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Photo albums of German soldiers
February 3, 2008 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Photo albums of German soldiers. Fully scanned photos from the personal albums of German soldiers from the Second World War and the years preceding it.

Apparently these albums were confiscated by Russian soldiers.
posted by chunking express (57 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome find, c.e.!
Many thanks!
posted by Thorzdad at 1:34 PM on February 3, 2008


Damn, looks like we mefied it all ready. Will give it a look later.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 1:40 PM on February 3, 2008


1st attempt: Database Error. An error has occurred while interacting with the database.
2nd attempt: Blank page.
3rd attempt: Pure, concentrated awesome.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 1:41 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yup its back. Would love to know more about where these came from. Many of the covers look similar, like they were available to purchases in their PX, which makes them all that more creepy to me.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 1:44 PM on February 3, 2008


Wow. Nice find. I got to see a few pics before the server exploded. I'll come back later and check it out.
posted by chillmost at 1:56 PM on February 3, 2008


It seemed to be going so well at first.

Terrific find, but I am fairly pulling my hair out wishing for context. Who are these men? I will bet that the backs of many of the pictures have the names of the people pictured, the places, etc. Who put this stuff online anyway?
posted by LarryC at 2:04 PM on February 3, 2008


How come I always have to be 'skins'?
posted by LarryC at 2:18 PM on February 3, 2008


It's like a 1930s and 40s Flickr, for Nazis. Nazr. Or Flickzi. Eerie, and awesome!
posted by steef at 2:34 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Awesome find chunking express. Where have these albums been hiding for half a century?

Iconic photo of the Germans entering Paris under the Eiffel Tower. That one may become world famous.

Disturbingly fascinating. Something unnervingly strange about seeing the recreational life of soldiers in an army so universally hated.

Cool little barrel boat. Sad to see cart horses as war victims.

Some of the images prompted me to study history, like this one related to Alexander Samsonov. Is it a commemorative marker of the battlefield where he died? Maybe it could be added to his Wikipedia entry?

A different look to the villages then. A distinct look to the German army soldiers, very formal somehow, unhappily stern.

This must be one of the first Volkswagons.

Still perusing.
posted by nickyskye at 2:40 PM on February 3, 2008


I wouldn't think that's a volksy... It seems to have a front-mounted, water-cooled engine for starters.

OK, pickiness over, that's a great find.
posted by pompomtom at 2:56 PM on February 3, 2008


I love stuff like this; just love it. Removed from the broader context of strategy, campaign, and the evil politics of Naziism, you are reminded that the large majority of soldiers in every army are by and large just people working alongside comrades, operating under someone else's commands and probably mostly wishing it were over so they could just go back home.

(And irony of ironies, at the very moment I'm keyboarding this, Canada's History Channel is showing "Voices from the Third Reich" and German soldiers are recalling Operation Barbarossa -- Hitler's invasion of Russia.)

The fact that all the captioning is in Russian suggests that all of the original owners of these albums died violently and way too young. It makes the images all the more compelling. It's a sad, fascinating memorial you've posted here. Thanks a bunch for linking it. It's why I keep coming back to MeFi first, almost every time I turn on my desktop.

Now excuse me. I have to go to my iPod and listen to Buffy Ste Marie's "Universal Soldier" for a few minutes.
posted by Mike D at 2:57 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah. Great, great find.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:12 PM on February 3, 2008


The site also has a blog and a forum - babelfish can translate most of the russian to english.
posted by Lanark at 3:19 PM on February 3, 2008


If you continue on from the "VW" picture above, you'll see what appears to be a German combat engineer's survey of the damage to [what I think is] French bridges destroyed in the French retreat.

I liked this picture which captured the war of movement quite well.

The German armored invasion succeeded in France but failed in Russia in large part due to the shorter scales (to Paris vs. to Moscow), differences in deployment (France were mostly forward, while Stalin had time to replace his initial losses with a reserve force training in the hinterlands) shorter timescales (Russia could receive significant UK and US aid in 1942-43 while France had to fight with what it had in 1940), and the much denser development of the road and rail net in France. It really really really gets my goat when France-bashers -- the scdb's among our friends on the chuckleheaded right -- minimize the French combat resistance in WW2 [and WWI usually].

In similar circumstances an American army would have folded like the French did too. You could outnumber the Germans but nobody could outfight them in 1939-42. Given their tactical mobility, strategic doctrine of concentric battles and elan in carrying this out, just outnumbering them was something of a liability. To beat the Germans at their own game you needed to out-manuever them which was tough given their 3-5 year headstart in modern mobile warfare.

