The Brink of Oblivion: Inside Nazi-Occupied Poland, 1939-1940

Published: 
2012
Source: Life.com  
 
Newly released color photographs from ghettos around Poland, published on the website Life.com, provide a unique glimpse into the daily lives of the Jews during the years 1939-1940. The photos depicting the Warsaw and Kutno ghettos are the work of high-ranking Nazi photographer Hugo Jaeger, who had rare access to the upper echelon of the Third Reich, including Adolf Hitler.
 
At the time, the Nazi regime supplied Jaeger with the most cutting edge technology, including a camera that was capable of taking color and three-dimensional photos.
 
Jaeger was described as "Hitler's photographer" by Life Magazine, which purchased his collection of 2,000 photos in the 1970's.
 
To Jaeger (unlike for so many of the Reich’s supporters), Jews were not mere “rats,” or “parasites”: He simply perceived them as fascinating subjects. While he probably felt that their subjugation was inevitable in the face of the German Blitzkrieg, he nevertheless captures these already subjugated people sympathetically.
 
In June 1940, all of Kutno’s roughly 8,000 Jews were forced into the ghetto — the grounds of an old sugar factory. Typhus and hunger soon began killing hundreds of them. In 1942, the Nazis implemented Operation Reinhardt, which effectively put in motion the Nazi’s planned destruction of all Polish Jewry. In the spring of 1942 the Kutno Ghetto itself was “liquidated.” Jews who were unable to escape and find help among their Polish neighbors were taken to Kulmhof (Chełmno), the first death camp, located on the River Ner not far from the city of Lodz. There, thousands of Kutno’s Jewish men, women and children were put to death in “gas vans” — mobile gas chambers — in what were among the first mass murders of the Holocaust.
 
Operation Reinhardt also sealed the fate of the Jews of Warsaw. Liquidation of the massive Warsaw Ghetto started in July 1942 and took nearly three months. Horrifically overcrowded cattle trains carried 300,000 Jews to Treblinka death camp.
Updated: Oct. 22, 2012
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