Days of Art #43: Never Wither

Alfred Eisenstaedt was a German-born Jewish photographer who reached fame for his street shots and work for Life Magazine. (See our series on the History of Street Photography, Part 5, for more on “Eisie” and his work.) Although he was a German World War 1 wounded veteran, by 1933, Shitler’s Nazis had risen to power, and it was clear that the climate had shifted. It was no longer safe to be a Jew in Germany.

Albert Eisenstaedt, 1932, Germany

Albert Eisenstaedt, 1932

In September 1933, Eisenstaedt was an accredited journalist, working on assignment to cover the seventy-sixth session of the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. There he encountered Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, who was Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda under German President Paul von Hindenburg and Chancellor Adolph Shitler, and would later become Shitler’s chief in charge of pushing his race-hatred-based agenda. Shitler intended to purge Jews from Germany and establish a New World Disorder. Dr. Joseph Goebbels would be his mouthpiece. In November 1933, Nazi Germany withdrew from the League of Nations, and the events leading up to World War 2 had begun. Shitler would be made Fuhrer (German for Chief Psychopath) the next year.

Between 22 and 29 September of 1933, however, Goebbels is in full-on charm display. He sits in a chair, smiles at someone he knows to Eisenstaedt’s left. Eisie begins working. Moments later, with two staffers nearby, Goebbels spots Eisie, and glares, giving him the now-infamous, withering look. The diminutive Goebbels grips his chair. He is a small man, roughly 5’5″ and lost amidst his towering bodyguards, but he musters all the force of will he can display. The photographer is to leave his presence. The shot is not to be taken. Eisenstaedt doesn’t flinch; he takes the shot.

Always take the shot, even if Goebbels doesn't like it.

Left: Joseph Goebbels displays his hatred toward photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. It’s not clear that Goebbels knew Eisenstaedt was Jewish. However, he was occasionally friendly at first, albeit mostly aloof. There was a shift. Clearly, once the photographer moved in closely, Goebbels’s true persona came to the fore. Either he hated the photographer’s Jewish heritage, or he just hated for the sake of hating.


According to the photographer:

In 1933, I traveled to Lausanne and Geneva for the fifteenth session of the League of Nations.  There, sitting in the hotel garden, was Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda.  He smiles, but not at me.  He was looking at someone to my left. . . . Suddenly he spotted me and I snapped him.  His expression changed.  Here are the eyes of hate. Was I an enemy?  Behind him is his private secretary, Walter Naumann, with the goatee, and Hitler’s interpreter, Dr. Paul Schmidt. . . . I have been asked how I felt photographing these men. Naturally, not so good, but when I have a camera in my hand I know no fear.

Later, they encounter each other in the garden. He stares Eisie in the eye. Again, the photographer doesn’t flinch.

When I went up to him in the garden of the hotel, he looked at me with hateful eyes and waited for me to wither. But I didn’t wither. If I have a camera in my hand, I don’t know fear.”

Hell Yeah. Fuck Nazis. Fuck fear. Fuck all haters. Take the damned shot.

Art rules; especially the Art of Truth.

(Read more: Goebbels in Geneva, 1933: Behind a Classic Alfred Eisenstaedt Picture |


3 thoughts on “Days of Art #43: Never Wither

  1. Interesting to note that these days one might be tackled, wrestled to the ground, and have the memory card taken away . . . probably by the cops.

    People forget one can take whatever photos one wants at public events and in public places.

    Liked by 1 person

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