Churchill's volume covering the Fall of France describes the situation chillingly well. WSC asked where the French reserves were only to be informed that there were none; the bulk of the French army had been thrown into the Low Countries, to keep the new battlegrounds outside of France.
posted by panamax at 3:24 PM on February 3, 2008


Awesome collection. It's dismaying to witness the fun and games of the training and the inexorable march towards the horror [NSFW] of war.
posted by tellurian at 3:42 PM on February 3, 2008


pompomtom, totally impressed you knew that water cooled it's all Greek to me automotive stuff. Way cool (car Luddite here).Thanks for the correction. Looked up VWs from around that time and it's easy to see the differences. Boy, that first VW really looked more beetle like.

Interesting to see the German army in North Africa. The first relaxed photograph among them that I saw. Classic.

A tidy row of death machines.

The covers of the albums are also telling. The slick military decorated ones have more perfectionistic looking, military content. Slick l Super slick l a really different view of army life, more horsey l more about houses.
posted by nickyskye at 4:06 PM on February 3, 2008


About 91,000 Germans were captured at the Battle of Stalingrad after the 6th Army was surrounded. Most likely these types of personal items came from something like that - it's doubtful a soldier would carry a photobook into battle where it would be picked up on the battlefield - most likely found en masse and kept together as a collection.
posted by stbalbach at 4:08 PM on February 3, 2008


nickyskye, that "Volkswagen" actually has a very distinctive '30s Ford nose. It's apparently a '37 Ford V8. Looking at the pictures before and after that one, I'd say those pictures were taken either in Belgium or in Northern France, close to the Channel, in 1940. Being an American Ford, I'd say Belgium, which was more open to imports.
posted by Skeptic at 4:27 PM on February 3, 2008


Correction: It's a Matford Alsace V8. Matford was a joint venture between Ford and French truck maker Mathis. The pictures were thus taken almost certainly in France, probably in Le Havre or Dunkirk.
posted by Skeptic at 4:37 PM on February 3, 2008


The German army had a reputation of invincibility, Uber-warrior, that lives on to this day. So it's almost subversive to see pictures of Germans milking cows and doing other normal things, the pictures are like holiday snapshots, boring - banality and evil mix well.
posted by stbalbach at 4:46 PM on February 3, 2008


The soldier's helmet above the grave of a soldier is ubiquitous for many American wars, its sort of surprising to see it from the German perspective. Then contrasted by the next picture being slain and unburied (French?) soldiers.
posted by Atreides at 4:53 PM on February 3, 2008


And the place is very definitely Dunkirk. This photo a few pictures later is of a RAF Spitfire. Spitfires were held back by Fighter Command until the evacuation of the BEF, and this one, N3290, was downed over Dunkirk on May 23rd 1940. That explains also the destruction, and all the British hardware in some of the pictures.
posted by Skeptic at 4:55 PM on February 3, 2008


Re The spitfire

23.5.40 - N3290 - Gillies - SD by Bf110 & POW

http://forum.12oclockhigh.net/archive/index.php?t-2464.html
posted by mattoxic at 5:09 PM on February 3, 2008


Atriedes, yes, those are French Army helmets, AFAICT.
posted by panamax at 5:15 PM on February 3, 2008


Fantastic find, and a great MeFi post. Amazing stuff.
posted by languagehat at 5:17 PM on February 3, 2008


I'm curious about who might have had these--would it have been likely that foot soldiers would have had the resources/time/money to carry a camera/develop the film/keep the album, or are these most likely the property of officers in the German forces? It doesn't make them any less interesting, just might add some perspective on who was filming.
posted by maxwelton at 5:28 PM on February 3, 2008


maxwelton, photography was very popular in germany, and small reliable cameras were certainly available. Brands like Leica, Voigtlander, Contax and Zeiss as well as the excellent Agfa film. I have a very small Voigtlander of WW2 vintage that would have been no trouble in kit bag.

RE the Ford, I'm wondering if this could be a Russian lend-lease staff car?

There is an excellent photograph of a shot up VW in Antony Beevor's 'Berlin'
posted by mattoxic at 5:56 PM on February 3, 2008


I'm wondering if this could be a Russian lend-lease staff car?

No, many "Landsers" had their first campaign in France and their last . . . in the Ukraine.

Plus the roadsign saying Paris 200 in another sequence is pretty clear that some of these books started in France.
posted by panamax at 6:03 PM on February 3, 2008


or are these most likely the property of officers in the German forces? It doesn't make them any less interesting

They certainly have a rear/support element feel to them. Distinct lack of soldiers wearing helmets in many of the sequences.

