LAILA AYAD Born in 1981, Laila Ayad grew up in Columbia, Maryland, a planned com- munity based on ideals of racial, social, and economic diversity and balance. Being exposed at an early age to such a diverse community and coming from a multiethnic family have given me great insight into different cultures and per- ves,” says Ayad. After graduating from New York University 2003 with a degree in theater and English literature, Ayad embarked on an acting career. She is a New York, which promotes new works by female playwrights and directors, and AMA in Los Angeles, which produces original independent theater. Ayad hs accrued dozens of theater credits, including a ten-month national tour with a musical theater company and a lead in IAMA’s 2008 production of Bach- elorett member of two theater companies: in e. When not on stage, Ayad paints and draws and continues to write. The Capricious Camera yad began college as an art major and produced this essay for a writing class in her sophomore year. The essay first appeared in 2001 in Mercer Street, a journal of writing by New York University students. With an artist’s eye for detail, Ayad explores the elements of a photograph to find its meaning. The analysis takes her to Nazi Germany before and during World War II. In the years between 1933 and 1945, Germany was engulfed by the rise of a powerful new regime and the eventual spoils of war. During this period Hitler’s quest for racial purification turned Germany not only at odds with itself, but with the rest of the world. Photography as an art and as a business became a regulated and potent force in the fight for Aryan domination, Nazi influence, and anti-Semitism. Whether such images were used to promote Nazi ideology, document the Holocaust, or scare Germany’s citizens into accepting their own changing country, the effect of this photography provides enormous insight into the true stories and lives of the people most affected by Hitler’s racism. In fact, this photography has become so widespread in our understand ing and teaching of the Holocaust that often other factors involved the Nazis’ racial policy have been undervalued in our history textbooks- espe- cially the attempt by Nazi Germany to establish the Nordic Aryans as a master race through the Lebensbom experiment, a breeding and adoption program designed to eliminate racial imperfections. It is not merely people of other persecuted races who can become victims in a racial war, but also those we ecuting race i To understand the importance of this often shrouded side of Nazi Ger-2 many we might look at the photograph captioned “Mounted Nazi troops on 387
the lookout for likely Polish children.” Archived by Catrine Clay and Michael Leapman, this black-and-white photo depicts a young girl in the foreground, carrying two large baskets and treading across a rural and snow-covered coun- tryside, while three mounted and armed Nazi soldiers follow closely behind her. In the distance, we can see farmhouses and a wooden fence, as well as four other uniformed soldiers or guards. Though the photograph accompanies the text without the name of the photographer, year, or information as to where it was found, Clay and Leapman suggest that the photo was taken in Poland between 1943 and 1945 Who is this young white girl surrounded by armed soldiers? Is she being3 protected, watched, persecuted? It would be easy enough to assume that she is Jewish, but unlike photos image the intent our general ignorance of the events surrounding this photo, the picture can be deceiving, and yet it is the picture that can also be used to shed light on the story Looking just at the photo, and ignoring the descriptive caption, there are some interesting visual and artistic effects that help a viewer better under stand the circumstances surrounding the image. One of its most prominent features is the way the photographer decides to focus on only one young child in the foreground, while including seven Nazi soldiers behind her. The effect is overwhelming, and in gazing at the image, one is struck by the magnitude and force of the oppressing men in sharp contrast to the innocence and help- lessness of the lone girl. By juxtaposing one child with seven men, the image comes across child in the foreground is a young girl, which only adds to the potency of the image. The photographer makes unjust, in that there appears to be no physical way in which a young girl could possibly defend herself against these men. strongly as both cruel and terribly frightening. In addition, the soldiers What is additionally interesting about this particular aspect of the photos is that the seven men are not grouped together, or in any way concentrated right next to the child. There are three directly behind the girl, one a little farther behind and right, in the distance, walking in the opposite direction. This placement of the soldiers not only gives the photo an excellent sense of depth, but also conveys to the viewer a sense that surroundings, not just the little girl, are imagine and wonder in what way other children, or perhaps just the other parts of the village, are being similarly restricted. For the young girl, and the viewer, it allows no way out, all angles and directions of the photo are covered one even slightly farther behind and symbols of oppression, producing an eerily suffocating effect.
