In one photo, a group of men and a boy stand naked before a ditch as soldiers point rifles at them. 'Sniatyn--tormenting Jews before execution. II.V. 1943,' reads the caption in Polish. But the caption is almost surely wrong; historical documents prove that all Jews from Sniatyn were deported to a concentration camp by September 1942. How should one interpret a photo based on a false premise? That is the provocative question at the center of Janina Struk's 'Photographing the Holocaust' (251 pages. I.B. Tauris). Arguing that pictures can distort the truth, Struk, who has analyzed hundreds of thousands of Holocaust photos, describes some of the most intriguing, many terribly worn or surviving without any contextual information.
Struk's aim is to explore the question of subjectivity and to demonstrate how different groups appropriated different images for their own purposes. She gives a fascinating account of one particular photograph, probably taken near Warsaw, of what looks like two Orthodox Jews digging a trench. According to her research, Nazis used the image to show their supremacy over Jews, resistance fighters used it to illustrate the persecution of Jews, and Poles built nationalist sentiment by claiming the men were digging ditches for the Polish resistance. Though much of the material in 'Photographing the Holocaust' is familiar, the rigorous questioning to which the images are subjected makes it feel fresh. Struk provides more questions than answers, but gives the reader a better platform from which to wonder.