This picture starting #1 is AFAICT the regimental officers at one of the Prussian holy of holies . . . Sans Souci, the palace of Frederick the Great outside of Potsdam. Later on this one in the series looks to me to be a war college of some sort.
posted by panamax at 6:09 PM on February 3, 2008


this is interesting.

great post, thank you.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:17 PM on February 3, 2008


Fair point about the French, panamax, but the sheer incompetence of their General Staff surely accounted for much of their collapse.
posted by nasreddin at 6:26 PM on February 3, 2008


Not everyone seems pleased to have encountered Nazis.
posted by kuatto at 6:54 PM on February 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Not everyone seems pleased to have encountered Nazis.

Understatement much?
posted by pompomtom at 7:08 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


sheer incompetence of their General Staff surely accounted for much of their collapse

like I said, the Germans were 3-5 years ahead in their game and made everyone look incompetent due to their increased tempo of operations . . . the Americans had 4 full years of training up before they took on the German Army proper; the Russians had the depth to survive their initial incompetence, the English had a damn good tank trap between them and the Germans; but the French had to learn from experience.

It's easy judging in hindsight but 1939-1940 was quite an alien, unworldly time to be in. This is not to minimize some nasty morale/discipline issues within the French Army, but the French naturally thought they were back fighting in WW I for the first 6 months of the war and many of them didn't see the point in dying either for Polish independence or for their capitalist system at home [the Russians were allies with Germany during this time so the Communist element within France wasn't entirely on-board with this WW2 thing].

As for the collapse itself, the German strike through the Ardennes was beyond brilliant; it pocketed the cream of the French mechanized forces who were in the midst of their forward dash into Belgium, pinned the static Maginot troops, and left the armored Panzer columns clear run to the channel to seal off the BEF.

Once that series of events played out with the capture of Dunkirk and the German re-deployment toward Paris, a largely disrupted French Army was facing a largely intact Wehrmacht looking at winning (what they thought would be) the last battle of WW2 in one last operation.

Even given a competent French General staff at this juncture, once the Germans were arrayed against the French in front of Paris, the game was up given the German immense advantages in tactical mobility and coordination in breaking through static defenses and exploitating these breakthroughs.

By that point the French lacked the mass of maneuver in reserve necessary to counter German concentrations and blitzkrieg breakthroughs. It was Muhammed Ali vs. "Glass" Joe at that point.
posted by panamax at 7:24 PM on February 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


i just watched "the good german" last night which reinforces the creepy atmosphere these photos have.. good post, thanks.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 7:49 PM on February 3, 2008


Nazi chic.
posted by bwg at 7:52 PM on February 3, 2008


The mood in France in the summer of 1940 was extreme paranoia. Everyone thought everyone was a German spy, this destroyed a sense of national solidarity and generally made everyone feel pessimistic and hopeless before the war even started. Then the Germans invaded the low countries and ahead of the advance came a flood of refugees filling the roads making it impossible for the French army to move its troops around. French troops joined the refugees and it was chaos on the roads as Paris evacuated. The civilian exodus from Paris was a determining factor why the French collapsed. As it turned out, the Germans were on their best behavior as they didn't want to antagonize the French and cause an insurgency (but this happened anyway after it became clear the Vichy government was a puppet), so there was no reason to evacuate.
posted by stbalbach at 8:31 PM on February 3, 2008


Links from this post lead to another archive (Russian, I think) that has a soldier taking a picture [NSFW].
posted by tellurian at 8:59 PM on February 3, 2008


It really really really gets my goat when France-bashers -- the scdb's among our friends on the chuckleheaded right -- minimize the French combat resistance in WW2 [and WWI usually].

Calling out a Mefite who hasn't commented in the thread under discussion is pretty classless 'round these parts.
posted by Cyrano at 9:20 PM on February 3, 2008


(Great post, though.)
posted by Cyrano at 9:20 PM on February 3, 2008


Links from this post lead to another archive (Russian, I think) that has a soldier taking a picture [NSFW].

I don't think that soldier is dead Tellurian. look at the one lying closer to the tree. His knee in the air. If he were dead his leg wouldn't support itself like that. And if he's not dead the other one is most likely not either.
posted by Catfry at 3:02 AM on February 4, 2008


the Russians were allies with Germany during this time so the Communist element within France wasn't entirely on-board with this WW2 thing

What amazes me is that they weren't entirely against it either. I thought all Communist parties followed the Moscow line automatically, but on Sept. 2, 1939 (almost two weeks after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was announced) the Communist deputies voted for military credits. (A few weeks later Daladier dissolved the party anyway, sparing the PCF what Alfred Cobban calls "the impossible task of trying to justify Russian policy to the country.") Most Communists obediently denounced WWII as an "imperialist war" up until Hitler invaded Russia.

