The executions of the Jews of Libau (Lijepaja) in Latvia started already in July 1941, and one of the good things about these otherwise awful events is that they are so well documented by reliable German primary souces of various kinds. See, for instance, Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen, Volker Riess, "Schöne Zeiten". Judenmord aus der Sicht der Täter und Gaffer, Frankfurt am Main 1988, pp. 122-129 (with sources, p. 253).
Now, Udo Walendy, in the book edited by Ernst Gauss in 2000, Dissecting the Holocaust, p. 258, provides us with two slightly different reproductions of the second of these photographs. One is a bit darker than the other. Both are somewhat blurred. Walendy speaks of "total fabrications". He writes:
"The same goes for Group 17, purported to show naked inmates prior to mass executions in Latvia. It speaks for itself that several versions of these pictures exist (ref. given by U.W. in note 44; CL). The left one especially cannot be called a photo. At the best, it is a painting based on a photo. Compare the two women in the background who appear to have been drawn in."
It is not easy for us to subscribe to Walendy´s opinion about "Group 17", the ladies of Libau:
First, one would like to know, why Walendy does not say anything about the other photographs - especially the first one reproduced on p. 123 of "Schöne Zeiten". Is this also supposed to be "a painting based on a photo"? In that case, one may ask: What did the original photo look like, and why was it used for a painting?
Moreover: Is it really fair to speak of "several versions"? Are we not rather dealing with different reproductions, some being less blurred that others? The clearest one being the one reproduced on p. 123 of "Schöne Zeiten". It is certainly not a new "version", just another reproduction of the same original(s).
Walendy also invites us to look at the two women in the background "who appear to have been drawn in".
To my eye they do NOT appear to have been drawn in. But even if one were to assume, argumenti causa, that these two naked women had been drawn in, why, then, one may ask, were they drawn in? There must have been a reason for someone having decided to do so. There were already several naked women on the photo - so whay add more? But, as said, this is just for the sake of argument. Looking at reproduction of Walendy´s two women as to be seen on p. 123 of "Schöne Zeiten", there is nothing to suggest that they were "drawn in".
Now, even if Walendy were to argue that one of the eight photographs belonged to a group that he called "total fabrications", what about all the other - seven - photographs belonging to this series? Are they also "paintings" based on a photo? Where is that photo now? What did that photo look like? Why did the unknown painter decide to make a paiting based on a photo? What kind of changes did the unknown painter introduce?
To sum up: The picture with the two naked women in the background is a photo, not a painting based on an unknown photo. The same goes for the other pictures from Libau. They are not the paintings of any unknown painter.
Again: Udo Walendy fails to ask these questions. When faced with a photo that he does not like, he merely states that it is not a photo.
Details about the executions of the Jews from Libau and many other locations in Latvia may be found in Wolfgang Curilla, Die deutsche Ordnungspolizei und der Holocaust im Baltikum und in Weissrussland 1941-1944, Paderborn 2006, pp. 286-304 ("Einsatzkommando 2/KdS Lettland").
The photographs from the executions near Libau are rare, bot not unique. Some very fine photographs of Jews on their way to execution, then next to the mass grave, and, finally, in the mass grave are to be found in the recent standard work of Wolfgang Curilla, Der Judenmord in Polen und die deutsche Ordnungspolizei 1939-1945, Paderborn 2011, next to page 532. These executions of Jews by German police (belonging to units that can be identified precisely) already took place on November 11, 1939 in Ostrow Mazowiecki, in Poland.
It being absolutely impossible to argue that these original German photographs from November 1939 are "total fabrications", there is really nothing strange in the fact that similar photographs were taken two years later, this time in Latvia.
Photographs taken in themselves do not tell us the full story. But taken together with other supplementary pieces of evidence, they may form a precious source for a vivid understanding of what actually happened in the past.
Dr. Christian Lindtner
October 2, 2011