My Nazi Family Album: On the Uses of Family Photographs in Autobiographical Documentary Films and Memoires by Descendants of Nazi Perpetrators and Supporters
Only recently did I learn that at the end of the World War 2 my paternal grandmother had burned all photographic evidence of my father’s time in the Hitler Youth. Indeed, there aren’t any surviving photographs that I know of on either side of my family that show family members in Nazi uniform or depict any other evidence of life during the Nazi period. My speculation is that my and other families’ missing photo albums play a significant role in how families until today continue to silence and refuse acknowledging their ancestors’ implication in and support for the Nazi state and its mass atrocities. This is especially the case when family members were neither famous nor high-ranking perpetrators.
That said, over the last two decades and longer, many members of the children and grandchildren generation have been digging up and through lost and hidden archives to make public the silenced histories of, often beloved, family members’ role during the Nazi period. In memoirs and autobiographical films members of these generations have sought to account for the crimes of their ancestors, so as to publicly come to terms with the affective and material significance of this history for their own lives and sense of self. In nearly all cases, these texts include perpetrator photographs, sometimes taking from family albums, other times from public archives. Indeed, most of the films and books are advertised using perpetrator images.
In this paper, I study this accumulation of perpetrator photographs. I analyze how these images are curated and staged when filmmakers and authors engage publicly with the difficult affective legacy that their ancestors’ actions bestowed upon them. Including perpetrator photos undeniably serves the purpose of evidence for family members’ complicity in and responsibility for the crimes and mass violences under Nazism. However, given the ongoing fascination with and fetishization of Nazi images I also consider the economies of sensationalism at stake in these representations. While the question of the source of the photo is relevant to my analysis, I am especially interested in what I call their staging, how they are contextualized, and how they contribute and shape how we think about (or not) about perpetrators within families.