Exhibition: Holocaust Remeberance Week at The National Arts Club

The First Exhibition of Artwork by Stanley B. Burns, MD   

The German Mindset: Action in the Name of Germany by Common Perpetrators

Through April 27, 2012, The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York, NY

Dr. Stanley Burns’ multimedia images of the Holocaust add a new visual dimension – a ‘Word-Image’ to a topic that never ceases to be examined and reexamined. 

During 50 years of searching through tens of thousands of private images taken by German soldiers, Dr. Burns has uncovered a series of significant images and imbued them with a power beyond the imagination of the soldiers who recorded them. Burns has integrated a poignant caption into a colorized image that facilitates comprehension and expresses his wrath and bitter resentment with the inhumanity of Nazi Germany. This exhibition consists of two elements. The first includes prints following a time line of prewar persecution, wartime camp experiences and immigration to Israel. Several noted Holocaust images are shown. The second is Dr. Burns’ original multimedia art works. These unique images from Burns’ Nazi soldier album collection are transformed by his personal statements and confrontation with the nature of corrupt German serviceman. These ‘Word Images’ are powerful statements from which the observer can better understand the mentality of the perpetrators who are pictured having a good time as they went about their business of abusing and killing Jews.

We Wanted the War
In October 1939 Warsaw capitulated and surrendered after a month of unrestricted bombardment by the Luftwaffe that included a terror bombing campaign against civilian targets. A few days after the Nazi’s entered the city, a Wehrmacht officer rounded up a group of religious Jews and forced them to parade around the center of the bombed city. The sign reads “We Wanted the War.” The front of the cart reads “The Jews are our Misfortune.”

Unfortunately for Polish Jews, the non-Jewish inhabitants didn’t need any additional goading. Anti-Semitism was rampant throughout much of the country. Although there were many Polish citizens who protected Jews during the war, there where more who directly participated in the massacres of thousands. Perhaps one of the best examples is that even after the war when knowledge of the decimation of Polish Jewery was well known, the 40 Jews who survived the Shoah were killed in a Kielce Blood-Libel type pogrom on July 4, 1946. The episode created worldwide condemnation and is credited as being the catalyst for the immigration of most of the Jews from Poland. The number of Polish Jews killed in WWII is about 3,000,000 of the 5.8 million Jews who died in the Holocaust.

Wehrmacht Motorcycle Unit’s Fun and Games in Tarnopol Ukraine
An officer of a motorcycle detachment stands like an Egyptian overlord while his Jewish slaves build him a pyramid of hay bundles. One of the legends of Jewish history was that during the enslavement in Egypt, they were workers who helped build the pyramids. The story of the flight from Egypt is recounted every year at Passover. The enslavement in Egypt may have been on the minds of these men as they toiled on a hot July day to obey their new masters.

Tarnopol was in the province of Lvov in Poland until the Russians took control of it in 1939. The city of about 40,000 was 50% Polish and 40% Jewish. 18,000 Jews lived in Tarnopol. On June 22, 1941 Hitler attacked Russia. Tarnopol was entered at the end of June when the events pictured took place.  By June 1941 Jews knew of the extermination of communities in Poland and perhaps thought they were safe in Soviet controlled territory.

Pyramid building was only a waiting game as other Nazi units flooded the city. From July 4th to July 11th, over 5,000 Jews were killed. About 12,500 were herded into a ghetto. Over the next two years thousands were systematically slaughtered until the final liquidation on June 20, 1943. Poles contributed to the slaughter of Jews – about 500 were killed by Poles with borrowed weapons from the German troops who were ever ready to help local inhabitants in their dirty work. At the end of WWII. The Russians found 150 Jews in hiding with Partisans in the area and 200 returned who had fled into Russia. By the 1960s 500 Jews were living in Tarnopol. These unique photographs survive to help point a finger at Wehrmacht soldiers in their complacency with Hitler’s and Himmler’s Final Solution.

This Town is Jew Free
‘HALT’ reads the sign on this entrance to a small German town in 1938. The sign announces the town is Jew free and no Jews are welcome. Two anti-Semitic charactertures of a Jewish man and woman with large noses adorn the sign. This symbolism is much like the current usage of a line through an image that means no.