Incidentally, I can't resist pointing out that one reason for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the failure of France and Britain to overcome their distaste for Communist Russia and reach out to the one potential ally that could stand up to Hitler until too late, and that the too-little-too-late delegation that was sent by Chamberlain to Russia at the end of July was led by a slow-speaking and apparently rather slow-witted aristocrat about whom Piers Brendon says:
Its leader was not only obscure, but also rejoiced in a farcical name—Admiral Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax. He was also encumbered with a decoration, the Order of the Bath, which the Russians (who apparently translated it as "washtub") found hilarious.
I highly recommend Brendon's book The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s, the best thing I've read about the period.
posted by languagehat at 7:28 AM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great find.
posted by GuyZero at 8:22 AM on February 4, 2008


There are a lot of amazing photos. I haven't had a chance to go through them all. The photo of the Nazi's entering Paris on Horse with the kids cycling by nonchalantly is great.
posted by chunking express at 9:20 AM on February 4, 2008


Anybody else having trouble accessing the site?
posted by zorro astor at 10:22 AM on February 4, 2008


It is a bit hit or miss: just take a breat and refresh if you can't load a page. I think it's probably hosted on some budget server somewhere.
posted by chunking express at 11:22 AM on February 4, 2008


Removed from the broader context of strategy, campaign, and the evil politics of Naziism, you are reminded that the large majority of soldiers in every army are by and large just people working alongside comrades, operating under someone else's commands and probably mostly wishing it were over so they could just go back home.- Mike D

Yes, absolutely. This post hits especially close to home for me in that the only impression I have of my German grandfather is from photos of him that look exactly like the soldier portraits in these albums. As with everything else, the Nazis had a very specific aesthetic here. Since my family was poor, they didn't have regular access to cameras, and hence these are among the only pictures the family has of him and his brother to this day.


(The others I know of are of he and my grandmother after their wedding. He survived the war, came home, married, and had a son. His first wife died -- on my birthday, as it turns out -- when my uncle was 3 or 4. A couple of years later he married my grandmother, who adopted my uncle and became pregnant with my mother. Then my grandfather died from an asthma attack 3 weeks before my mother was born. The asthma had been exacerbated during the war).


As a child visiting Germany from the UK where I grew up, I remember finding it strange that my grandfather's brother's widow had a framed portrait of the two men in Nazi uniform on her kitchen wall (exactly like the ones you see in these albums). Didn't she and her family want to hide all evidence of having been associated with Naziism? But it wasn't about that--it was about the people the in pictures; people they loved and missed. You could see the sorrow in her and my grandmother's eyes. Problematic, certainly. But there it is. And it was rather awkward, to say the least, when my my then-boyfriend of four years, who is Jewish, was looking through old German family albums with me here in Los Angeles, and we came across photos of my grandfather with a swastika on his arm. Yes, that was my grandfather. Married to my grandmother, whom you've met, and you are extremely fond of. No, I'm not quite sure how to reconcile those things.


Thing is, other than the few disturbing photographs that seem to have crept into the albums on the reibert.info site, like this or this, this appears in general to be a very innocuous portrait of military service. All of the horror that we know exists underneath is simply not there. Well OK, maybe there are hints if you're looking for it. But they've done a damn good job of glossing it over. The caption on the front of this album, Wehrdienst - Ehrendienst. Errinerungen an meine Dienstzeit [Military Service -- Honor Service. Memories of my time in the Service] is astounding. How egomaniacal a regime is it that would send their soldiers into Russia in the winter carrying personal photo albums whose covers insist on a future in which the books will become coffee table items for fondly remembering one's service in the field? And did the soldiers believe it? Examining their faces for evidence, their confident, even cheeky smiles indicate to me that they did believe it. The question for me is, if we can accept that these were "regular" people, what would we do in a similar situation? Would we believe it?
posted by kaiserin at 1:41 PM on February 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


And did the soldiers believe it?

For the most part, of course. People don't enter life with a 60 year perspective on events. Most people can't even see through the BS propaganda that pervades our lives as they're living it.

