Haunting WWII photos taken by Wehrmacht soldier in Lublin reveal ‘ordinary lives’ of Hitler’s occupying forces
Newly released photographs taken by a Wehrmacht soldier stationed in Poland during WWII throw a fascinating light on life during the war from a German perspective.
The majority of the 69 photographs in the collection depict the life of the German occupiers in Lublin, showing amongst others their daily work, life in the barracks, integration events and walks through the city.
In many of the haunting images we can see German soldiers in their uniforms: in some they pose for the camera, in others they are relaxed and unaware of the photographer’s presence.
However, there are also some photos of the Jewish community, including a poignant one of a Jewish boy clearly posing and smiling for the camera, and other images with perspectives of Lublin and its residents.
Recently opened as an exhibition entitled “Jeden Rok” (“One Year”), but also available to be viewed online, the majority of the photos were taken by a 22 year old Wehrmacht soldier of a technical unit, who was stationed in Lublin for one year between 1941-42 and captured them in his spare time during walks through the city.
A large proportion show daily life of the occupying Wehrmacht in the area of Lublin airport near the former Lublin Aircraft Factory on Wrońska street, where at the time there was accommodation for one of the SS military divisions, a Waffen SS clothing storage facility and the Wehrmacht’s technical unit.
Knowing little about the photographs and why his grandfather took them and kept them, the collection was found in a shoebox by his grandson, Andres Rump, who felt a duty to bring them to Lublin 80 years later, as a way of coming to terms with his family history and bringing them back to the place where they were taken.
Rump’s grandfather is seen on two of the images of Wehrmacht soldiers walking down Lublin’s Krakowskie Przedmiescie and Zamoyska streets.
Rump told a local newspaper: “I didn’t know why my grandfather photographed these people or even had these pictures.
“After the war he kept them in the same box as memories from family events. They were mixed up with photos from my mother’s first communion and photos from Christmas, weddings and wedding receptions.
“It was a real mess in there. When, as a child, I was looking through family photos, I also saw these ones from the war. On the reverse of some of them, was written ‘Lublin’. But I never asked about them.”
Rump said his grandfather had spoken about his time as a soldier during the war, but only about the time he spent in Italy, and never mentioned what happened in Lublin.
For Rump, a documentary film maker, from Aachen, the search for information about the photographs led to the decision to start making a documentary about his family’s story.
He said: “After the war, the war generation didn’t talk about it. They didn’t speak about what they saw, and for sure, dramatic things happened…so I started thinking, what awful things must have happened, that my grandparents completely closed that chapter.
“I wanted to release those emotions, that’s why I started making a film which will tell my family’s history and memories connected with it. The impulse for it was a panic attack I had. I started having emotional problems.
“This led me to trying to find information about the photos. I talked to my mother, her brothers, with my grandfather from my father’s side. Nobody knew anything. It was then that I decided to travel to Lublin, I figured that that was where I could find something out.”
Travelling to Lublin with the photos in August 2021, Rump gifted them to the cultural organisation Brama Grodzka -Teatr NN in Lublin, making it the organisation’s first such uniform photographic collection showing the life of German soldiers in Lublin.
Patryk Pawłowski, from the iconography workshop at Teatr NN told local newspaper Dziennik Wschodni: “We acquire many collections, but this one is one of the rare few, connected with such a personal story. And someone, who travelled across half of Europe, to donate these photos to us; to pay tribute to history and the people, who were in the shadows of these photographs.”
Rump added: “If it were now, I would do anything to ask my grandfather those questions. The film which is being made thanks to the journey and the conversations with Patryk and Marcin, who told me about wartime Lublin, is a way to ask my grandfather those questions after all.
“He is no longer alive, I can’t ask him, but the film will be a way of doing that. For this story and the difficult emotions, which were there during the war, to speak.
“For me, it is a form of autotherapy, a way to come to terms with this story and understand it. The photos were stored in a shoebox, closed up as history. I wanted to open that history and give it back to the people and to this place. That’s why I came to Lublin.”
The provenance of some of the photos in the collection remains a mystery, as some date from an earlier time, such as one showing the bombing of Lublin which occurred in 1939, two years before Rump’s grandfather was stationed in the city, opening the possibility that he may have traded photographs with some of the other soldiers who had been in Lublin from earlier in the war.
The photographs can be viewed at Galeria NN Brama Grodzka in Lublin as part of the “Jeden Rok” exhibition opened on the 15th June to coincide with the 80th anniversary of Operation Reinhard, or seen on the organisation’s online archive here Niemiecka okupacja Lublina – kolekcja Andresa Rumpa - Lublin Fotografia - Teatr NN