Professional Executioners
Their caps telegraph their unit ‘Field Police.’ These are the men of a notorious Polish execution squad of the SD. The SD,  (Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS.) was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party. It was often considered a "sister organization" with the Gestapo. In Poland one of their jobs was to kill prisoners and Jews and they did this in a humane way by a bullet in the back of the bent head making sure to hit the cerebellum, which destroyed bodily functions instantaneously. Here in the forests of the Poland in 1942, depicted as if in an occupational photograph of the nineteenth century, these executioners proudly display the tools of their trade: the 9mm Parabellum Lugar pistol.

Celebrating Murder
This happy soldier is depicted in this snapshot as a hero at a celebration by his cohorts for his great work. Around his neck is a Jewish Star. In the center are the letters G F P, the dreaded initials of the Geheim Feldpolizei – Secret Field Police. These units were the secret military police of the Wehrmacht. Among their duties was to work alongside the notorious SS Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing squads, whose sole job was the extermination of Jews, Gypsies and communists. They did this by shooting them. They killed over one million (33,771 in Babi Yar, over 25,000 in Rumbala, etc.). Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS helped devise extermination facilities with gas chambers primarilybecause the shooting of Jews was hard work and took a toll on the shooters.

The einsatzgruppen and the GFP worked safely behind the lines and under the protection of the Wehrmacht. The GFP also mounted operations to systematically burn down homes and entire villages. Toward the end of war the GFP was transferred from the Wehrmacht to the SS where they were responsible for summarily executing prisoners before the arrival of the advancing Red Army. For example, in 1943 one GFP report to SS and Police Leader William Krichbaum stated that on the Eastern Front 21,000 people had been killed… "many shot after interrogation." While the Gestapo is well known today they did not do the mass  killings the GFP did.

This happy fellow in a unit still under Wehrmacht control in 1941 proudly displays his medal. There is little doubt his unit was killing Jews in this time period. Perhaps the number 608 on his Yellow Star is his unit number, perhaps the number he killed that day. This image came from private wartime photo album. These documents are among the best evidences of criminality. If this smiling fellow was captured, this photograph would belie his explanation that he was only a lowly private in the army.

History of the Burns Holocaust Collection

Collector, curator and historian Stanley B. Burns, MD has written 43 photo historical texts and has curated over 50 exhibitions from his collection of about one million vintage images. Burns owns perhaps the largest private photographic Judaica and Holocaust collection. In the early 1970s before he collected photography Dr. Burns lectured regularly on Jewish physicians in the Holocaust. He ultimately took over the practice of a noted Berlin ophthalmologist who immigrated to the United States in 1937. The practice consisted of noted German Jewish personalities as well as some prior Nazis. Dr Burns began accumulating Holocaust related ephemera and photographs as the nations’ Holocaust museums were being formed. He served as a photography consultant to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. In 1994 the collection was showcased in the noted Jewish periodical Forward. In 1999 when a traveling exhibition from Homburg of photographs documenting the Wehrmacht and genicide was cancelled Dr. Burns offered his own similar collection to supplement the lectures on the subject at NYU.  On the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel he had two exhibitions on the immigration of Jews to Israel in the 1940s showing his images of the Irgun blockade runner the Ben Hecht.

The Burns Holocaust collection consists mainly of images in five general categories. First are the hundreds of photographs of Eastern European Jews and towns from the 1890s through 1940s. These show the towns and people that were destroyed. The images depict life in shtetls and cities and provides vivid evidence of a rich religious and secular life. The second category includes images taken in Germany and Europe prior to the War documenting the rise of Nazism and persecution of Jews, Gypsies and the disabled. The third and perhaps most interesting aspect of the collection are the over 100 albums taken by German servicemen who photographed their experiences in Western and Eastern Europe especially France, Poland and Russia. These personal albums provide great insight into the experiences and behavior of German servicemen. The images were taken for personal use, representing the social, cultural and private actions of individuals. Such soldiers were not under orders and used their cameras frequently as one does today to capture moments of significance, celebration and triumph. The fourth section consists of hundreds of images taken by Allied sources at the end of the war directly related to the Shoah and conquest of Germany. These images are original prints made at time. The fifth aspect of the collection are thousands of photographs of the immigration and settlement of Jews in Israel 1930-1950. 

Images from the reception, April 17, 2012: