cover image Shadows of War: A German Soldier's Lost Photographs of World War II

Shadows of War: A German Soldier's Lost Photographs of World War II

Willi Rose. ABRAMS, $35 (191pp) ISBN 978-0-8109-5590-5

Five years ago, Eller, a German artist and editor, received a treasure trove: some 500 snapshots taken by his great-uncle, Willi Rose, a veteran of World War II. In this volume, Eller reproduces 200 of these photographs, and at first glance they present an eloquent visual testimony of Rose's wartime experiences. Or do they? A closer look reveals that although Rose had an eye, his pictures feel strangely detached and anonymous. The photographs of Dunkirk, for example, suggest that it is interesting to ponder the massive British retreat from the victor's point of view, but the pictures of smiling German soldiers at the beach add little to our understanding of the war or the photographer. Similarly, an upended locomotive is presented as if the destruction itself is what caught Mr. Rose's eye, and not the human cost. One wonders, then, why Rose photographed a dead Soviet soldier with his legs still clinging to the flanks of his dead horse. Was it sympathy? Pride? Or merely the bizarre coincidence of the pose? Only one sentence in the acknowledgments hints at Rose's own personality, when Eller writes that his great-uncle's ""vision, and not his morality, is the foundation for this book."" But can the ""morality"" of those who fought for Nazism be so easily put aside? Much of the text, in fact, will leave the reader with discomfiting questions. Petra Bopp's essay on Nazi-era photography is informative, but she also juxtaposes Rose's picture of barbed wire with art about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict-a strained, and in this context, perhaps offensive comparison. All in all, Rose's unexceptional work seems to do little more than to confirm Hannah Arendt's well-worn report on the banality of evil.