrators and mayors should constantly demand the public execution of Poles. The new district administrator of Samter (Szamotuly), Otto Schulze-Anné, followed this instruction and convened a special court in Samter on October 12, 1939, staffed by members of Einsatzgruppe VI of the Sipo and the SD. This court sentenced ten Poles from the nearby village of Otorowo to death because on the night of October 11-12, the swastika flag on the Otorowo office building had been replaced by a Polish flag. Ten German executive forces shot five of the convicts still on October 12 in Otorowo in the evening at the church. The remaining five Poles were shot by a German gendarmerie detachment in the marketplace in Samter in the morning hours of October 13. For this purpose, the German police closed off the streets leading from the marketplace. On October 17, 1939, the new district administrator Schulze-Anné wrote in a secret report to Arthur Greiser that the Poles were still shouting patriotic slogans shortly before their deaths. [8]

The photograph shows that the square where the execution took place was surrounded by German uniforms with steel helmets. It is a shot from above, looking down over the uniformed and armed Germans. They were standing downstairs in front of the house where the photographer was. The picture captures a moment before the execution. In the centre of the picture, in front of a light-coloured wall on the right, the five Polish men that were to be executed can be seen. Neither they nor those carrying out the execution can be personally identified in this photograph, as the scale of the image is too small to determine the appearance of individuals with sufficient accuracy. The photographic image was taken from a great distance, which provided cover and security for the photographer. The German executive forces cordoned off a wide area of the marketplace, and inside the cordon only persons admitted to that area by the guards could take photographs. One may assume that these were usually only Germans who were on good terms with those carrying out the execution. It was very likely too risky for Poles to take photographs in this cordoned-off area.

A comparatively large number of photographic records of public executions under National Socialist occupation were located in the Polish depositories. Most of these photographs most likely originate from German authors. The histories of these photographs show that many Poles, faced with the great risk of photographing an execution themselves, found another way to come into possession of photographs of such executions: They reproduced corresponding photographs of Germans that passed through their hands. Polish reproductions were found, for example, in the case of the following execution, of which a German submitted a contemporary paper print of a photograph to the Federal Archives [Bundesarchiv] after 1945 (Figs. III.38 and VI.04). It is a photograph that was published after 1945, mainly in Poland and more rarely in Germany. [9] The unknown German who photographed this execution in Kornik (Burgstadt) subsequently submitted his film to a local photo lab for development and enlargement. Here worked the Pole Zbigniew Wojciechowski, who, according to the order, made the prints requested by the German. Moreover, he additionally copied the photograph – without the knowledge of the client – in order to forward it in the Polish underground. [10] […]


[1] See Chapter IV.1: The national socialist racial ideology as a basis of the Poland policy in the Reichsgau Wartheland.

[2] Cf. Chapter III, National Socialist Press Control [Presselenkung] and Photographic Publicity.

[3] Cf. Chapter V.1.d.: Photographs of persons for identification purposes, photographs in Gestapo card indexes and collections I.

[4] The Polish owners of photographic documents of this organization in the Wielkopolska region mostly did not hand them over to state institutions during the Polish People’s Republic. See here in the chapter the last section on the “Szare Szeregi.”

[5] Cf. list of photographers in the appendix.

[6] See German Historical Institute Warsaw 2005, pp. 69-71. Contrary to the claim published in National Socialist Germany at the time that a Polish cavalry brigade was stationed in Wielun, no Polish military was stationed there at all. Rather, the first targets of the German pilots were residential buildings in the center of the town. The city hospital marked with a Red Cross, sacral monuments such as a 13th century church and a synagogue fell victim to the German air raid. The later German district leader of Wielun stated that the town had 16,000 inhabitants, all of whom had fled except for 200.

[7] This photograph was already published in Poland in 1967 based on a technically better original; see Datner 1967, p. 592.

[8] DO XIII, Doc. I-3, pp. 2f.; Nawrocki 1966, pp. 211f.; Datner 1967, p. 536; Zbrodnie Wehrmachtu pp. 233, 235; Luczak 1993, p. 23. According to Szymon Datner, Gendarmerie Master Konrad Wegner was responsible for carrying out the execution. According to Polish-language research, the five Poles executed in Samter were Stanislaw Bednarz, Wiktor Bilon, Jozef Furmanek, Wojciech Kwiatkowski, and Jan Pietrzaszewski. They were buried in a mass grave on the Catholic cemetery in Samter (Szamotuly).

[9] Published, among others, in: 1939-1945. we have not forgotten 1961, p. 26; DO XIII, Doc. I-96, p. p. 88; Luczak 1966, p. 79, fig. 13; Wronski/Zwolakowska 1971, p. 20, fig. 4; Nawrocki 1972, fig. 1; Luczak 1990, Doc. I-96, p. 88; Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1996, p. 29.

[10] Oral information from Dr. Marian Wozniak, Fundacja Armii Krajowej w Poznaniu, Poznan 1996.


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