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Haunting smile of girl facing the Holocaust: How Hitler’s PERSONAL photographer captured for history the plight of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland

  • Hugo Jaeger’s photographs normally celebrate the glory and triumphalism of the Third Reich
  • But in this set he depicts the tragic circumstances of Jews while allowing them to retain their humanity and dignity
  • Taken in the Polish town of Kutno in 1939 and 1940 they have been released to mark the official establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto

She has such natural beauty, she could pass for a movie star.

She smiles, her demeanour relaxed. In normal times, this young woman would surely have enjoyed a bright and happy future, perhaps with a  husband, children, grandchildren.

But soon after this photograph was taken, she would face almost certain death. The haunting image is one of a series depicting Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland before they were rounded up to be sent to the gas chambers.




The clue is the curled-up piece of yellow cloth the unknown woman wears on her lapel – a makeshift Star of David.
All around her, and in other photos taken in the ghetto into which the Nazis corralled their prisoners, every man, woman and child was forced to wear one.
In peacetime, the six-pointed star was a proud symbol of Judaism. In the Holocaust which Hitler was about to unleash – here in the devastated town of Kutno – it would become their death-star.


The remarkable colour images were taken by the Führer’s personal photographer, a loyal follower given unprecedented access to the Third Reich’s elite. Hugo Jaeger was allowed to travel with Hitler to record his appearances at rallies, intimate parties and in private moments. More usually he dedicated himself to lionising his leader and what the Nazis regarded as their most triumphant moments.

Here, it appears, he seems simply to have been fascinated by faces from a different faith in a country under siege. He is said not to have shared  Hitler’s unqualified hatred of Jews. Hence, whether he intended it or not, Jaeger’s camera captured an atmosphere rarely seen before horror and carnage overtook it.



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