Beautiful Girls and Learned Students and Cheerful Schoolgirls
The woman looks at the camera. She is beautiful, but her fur coat looks like it has seen better days and is too large for her. From all the people in the picture she seems to be the only one looking directly at the photographer. Others in the crowd are glimpsing at him as well, from under shawls and peaked caps, but she is the only one with a defiant, almost aloof look, as if she knows what the photographer is up to and does not care about it. She will be shot soon.
The picture was taken by German photographer Johannes Hähle near the Ukranian village of Lubny on the 16th of October, 1941. Over one thousand Jews living in that town had been ordered to assemble for “resettlement” in an open field before they were shot by the SD-Sonderkommando 4a. Hähle was a photographer for a Wehrmacht propaganda company and on that day walked between the people of Lubny, shooting them. He died in 1944 in Normandy, and his photos were later used as evidence in war crimes trials against the Sonderkommandos.
When war correspondent Vasily Grossman passed through the Ukraine with the Red Army in 1943, he wrote about the vanished people of Lubny and other places.
“Old men and women are dead, as well as craftsmen and professional people: tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, jewellers, house painters, ironmongers, bookbinders, workers, freight handlers, carpenters, stove-makers, jokers, cabinetmakers, water carriers, millers, bakers, and cooks; also dead are physicians, prothesists, surgeons, gynaecologists, scientists — bacteriologists, biochemists, directors of university clinics — teachers of history, algebra, trigonometry.
Dead are professors, lecturers and doctors of science, engineers and architects. Dead are agronomists, field workers, accountants, clerks, shop assistants, supply agents, secretaries, nightwatchmen, dead are teachers, dead are babushkas who could knit stockings and make tasty buns, cook bouillon and make strudel with apples and nuts, dead are women who had been faithful to their husbands and frivolous women are dead, too, beautiful girls, and learned students and cheerful schoolgirls, dead are ugly and silly girls, women with hunches, dead are singers, dead are blind and deaf mutes, dead are violinists and pianists, dead are two-year — olds and three-year-olds, dead are eighty-year-old men and women with cataracts on hazy eyes, with cold and transparent fingers and hair that rustled quietly like white paper, dead are newly-born babies who had sucked their mothers’ breast greedily until their last minute.”