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September 11, 2019

Historic Photos of Jewish Removal to an Open-Air Ghetto in Poland in 1940

Historian Julia Werner discovered this set of photos in the Jewish Museum in Rendsburg, Germany, and they constitute one of the only visual records we have of the construction of an open-air ghetto. Taken on June 16, 1940, by German soldier Wilhelm Hansen, the photographs track the forced movement of the Jewish population of Kutno, Poland, from their homes to the grounds of an abandoned sugar factory, where they were ordered to set up camp.

When Hansen took these photos, he was a soldier in the Wehrmacht; a year later, he applied for, and was accepted to, membership in the Nazi Party. A longtime amateur photographer, Hansen appears to have made this photographic record for his own purposes, rather than in an official capacity. “Hansen basically spent all day documenting the forced move,” Werner writes. “From these photos, we can infer that Hansen moved around freely and did not try to hide his camera.”

After WWII, Hansen discovered super-8-film cameras and started to document the local life around Schleswig, gatherings of the local rifle associations, goat breeders, etc. It is unclear and impossible to reconstruct what his motivations were. What we know for a fact is that he didn’t do much with his filmic and photographic material; he archived it and kept it mostly to himself. It is only due to a fortunate coincidence that we have access to these photos today. Jan Fischer, an archeologist and collector who was dealing with Hansen’s sisters house and her belongings after her death, came across his photographic collection and identified their value.

Today you can find about 800 of Hansen’s photographs from the Warthegau in the archive of the Jewish Museum in Rendsburg.

(Photos by Wilhelm Hansen, via J├╝disches Museum Rendsburg)


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