“In documentaries, Nazi images must be used ethically”

Iwith the publication, in 2021, ofhistoricizing evil (Fayard, 2021), the new translation of Mein Kampf accompanied by a remarkable critical apparatus, the editor had taken care to specify that “all of the profits resulting from the commercialization” of the book would be donated to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.

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This question of profits posed to the publishers of texts by Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels or Alfred Rosenberg, no one asks it to image suppliers. However, the films made by the Nazi propaganda agencies abound in the documentaries devoted to the destruction of the Jews of Europe. The ethics which is valid for the written word would therefore not be valid for the filmed archives?

How can we accept, eighty years after the crimes, that owners and managers of films shot by the executioners can trade in them? Why continue to buy these images, sometimes very expensive, often from private companies who will make a profit? Some, such as Getty Images (United States) or Agentur Karl Höffkes (Germany), charge rates of up to 3,600 euros per minute. Why agree to let them enrich themselves with the memory of the dead? It is high time that directors, producers and broadcasters renounce the use of propaganda images provided to them by anyone who would benefit from them.

Give back a humanity

The unbridled use by television of Nazi images poses another problem, that of the treatment of their content. The victims are too often reduced to being nothing more than silhouettes, intermittent workers in a macabre spectacle deprived of the most elementary elements of their biography: their name, their age, the place of their birth and that of their death. Who is filming? Who kills ? Who dies ? Or ? When ? These basic questions are almost never answered.

In terms of iconography, Holocaust historians have shown us the way forward. To cite just two recent books: Wendy Lower (The ravineTallandier, 2022), Tal Bruttmann, Stefan Hördler and Christoph Kreutzmüller (An Auschwitz ScrapbookSeuil, 304 pages, 49 euros) provide an exemplary method: identify the victims, the executors, the witnesses, the places, the dates, the circumstances of the crime, the conditions of the shooting, essential work making it possible to document an event , but also, and perhaps above all, to restore humanity to those who, without it, would only be shadows.

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