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Verhängnisvoller Wandel

Thomas Medicus (ed.)

Fateful Transformation: Photos from Provincial Germany, 1933–1949 – The Biella Collection

[Verhängnisvoller Wandel: Ansichten aus der Provinz 1933–1949: Die Fotosammlung Biella]

312 pages, € 38.00
September 2016
About the Book

Germany’s transformation into a radically racist »community of the people« in the 1920s and 1930s was a process that developed outside the country’s urban centers. The NSDAP, the German Nazi party, had its power base in provincial Germany. Gunzenhausen was this kind of prototypical provincial place, a town in Middle Franconia and a racist place of darkness during the Nazi era. As early as 1934, two Jewish men were killed in a pogrom there, in which a large part of the town population participated.

In 2003, a spectacular discovery was made in Gunzenhausen. Nearly 2500 photographs from the local photo studio run by the Biella family were found in the course of an estate clearance. In a disturbing visual panorama, these images recreate the violent rise to power of the NSDAP, the German Nazi party, in Gunzenhausen. This unusual and instructive collection documents the formation and subsequent collapse of the local »Volksgemeinschaft«—the community of those deemed worthy to belong to racist Nazi Germany—from 1933 to 1949.

Pictures of countless »Volksgenossen« in NSDAP uniforms testify to how many of the town’s inhabitants joined the ranks of Nazi supporters—presumably to then claim after 1945 in equally large numbers that they had known nothing about the regime’s crimes. The fact that creation of the »Volksgemeinschaft« was linked to violence against those who were excluded from it is documented by two sets of pictures within the collection: nearly one hundred portraits labeled the »Judenkartei« (Jewish file) and the unsettling photographs of deported forced laborers. After the war ended, Curt Biella was still in business, photographing local Nazis being registered by the police in the course of denazification procedures: a family of photographers who always stood on the »right« side of history.

The authors whose texts are presented in this volume offer valuable insights into the rise of the NSDAP in provincial Germany, the role played by photographers as local actors, and acts of terror against local Jewish citizens. They analyze and contextualize Gunzenhausen’s »Judenarchiv« (»Archive of Jews«), the portraits of forced laborers, and the way in which concepts of the Nazi »Volksgemeinschaft« are visualized in photographs of men and women. With its nearly two hundred-fifty photographs, this volume is a thought-provoking document of the lives of persecutors, victims, and bystanders in provincial Nazi Germany.

About the Editor