The child is the only person in the photo looking directly at the photog- rapher. Whether this technique was manipulated on purpose remains to be seen, but it goes without saying that the effect is dramatic. Her gaze is wistful and innocent. In contrast, the men occupying the rest of the photo, and most prominently the three mounted ones in the foreground, are gazing either away or down. While it is uncertain what the soldiers behind the child are staring at, their downward stare causes their heads to hang in almost shameful disgrace. They do not look at the child, and yet they do not look at the photographer who is quite obviously standing in front of them. Is this because they do not see that there is a picture being taken, or perhaps the photographer is another sol- dier, and this picture is simply routine in recording the progress of their work? If not a Nazi soldier, the photographer could be a Polish citizen; if this were the case, it might change our interpretation of the photo. Suddenly, the girl’s facial expression and direct gaze seem pleading, while, for fear of being caught, the photographer snaps the picture quickly, in the exact moment the soldiers are looking away. Perhaps the soldiers did not mind having their pic taken. Many Polish were considered, after all, their racial equals, and maybe they would have respected and appreciated an amateur photographer’s interest in their work. While all of these scenarios are seemingly plausible, the purpose of the pho- tograph is still uncertain. There are also several possibilities. One is that the Nazis commissioned the photograph, as they did others at the time, to properly record the events surrounding the development of their plan. In an article entitled “The Camera as Weapon: Documentary Photography and the Holo- caust,” Sybil Milton describes the ways in which Nazi photographers worked: Nazi professional photographers produced in excess of one-quarter million images. Their work was officially regulated and licensed…. All photos were screened by military censors subservient to official directives of the Pro- paganda Ministry….Press photographers of World War II rarely showed atrocities and seldom published prints unfavorable to their own side. (1) However, while the evidence is compelling, Milton recognizes another pos- sibility that significantly changes the motive for the photo: “Portable and other technical innovations like interchangeable lenses and multiple exposure film, meant that nonprofessionals owned and used cameras with ease. Many soldiers carried small Leica or Ermanox cameras in their rucksacks or pillaged optical equipment from the towns they occupied” (2). While it is possible that the photograph was taken by a soldier seeking to document the work in Poland for his own interests, this probability, against the numerous commissioned photographs and the nature of the subject matter being documented, is unlikely. The photo alone, while intriguing in its image, tells
only half of the story, and without a definitive context can become akin to a “choose your own adventure” novel. In other words, the possibilities fora photographic purpose are all laid out, but the true meaning or end remains undetermined. Unlike hand-made art, which in its very purpose begs to be viewed through various interpretations, photography, and particularly photo- journali matter, under a genuine set of circumstances. The picture is not invented it is real life, and in being so demands to be viewed alongside its agenda, without this context, it may never be fully understood. ism, captures a certain moment in time, featuring specific subject When we turn to the caption describing the photograph, “Mounted Nazi troops on the lookout for likely Polish children,” the book Master Race and accompanying story can now properly be discussed. Instead of typically dealing with the issues of a racist Nazi Germany as it relates to the Holocaust, and the other forms of racial extermination and discrimination that were subsequently involved, Clay and Leapman’s book looks at the other side of the coin. It important in dealing with and understanding the concept of racism to realize that racists are not simply those who dislike others; they are also those who worship themselves. In Mein Kampf Hitler outlined the inspiration for his racial tyranny by saying, “The products of human culture, the achievements in art, science and technology… are almost exclusively the creative product of the Aryan.” He was heavily influenced by the work of racially charged popular science writers, such as H. E K. Gunther, who in his Ethnology of the German Nation wrote: The man of Nordic race is not only the most gifted but also the most beautiful…. The man’s face is hard and chiseled, the woman’s tender, with rose-pink skin and bright triumphant eyes” (qtd. in Clay and Leapman Germany focuses intently on the concept of racial purification. By following the work of the carefully selected (meaning those of impeccable Aryan ancestry) members of Himmler’s elite SS corps, Clay and Leapman introduce the history of Germany’s failed Lebensbom experiment and the homes that 17). Through the course of the book, the topic of racism in Nazi were created by the Third Reich to breed and raise “perfect Aryans” (ix) In a disturbing segment on Hitler’s racial utopia, Clay and Leapman de- scribe the practice of eugenics, improving hum sirable genetic traits and breeding those that were considered superior. The SS soldiers who are commonly known for forcing the Jews into concentration camps are mentioned, but this time they are discussed as the same men who were ordered to father white babies with volunteer German and Norwegian mothers. However, it is the final fact, the story of the SS soldiers who occupied surrounding countries and then stole children “who looked as if they might further improve the breed,” that becomes the focus and ultimate subject mat ter of the photograph (ix).
