Picture Research

I am in the middle of picture research for the book. It is a fascinating exercise, trying to marry the text which I have worked on for six years with images that add to the story. We had long discussions with the editors about the pictures, should there be a plate section with 8-16 pictures in the centre of the book? Should the images be dispersed throughout the manuscript at points relevant to the story? We have opted for both! I wanted the chance to show the evidence as the story progressed, to add dimensions to the narrative using pertinent army orders, letters, and other evidentiary texts.

Hanns Alexander enlistment papers

Hanns Alexander enlistment papers

Rudolf Höss' villa in Auschwitz where the family lived 1940-1944

Rudolf Höss' villa in Auschwitz where the family lived 1940-1944

We are now waiting for the first proof to come back from the typesetter to see how this all works. It could be a disaster! Or it could really gel. While the typesetters are busy I am contacting the various sources that control the rights to the images. My family owns many of the images, so that helps, but I must also contact some of the key Holocaust centres of research, Yad Vashem in Israel, US Holocaust Museum in DC, Imperial War Museum in London, the Auschwitz Museum in Poland, various German archives... it is a lot of work! But I enjoy this kind of thing. I have to be methodical and patient, not two of my best virtues. It also gives me the chance to think about what images will contribute to the story, and which I can lose. For instance, I have a photograph of the handcuffs that were actually used on Rudolf Höss. Is this something that we should include? Is it too blunt? Too distracting? Too much of a gimmick? Equally, I have a copy of Hanns' exit certificate from Germany, will the reader find this interesting? If I include this, should I also include a copy of his entry stamp to England, his German passport, his enlistment papers, his naturalisation certificate and on and on. You get the picture. And then there is the house where the Höss family lived for so many years. The problem is that I took this photograph in 2009, sixty years after the family lived at the house, and while it is similar, it is not the same. For example, I was told by locals that the attic has been raised and the building has now been divided into two apartments. It is the same... but not quite the same, and the difference is important. 

As I progress down this road I also bump into new pictures which suddenly appear important, critical to the success of the book, but probably too late to include, and sure to irritate the publishers who are already dealing with a multitude of jpg, tiff and pdf files. For instance, I recently found a photograph of the Alexander family's synagogue in Berlin that was destroyed during Kristallnacht. That strikes me as a sure winner for the book, it shows the jeopardy close to the central family in the story. But sometimes such images are best left to the imagination, and perhaps we already have too many images.... Much to ponder over.