Wendy Lower’s (Claremont McKenna College) lecture will explore why perpetrators, bystanders and victims who bore witness to the genocide and sought to document it, all turned to the power of the photograph. The magnitude of the events challenged comprehension, and capturing it on film was intended to serve as a testament of the extreme. The photograph as a form of testimony will be analyzed based on Lower’s deeply researched case study of one atrocity photograph taken in 1941 at a mass shooting in Miropol, Ukraine. The history of this object--as it passed from the photographer's hands to postwar KGB investigators, then to post-Soviet human rights activists, journalists, historians and to curators at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum--demonstrates the agency of a visual document, first as it was created by the photographer, then utilized by prosecutors and historians to interrogate other sources and collect more testimony, and finally to memorialize Jewish victims murdered in the Holocaust by bullets.
Lower’s presentation will draw on a variety of sources (wartime letters, Nazi documents, oral histories, postwar statements, Yad Vashem's Pages of Testimony, topographical surveys of mass graves in Ukraine, and photographs). It will stress the historical agency of the photograph during and after the Holocaust, and the value of understanding testimony in its visual form.