The “Sunny” Side Of The Holocaust. Dr. Endre Szántó’s Photo Album From His Forced Labour Service, 1940

Seminars and Colloquia

“Millions of images taken by SS propaganda teams and a smaller number of photographs taken by victims, bystanders and liberators have survived.” This is possibly the most cited sentence on the topic of Holocaust photography, written by Sybil Milton (Images of the Holocaust, 1986). However, in the case of Hungary only hundreds of images are known, and the systematic exploration of these is yet to take place.

In his talk, András Lénárt analyzed an interesting and ambiguous Holocaust source that reveals how serious was the endeavor to be included in Hungarian society by  the Jewish people. Even during their forced labor service in 1940, they tried to show the quasi-normality of their status by taking photos with their guards and putting these pictures into scrapbooks. The talk emphasized the importance of correctly interpreting photos of the Holocaust that do not depict the brutality of the situation.

Dr. Endre Szántó's diary and photos are valuable and rare documents of the Hungarian labor service The surprisingly light-hearted photographs at first sight do not support our concept of the terrible cruelty of forced labor, and thus may confirm the view that the Horthy-era was not that bad for the Jews, who only fell victims to the Germans in the last year of the war. However, the depiction of events from the diary is much gloomier and reminds researchers to try to detect as closely as possible the circumstances in which these images were created. It is extremely important to look “behind” the smiles and analyze the images very carefully, even in the absence of written documents related to the photos.

Lénárt argued that the widespread categorization of perpetrator, bystander and victim photographs requires reevaluation when looking more closely at the albums arranged by forced labor victims.

András Lénárt is Research Fellow at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest. 

Ingo Zechner, Director of the Ludwig Boltzman Institute for Digital History in Vienna, served as a discussant and provided the comment.

IWM Permanent Fellow Ludger Hagedorn moderated the talk. 


Fellows Colloquia are internal events for the IWM Visiting Fellows and Guests.