Young women daintily made up and wearing their Shabbat best, grinning men stand by a shelter in the morning sunshine — faces and figures so vividly captured that they could have been photographed yesterday.
A set of heartbreaking colour portraits of Jews in the Polish ghettos of Kutno and Warsaw, taken between 1938 and 1940, were published for the first time by US magazine Life last week to coincide with the 72nd anniversary of the opening of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Shockingly, the photographs of apparently willing subjects were taken by high-ranking Nazi photographer Hugo Jaeger, whose colour and 3D-capable camera was supplied by the German hierarchy.
The photos show the residents of the ghettos apparently at ease with their photographer, smiling at the camera, with almost no military presence visible.
No less remarkable than the photos themselves is the manner in which they reached Life magazine.
Towards the end of the war, Allied troops found a satchel containing incriminating photographs of Hitler and the upper echelons of the Third Reich in Jaeger’s house, along with the photos of the ghettos.
Also in the satchel was a bottle of brandy and an ivory gambling toy. The soldiers failed to spot the photographs; instead they removed the bottle of brandy and the toy and sat down with them for a game. Jaeger drank and played with them, while the photos remained undiscovered in the satchel.
After the soldiers left, Jaeger buried the photos in metal jars in a field outside his town, and using a map he had drawn, dug them up a decade later and hid them in a Swiss bank. Finally, in 1965, he sold the photos to Life, which published them last week.