Monday, 29 November 2010

Bilder aus Dora - Zwangsarbeit im Raketentunnel 1943-1945

Yves Le Maner & André Sellier, Westkreuz-Verlag GmbH, Berlin/Bonn, Germany, 2001, ISBN 3-929-592-59-2. Illustrated, softcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Westkreuz-Verlag GmbH, 2001.

As this blog is titled "German Aviation 1919-1945", this is probably not quite a typical publication to be reviewed here. And yet this is a truly exceptional and important book, both on a human as well as on a topical level. Bilder aus Dora [Images From Dora] is examined on this website because it covers a significant subject area of the aerospace industrial complex of the Third Reich - the manufacture of the Aggregat 4 rocket (or, more popularly, the V2 rocket) during the final stages of the war. What's more, it does so using rare and truly astonishing color photographs shot by Walter Frenz in 1944; photographs which reveal a previously unseen level of detail regarding the then top secret manufacturing process of the German war machine.

Frenz was a Luftwaffe photo correspondent whose work became widely known decades after the war, not least because he was able to shoot many of his photos in color, and because he had access to the top echelon of Germany' leadership. Frenz' son, Hanns-Peter Frenz (who also contributes the introduction to Bilder aus Dora), discovered these historically infinitely significant images in 1998, in a suitcase which had once belonged to his father and had stood unopened in a room in the basement for over 50 years. Immediately before the end of the war, the SS had confiscated all of Frenz's photos depicting secret weapons manufacturing, but Frenz somehow managed to preserve a number of color slides in a nondescript envelope. These slides now yield what are the only authentic photos depicting the underground mass production of the Aggregat 4.

It is the dreadful human aspect, however, which renders Bilder aus Dora even more significantly different from the customary aircraft type monographs or technical-historical studies usually featured here. Not only do Frenz' photos depict countless scenes in which slave laborers work on various parts of the rocket, but as the book's subtitle Forced Labor In The Rocket Tunnel implies, it also goes to great lengths to relentlessly analyze this facet of what is at the same time one of Germany's greatest technological achievements and one of its most painful legacies.

In addition to the obvious color photos depicting the actual production of the rocket, there are numerous drawings of the conditions within the affiliated Dora slave labor camp run by the SS. These drawings were made by the inmates of the camp, either secretly during their imprisonment or immediately after the war, and they thus represent rare visual glimpses into the daily camp routine of intense exploitation and dying. Along with these profound illustrations, Bilder aus Dora features a detailed narrative on the history of the camp as well as on the conditions within. The contents of Bilder aus Dora are completed by maps and black & white photos (taken during and after the war) of the camp and manufacturing tunnels.

It is the inevitable and unholy connection between frequently stunning images depicting the production of an ultra modern, high-tech weapon and images depicting the ruthless subjugation and elimination of human beings to facilitate exactly such production, which makes this book insdispensable for anyone even remotely interested in German aerospace industrial processes of the Second World War.

In spite of what seems like a relatively low page count (88 pages, format 294 x 208mm), Bilder aus Dora is therefore a comprehensive study of what is a dramatic and important topic. The book was originally released as an exhibition catalog to accompany special exhibition at the Deutsches Museum in Munich in 2001. It was produced in affiliation with the French La Coupole museum, whose head, Yves Le Maner, is one of the two authors of the book. The other one, André Sellier, is a historian and himself a former deported slave laborer.

No comments: