Book Review: Witnessing the Robbing of the Jews

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Witnessing the Robbing of the Jews – paperback – 8 Jul 2015
by Sarah Gensburger (Author)
Collected images found in the Federal Archives of Koblenz
www.combinedacademic.co.uk/witnessing-the-robbing-of-the-jews

When you think of the ravages of War you think of looting, of pillaging. You imagine this will be of items of value, art, gold, diamonds.

The matter-of-fact, the day-to-day, the detritus of every day life, you think of it just cast into the dust, strewn everywhere, forsaken, forgotten, unwanted, destroyed.

Photograph Catalogue number B 323–311 No.59 modern kitchenware, in better condition.

Photograph catalogue number B3 23–311 No.53 a man puts together six piece toolkits of hammers, saws and other items. There are piles of them.

Photograph catalogue number B3 23–311 No.50 a small room filled with a collection of toys on a similar theme, four wheeled cart with a doll in it, another cart more decorative with two dolls in it, a basket on wheels, a doll pulling a toy cart.

Another room, this one with long tables down the middle and against the walls. All full of porcelain. Piles stacked high of plates, of saucers. Another row of tables with figurines, candlesticks, vases. All piled up.

And now a larger room, with vaulted ceilings. Crates this time. We can’t see what’s in them. Even though there are gaps to peak through everything is wrapped, important.

What these photographs have in common, is order, preservation, cataloguing, possession.

These things are wanted, they’re not discarded.

Everything has been annexed, appropriated, harvested. From a Picasso to a humble hammer.

In other photographs you see people working, sorting through cutlery, stacking boxes, carrying crates into vans, as if it were in a warehouse or a large department store.

The commentary talks about the “crockery department”, and as if the whole place were like Galeries Lafayette, the famous Parisien department store.

There is no death, there is no destruction. The faces are neutral, or sometimes happy.

But we know the time, we know where it is, we know the events that have been happening all around. We don’t have to see the death, we know the destruction, we know the murderous intent.

This book, of photographs, of minimal commentaries, is a silent witness.

The people aren’t wanted, they’ve been… liquidated. But the things, the possessions, they are wanted.

On show are not the works of art, not the splendour and the value.

Instead we are witnessing the process. Cold calculating process. That has only been enabled through death and destruction and brutality.

Don’t expect yourself to be moved by this book. But do you prepare yourself for the thoughts and horrors that might go through your mind because of it.

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