Photographs of a Mass Shooting in Ukraine, October 1942
My paper is an analysis of a series of five photographs that documented a mass shooting of Jews from the Mizocz ghetto in Ukraine in October 1942. The photos are well-known, commonly appearing in publications about the Holocaust and in Holocaust history exhibits. They are particularly searing evidence of the cruelty of the Nazi-led destruction of the Jews.
Four of the five images show women and children, naked, lining up to be murdered, and laying dead, dying, and about to be shot in a grassy ravine. The photographs’ content (nakedness, women and children, freezing final moments of terror) pose some of the most fraught ethical questions associated with the viewing and display of atrocity images: How do we navigate the boundary between intellectual curiosity and voyeurism? Is it possible to redeem this visual evidence of crime and suffering for some worthwhile purpose, or is the horror it depicts beyond useful contemplation? In what ways might engaging these photographs perpetuate victimization, in what ways might this be an act of reverence or respect?
Proceeding from scholarship on memorial culture and practices, as well as from consideration of Jewish religious and cultural rituals connected to death and dying, I will discuss where scholars interested in Holocaust-related atrocity photography might find guidance in navigating the complex ethical questions presented by these and similar images.