Photographs and War Memories

The NPR story is part of a continuing series about World War II, running ahead of Ken Burns's new epic war series. On the day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a crowd at Columbia University that any proof of the Holocaust would still require the story and films are concrete reminders of horrors past, conflicts continuing, and the power of human perseverance. -- Jack Crager

A story broadcast this morning on National Public Radio reminds us of photography's power to preserve history and bring people together. Now available as a podcast and photo gallery on the NPR Website, the story recounts the journey of a World War II U.S. soldier, Vernon Tott, who surreptitiously took a series of B+W snapshots (such as the one above left) while helping to liberate a German concentration camp.

The photos, depicting Holocaust victims in various states of suffering and malnutrition, were stored away for decades (just as many wartime memories of veterans were surpressed) until 1995 -- when Tott came upon an inquiry in an army newsletter in which a camp survivor wanted to find the person who photographed him back when the Alhem labor camp was liberated, 50 years earlier. Tott retrieved his stash of photos, and they were used to help find and reunite other survivors. The group's reunion and Tott's story are recounted in a documentary, Angel of Alhem (check out this site).

The NPR story is part of a continuing series about World War II, running ahead of Ken Burns's new epic war series. On the day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a crowd at Columbia University that any proof of the Holocaust would still require "sufficient research," the story and films are concrete reminders of horrors past, conflicts continuing, and the power of human perseverance. -- Jack Crager