The Hamas tactic of using social media to publicize videos of its atrocities against Jews may seem to be a 21st-century innovation. But using cameras to boast about genocide actually has a precedent in the Holocaust.
Hamas and its supporters have utilized various social media platforms to show off scenes of October 7 pogromists kidnapping, torturing, and sexually assaulting their Israeli victims. In some cases, they have uploaded these gruesome “trophy videos” to the social media accounts of the victims in order to intensify the suffering of their distraught families. Some of it was live-streamed on Facebook.
The technology is new, but the mindset isn’t.
The Nazis, too, were deeply proud of their mass murder of Jews. But, they were concerned that photographs of the atrocities might be used as evidence in war crimes trials later. For some reason, the pogromists from Gaza do not seem to be worried about that.
The Nazis also thought that if evidence of their genocide reached the Free World, the Allies would intervene to rescue the Jews. They needn’t have been concerned about that.
For those reasons, German officials prohibited individuals from photographing the killings. Only officially assigned photographers were given access to mass killings so that photos would not reach outside eyes. But some leaked out anyway.
The reason the June 1941 massacre of Jews in German-occupied Kovno, Lithuania, is so well-documented is that German soldiers watching a mob torture and murder Jews took photographs for their own amusement. Some of the photos were duplicated and shared with other soldiers.
Members of Reserve Police Battalion 101, which played a major role in the mass murder process in Poland, often photographed themselves in the act. Sometimes, as the scholar Daniel Goldhagen points out, they used Jews “as playthings for their own satisfaction” by posing for photos showing them cutting off the beards of Jews or compelling them to don prayer shawls and cower on the ground. “The photos capture [German] men who look tranquil and happy, and others show them in poses of pride and joy as they undertake their dealings with their Jewish victims,” Goldhagen writes.
Both the photos of the massacre process and the posed humiliations “represented the absolute mastery of the photographed German over the Jew,” Goldhagen notes. It was all “done in front of the camera’s recording eye, ensuring that the victim’s shame would be displayed to people for years to come….This simple act conveyed unequivocally—to the German, to the Jew, to all who watched, contemporaneously or later—the virtually limitless power of the [German] over his victim.”
The photos taken by members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were “generously shared among the entire battalion,” Goldhagen points out. He cites a battalion member who recalled: “They were laid out hanging on the wall, and anyone, as he pleased, could order copies of them.” For Goldhagen, the entire spectacle was reminiscent of “travelers purchasing postcards or asking for duplicates of friends’ snapshots that have captured vistas and scenes from an enjoyable and memorable trip.”
Death camp commandants delighted in assembling photo albums that chronicled their experiences. An album compiled by the SS photographic department in Auschwitz included scenes of Jewish men, women, and children being selected for death and lining up for the gas chambers, alongside photos of smiling Nazis and their families. Fifteen such albums were created for the camp’s high-ranking officers.
Prisoners who worked in the photo lab in the Mauthausen camp were ordered to create a similar album. One of the prisoners clandestinely made an extra copy and smuggled it out of Mauthausen to document what was taking place. The album was later used in the war crimes trial of camp commander Ernst Kaltenbrunner—exactly what the Nazis feared would be done with photos of their war against the Jews. Kaltenbrunner was convicted at Nuremberg and hanged.
An album belonging to Treblinka commandant Kurt Franz bore the title “The Good Old Days.” Franz was convicted of war crimes in 1965 but sentenced only to life imprisonment. He was released after serving twenty-eight years.
Among the documents recently released by the Israeli authorities is a recording of a telephone call between a Hamas pogromist and his parents. The murderer tells them excitedly: “Father, look at your phone, I sent you pictures! I killed ten Jews, Dad! I’m in a kibbutz. The blood is on my hands, Father! Mom, I killed ten Jews! Ten Jews with my own hands!” The mother responds, “May Allah save you, my hero.” In the background is the voice of a Jewish woman, desperately crying in pain just before she will become another war trophy in the pogromist’s souvenir collection—perhaps as part of an album of images that he, too, will title “The Good Old Days.”
(Dr. Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His most recent book, America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America / University of Nebraska Press. And available on Amazon, as are his other books)