Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War and the Holocaust (Jewish Cultures of the World) Hardcover – 15 Dec 2010
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"David Shneer's utterly original and fascinating new book opens a whole new way of seeing 'through Soviet Jewish eyes.' It is a treasure-trove of Soviet-Jewish World World II-era photographs, many of them published here for the first time, and a brilliant guide to their surrounding historical content."--James E. Young "author of The Texture of Memory and At Memory's Edge "
About the Author
DAVID SHNEER is associate professor of history and director of Jewish studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His books include "Yiddish" and the "Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture," a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.
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The Soviet government embraced photography as a compelling way to document their movement and photographers were encouraged to shift away from pictorial/art photography to photojournalism. There was a controversy among photographers about whether to continue their pre-revolutionary artistic style or switch to the new proletariat realism. Photojournalism became more popular as new technologies allowed easier communication and transmission of photographs through the increasing use of airplanes, telephones, and telegraph wires.
In the 1930s, the Soviet Union nationalized photography organizations and private photography studios, hence making most photographers employees of the government. Compelled to photograph in the Soviet style, they were required to photograph in a way that would "show the achievements of socialism, elevate the worker to the status of icon and create a visual history of the revolution". Inherent in their assignments was the expectation that photographers would show socialism as it should be, not as it was. They were, in other words, not to portray actual reality in their photos, but to show instead the greater "truth" of a scene which allowed staged photos and alterations in the dark room. Whatever was needed to make a powerful photograph was accepted.
Photography was vital during WWII to show what was happening and to encourage the public to not waiver in their support of the war. Initially the Soviet newspapers published photographs found in the pockets of dead German or Japanese soldiers who had apparently been proud of their work; the photos showed soldiers standing above pits and piles of dead bodies. Perhaps they were going to send the photos to their families and friends but were unable to send them off before dying themselves in battle. In an effort to "universalize" Nazi atrocities, Soviet editors usually labeled the victims in the photos simply as "peaceful citizens". To identify them as Jews might have inhibited public support for the war since there was still significant anti-Semitism within the Soviet Union; soldiers might refuse to fight if the major theme of the war was to protect the Jews.
As the war progressed, the Jewish photographers were sent to various locations in the Soviet Union and various countries where the war was waging. Most of the photographers identified more as Soviet than as Jewish but they were profoundly affected by the massive numbers of Jews murdered by the Nazis and came to identify more strongly with the victims. Their photographs are powerful.
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