Looking at the photograph in this context, the soldier no longer appears to be protecting the Polish children, but hunting them. The word “likely” in the caption denotes this. Children who possessed strong Nordic or Aryan qualities were systematically taken from their native countries, adopted by German parents (who were paid by the Nazi regime), taught to forget their families and former lives, and raised to breed not only many children of their own but, above all, families that would uphold Nazi ideology. For Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, who was appointed Commissar for Consolidating German Nationhood, exterminating the racially impure was merely preparation. It was the process of breeding and stealing children that Himmler considered central and key in the ultimate goal for racial purification: Obviously in such a mixture of peoples there will always be some racially good types. Therefore I think that it is our duty to take their children with us, to remove them from their environment, if necessary by robbing or steal- ing them. . .. My aim has always been the same, to attract all the Nordic blood in the world and take it for ourselves. (qtd. in Clay and Leapman 91) Additionally, Himmler’s objective in targeting children, rather than adults, was a planned and strategic tool. Through teachings at school, children were used to control their parents by being encouraged to report what they did and said. Himmler realized that older people would be less enthusiastic about his ideas, so he made every effort to win the minds of the next generation. What is perhaps most compelling about the Lebensbon experiment and thus most poignant when viewing the photograph is the reminder that for every child that was stolen from nations like Poland, his or her family was being equally betrayed. One Polish girl recounted the events of her kidnap- ping years later, describing both her and her father’s reaction to the incident Three SS men came into the room and put us up against a wall…. They immediately picked out the fair children with blue eyes-seven altogether, including me….My father, who tried to stop my being taken away, was threatened by the soldiers. They even said he would be taken to a concen- tration camp. But I have no idea what happened to him later. (qtd. in Clay and Leapman 95) The girl who spoke above just as easily could have been the young girl being followed by soldiers in the photograph, only moments after she was taken Such incidents force us to broaden our sense of whom the Nazis victimized While there is no mistaking the victimization of the Jewish population and other races in Germany, amidst these better-known hate crimes the Nazis were also perpetrating a horrific exploitation of the so-called “white” race. The complexities surrounding this photograph remind us that the story any photograph is liable to contain ambiguity. As an art, photography relies on the imagination of the viewer; not knowing provides the viewer with a realm of interesting possibilities. Context matters even with art, and playing with possible contexts gives a photograph diverse meanings. It is in these vari- ous viewpoints that we find pleasure, amusement, fear, or wonder. It is perhaps in the shift to photojournalism that determining a particular context becomes even more important. In fact, even if the original photographer saw the image as artistic, subsequent events compel us to try to see the image of the Polish girl with Nazis as journalism. In this endeavor, we must uncover as much as pos- sible about the surrounding context. As much as we can, we need to know this girl’s particular story. Without a name, date, place, or relevant data, this girl would fall even further backwards into the chapters of unrecorded history.
1. Identify the multiple thesis of this essay. They are located in paragraphs 1 and 8. Quote directly from the text 2. Restate each in your own words. 3. Identify two points that she must prove in order for you to be convinced of her 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. thesis. What is the author’s purpose of this essay? Why do you think the author spent paragraphs describing this photograph? Do you think that description was effective? Explain. What and where does the author use Compare/Contrast? Analyze paragraphs 8 and 11. You must:1. Locate the topic sentence. 2. State her evidence. 3. Write how the author shows how her evidence supports her topic sentences. 4. Any unnecessary sentences? 5. Write out any transitional words. Write a paragraph (6-8 sentences) about what you think about eugenics. 9.