Some of the more labor-union types who got drafted into the Heer weren't fully on board the 1000-year Reich bandwagon, but in general the German people were adequately persuaded that they had long-term enemies -- that Danzig and Memel and Alsace Lorraine were rightfully German, and that a little precautionary warfare was prudent while Germany still held the whip hand in continental affairs . . . for parallels in our own time, we can look at the March To War™, 2002--2003.

Support of/Opposition to our war might have broken 30%-30%-30%, but once the troops were in and things were looking reasonable positive, it was more like 70%-20%-10%.
posted by panamax at 1:58 PM on February 4, 2008


of the two men in Nazi uniform on her kitchen wall (exactly like the ones you see in these albums). Didn't she and her family want to hide all evidence of having been associated with Naziism

I see repeated confusion between Naziism and being in the Wehrmacht in these comments.

Many people in the (very conservative) army rather detested the Hoi Polloi and Ad-Hoc cult-of-personality nature of Naziism.

To counter this, and to give the Nazi party more institutional glory in its short record, the SS military units & divisions were eventually formed. The SS were quite Nazi, the Wehrmacht, not so much.

Being in the Wehrmacht was part and parcel of being a German and the Struggle for securing Germany's proper place on the Continent and World balance of power. After 20 years of being pushed around after its surprising collapse in WW I (remember . . . the Germans were WINNING that war until the summer of 1918), Germans were feeling their oats and thought their cause was justifiable if not just.
posted by panamax at 2:06 PM on February 4, 2008


I see repeated confusion between Naziism and being in the Wehrmacht in these comments.

Yes, but after the war in Germany, the two became quite conflated, especially for the younger generation, and especially for those of us who grew up and were educated in the UK or the US. Why split hairs, so to speak, at that point? The swastika equals Naziism, doesn't it? Maybe average Germans thought their cause was justifiable at the time those photos were taken, but hadn't they been disabused of that notion by the 1970s and 1980s when that photo was still hanging on my aunt's kitchen wall?
posted by kaiserin at 2:15 PM on February 4, 2008


especially for those of us who grew up and were educated in the UK or the US

I'm trying to think of a place where one wouldn't be given that impression in school or general popular culture?
posted by kaiserin at 2:21 PM on February 4, 2008


I don't think that soldier is dead Tellurian. look at the one lying closer to the tree. His knee in the air. If he were dead his leg wouldn't support itself like that. And if he's not dead the other one is most likely not either.
Yeah, probably just having a nap. Like these other people [ALL NSFW].
posted by tellurian at 2:27 PM on February 4, 2008


Jep. Those are much better examples of NSFW.
posted by Catfry at 3:15 PM on February 4, 2008


I'm trying to think of a place where one wouldn't be given that impression in school or general popular culture?

Japan most definitely, India apparently too. South Korea too.

The swastika equals Naziism, doesn't it?

Yes but the Army existed before Naziism and considered itself the true backbone of the national spirit. I saw very few swastikas in these photos, this one stands out for its uniqueness. (I'm no expert on uniform ID but I suspect this is an SS officer's photobook)

The army did not perform the party salute, nor were serving officers allowed to be party members, until after elements of it attempted to decapitate the regime and take over to pursue an armistice with the Allies.

but hadn't they been disabused of that notion by the 1970s and 1980s

No, because the war was started over taking over Danzig and the Polish Corridor.

The Germans didn't want to start WW2, they wanted their ancestral land that had been taken after WW I back. France & England declared war on THEM over this issue.

They later brought the fight to the Soviet Union, the same struggle against the insidious anti-Christian "Evil Empire" of Communism that a substantial bloc of the US of A also energetically engaged in for the last half of the 20th century, including actual fighting in 1950-53 and 1964-73.

The death camps where millions of jews, gypsies, homosexuals, leftists, and other undesirables were isolated was quite orthogonal to this.

^ the above is my restatement of the Nationalist German mindset (not mine). The closest I've been to Germany is two weeks in Leicester, so take this as just MHO.
posted by panamax at 4:00 PM on February 4, 2008




The last image posted by Tellurian above [NSFW] sadly stands out to me, as my eyes are quickly drawn to the wedding band on the dead man's finger.

Kaiserin, thanks for the perspective on a family of a Wehrmacht veteran. Both my grandfathers are American veterans, and incidentally, the majority of the images of them are as civilians. Only recently have I been able to dig up images of them in uniform during the war.
posted by Atreides at 5:56 PM on February 4, 2008


DAMN the link is uber-dead. Anyone manage to wget the entire site? Checking archive.org now...
posted by br4k3r at 12:30 PM on February 5, 2008


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