BEHIND THE IMAGE – ‘Forcibly Pulled Out of Dug-outs’

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In May 1944, an official document was prepared by Jürgen Stroop detailing the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising. The 75-page report was put together for the benefit of Heinrich Himmler and assembled as if it were a souvenir album. The contents of the report, despite the design, contained images of a stricken city razed to the ground and the civilian population of the Warsaw Ghetto being led to deportation points and on to their deaths.

Originally titled ‘The Jewish Quarter of Warsaw is no more!’, what came to be known simply as ‘The Stroop Report’ was commissioned by Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger, the Higher SS and Police Leader in Krakow, whom Himmler had promoted because of his ambition and loyalty. The SS, with Krüger in charge, had been responsible for the liquidation of the ghetto. He had become the most powerful man in occupied Poland, and, almost as if it were a little in-joke between the two Nazi officials, a sort of thank-you for the promotion, Krüger arranged for the dossier to be presented in this way.

In appearance it was bound in black pebble leather, typed, and accompanied by over 50 photographs all with hand-written captions in a Gothic Sütterlin script. It was split into three sections: an introduction and summary of SS operations; a collection of all daily communiqués sent to Krüger; and the series of photographs.

Three distinct copies were made, an album each for Himmler, Krüger, and Stroop. All three copies were recovered after the war and are currently located at the National Archives in Washington DC, the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz, and the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw. At the Nuremburg Trials, one copy was brought forward as evidence. It was described by the assistant prosecutor dealing with the persecution of the Jews as ‘the finest example of ornate German craftsmanship, leather bound, profusely illustrated, typed on heavy bond paper … the almost unbelievable recital of the proud accomplishment by Major-General of Police Stroop.’

This photograph, taken from one of the three copies, shows Jewish families being forcibly removed from their hide-outs and driven from the Warsaw Ghetto. The original German caption reads: ‘Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs’. The woman at the head of the column on the left, holding onto her mother-in-law’s arm, has been identified as Yehudit Neyer. The child is the daughter of Yehudit and Avraham Neyer, who can be seen to the left of the little girl. Of the four, only Avraham would survive the war.

The picture was taken by an anonymous photographer at Nowolipie Street looking east, near the intersection with Smocza Street. On the right is the townhouse at Nowolipie 63, and a little further, shrouded by smoke, the ghetto wall and gate. The raging fire on the left is the burning balcony of the townhouse at Nowolipie 66.

Over 80% of Warsaw was burned and destroyed by the Germans as the Jewish population was extinguished. The subjects of this photograph could not have known that they were to be made into a page of an SS official’s gift photo album, and we will never know the fates of so many in that column of people. We do know, however, that for his part in this tragedy, Jürgen Stroop was extradited to Poland and tried and convicted for crimes against humanity. He was hanged by the Polish authorities in 1952. As for the photo, it would go on to become one of the most famous images of the Second World War, described by The Photograph Book in 1997 as being the ‘most famous picture by an anonymous photographer.’


This article appeared in issue 26 of Military History Monthly.

1 Comment

  1. “Over 80% of Warsaw was burned and destroyed by the Germans as the Jewish population was extinguished.”

    Not 80% of Warsaw – maybe 80% of the Warsaw Ghetto, which was only a small part of the whole city.

    Most of downtown Warsaw, the Old City as it was called, was destroyed by the Germans in revenge for the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. After the war, it was rebuilt exactly as it had been. But even then it was only the Old City, not the whole of Warsaw.

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