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Disturbing images at Geneva exhibition

Survivors of Buchenwald read details of inmates still missing.

(Anonymous French photographer)

An exhibition of photographs taken in Nazi concentration camps is currently on view at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva.

They include images of emaciated faces, sunken eyes, barbed wire, watchtowers and heaps of skeletal bodies.

Although museum spokeswoman Catherine Zimmermann concedes that some photographs almost unbearable to look at, the intention is not to shock.

"This material is difficult, painful and sometimes unbearable," she says, "and constantly raises the question as to whether it should be shown at all. We decided to do so, first and foremost out of respect for the people whom they represent, and in particular the victims.

"But our aim is also to understand not why but how such pictures came to be taken, to question in what circumstances they were taken, and to study their documentary content and the use made of them.


"We felt that to forget is worse than to shock."

The exhibition is divided into three parts, each covering a distinct period of time and photographic practice.

It begins with the construction of the first camps in 1933 and continues to their liberation in 1945. The images illustrate the diversity of the camp system, the differences between concentration and extermination camps, the situation in the camps before and during the war, and the various categories of internees.

The Nazis themselves took photographs for several reasons - reporting, propaganda, anthropological and medical research - and some pictures were even taken covertly by the prisoners themselves, risking their lives.


The second part covers the period in 1944 and 1945 when the camps were liberated under the eyes of military and press photographers. The third - entitled "Time for Remembering" - shows the work of contemporary photographers, some of whom went to the camp locations.

Each photograph is placed in its context, making the exhibition as a whole something of value as a historic document.

Museum guide Bernadette Renard told swissinfo that the period covered was a turning point in the history of journalism, with pools of photographers arriving at the same time after the camps were discovered, to witness a major event.

Meanwhile the army photographers were recording what they saw, for use as evidence at the Nuremberg war crime trials.

"Visitors tend to make their tours in silence," she said. "School groups of teenagers are usually prepared for what to expect, their teachers having already explained to them the historical context."

Renard adds that a frequent question from the younger visitors is: "Why did they do that?"

The exhibition ends on December 8.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

In brief

The Red Cross Museum exhibition features photographs taken in Nazi concentration camps.

While some photos are difficult to look at, the intention is not to shock visitors.

Rather, organisers hope to remind people about what happened in the camps.

The exhibition begins with the construction of the first camps 1933 and continues to their liberation in 1945.

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