When most people think of the images of World War II, they think in black in white. From the image of American G.I.s raising a flag over Iwo Jima to the picture of Russian soldiers on the Reichstag, most of the public photos from the war are in shades of grey. But that doesn't mean color photos weren't taken. In a new book, DER SPIEGEL presents 330 largely-unknown full color images from the last world war.
The fact that most people imagine World War II solely in black and white has a solid historical reason: most of the estimated 40 million photos taken between 1939 and 1940 were not in color. The photographers of Russia's Red Army didn't even carry any color film with them, despite the fact that Kodak's Kodachrome, the first mass-produced color film available, appeared in the US beginning in 1935 and came to Europe a year later. It took a while for color to catch on among photographers, and it wasn't until after the end of the war that it came to dominate the field of photo-journalism.
Of the hundreds of thousands of color photos that were taken by American, British and German photographers during the war, many have been forgotten or were never published. A collection of these intensely realistic pictures has now been unearthed and compiled by DER SPIEGEL: "Pictures of the Second World War," published by editor Michael Sontheimer, brings together 330 mostly color photos of the war that have so far not been given their public due.
The bizarre path that images can sometimes take on their way from the camera to the public is demonstrated by the color pictures taken during the war by one of Hitler's personal photographers, Hugo Jaeger, whose photos make up many of those appearing in the book. Unlike Hilter's main photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, Jaeger specialized in taking color photos of the Nazi propaganda spectacles as well as Hitler himself. The book shows the strength of Jaeger's photographs in expressing the hypnotic power of the spectacle of the Nazis and the creation of the Fuehrer mythology that the majority of the Germany people subscribed to.
When the Allied victory began to look certain, Jaeger carefully packed his negatives into preserving jars and buried them in the ground, fearing that his work would be seen as incriminating by the advancing Allied troops. In 1970, he sold about 2,000 slides to the American magazine Life, making public for the first time some of the best photographs of Hitler. Then his work disappeared from public view, gathering dust in the archives of the Getty Images photo agency, where it has remained unappreciated and largely unknown until now.