Boy An Icon For Childhoods Lost In Holocaust In The Boy: A Holocaust Story, Dan Porat tells the story behind a photo taken during the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto that shows a young boy raising his arms in surrender to an SS soldier. Porat says the image represents the traumatic experience shared by many.
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Boy An Icon For Childhoods Lost In Holocaust

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Boy An Icon For Childhoods Lost In Holocaust

Boy An Icon For Childhoods Lost In Holocaust

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There's a picture from the Second World War that's probably been seared into the minds and souls of millions since it was seen - a young boy in short pants, a long coat and a cap with his arms raised in surrender as men in German uniforms point powerful guns at him. The little boy has thin, fragile legs and a look of confusion and terror on his face.

Dan Porat, who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has written a book which tries to help us look deeply into that picture, and history, looking for what happened to the boy, the man who pointed his gun, the woman in front of the column of prisoners who looks back in concern, the man who snapped the photograph, and the general who ordered the operation, as well as millions of people we cannot see.

His book is called "The Boy: A Holocaust Story." Dan Porat joins us from WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks so much for being with us.

Professor DAN PORAT (Hebrew University of Jerusalem): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And all these years later, what do we know for certain about that photo?

Mr. PORAT: Not much. When we talk about the little boy, the one and only thing we can say definitively about him is that he's in all likelihood younger than 10 years old, because he doesn't have a Star of David on his clothing. What we can say is more about the Germans that are in this picture, primarily about the soldier holding his gun behind the little boy, who is - was arrested after World War II. His name is Josef Blosche.

SIMON: We know that this is a photo of the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto.

Mr. PORAT: Yes. It was basically incorporated within the report submitted by the notorious German General Jurgen Stroop to the leadership of the Nazis in Berlin, reporting about his achievement, so to say, of liquidating the entire Warsaw ghetto. And within this report he incorporated 52 photographs from the Warsaw ghetto liquidation. One of these photos is this iconic photo of this little boy.

SIMON: And I dare say, some of the hardest sections to read in your book are the quotations verbatim from that report, where General Stroop was clearly proud of what happened.

Mr. PORAT: Yes. For Stroop, he was mostly concerned about fulfilling and achieving and promoting his own career. From his point of view, he had to finish this mission as fast as possible. He promised to do it within three days. It ended up taking him more than four weeks. And this report, in part, is attempting to rehabilitate his inability to fulfill this mission within three days.

Stroop was also trying to convey his control of the forces, his control of the evacuation of the Jews in an orderly manner, and by that to rehabilitate his standing in Berlin.

SIMON: Who took the photograph?

Mr. PORAT: The photograph was in all likelihood taken by an administrative officer in the SS named Franz Konrad. He was in fact a member of the Social Democratic Party, and it was only later that when he was caught by the Austrian police after stealing 900 shilling from his employer that he was taken into the Nazi Party by his attorney and the Nazi Party supported him while he was jail and then he joined the Nazi ranks. During the revolt he was commanded by Stroop to join him wherever he went in the ghetto and he was carrying a camera on his shoulder and taking most of these photos that are incorporated in this victory album of the Nazis.

SIMON: Who was the woman who looked back in concern?

Mr. PORAT: Frankly, we do not know her name. We do not know any name of any of the Jews within this photo. In my book, I do portray the story of one woman, Rifka Dravkavich(ph), who in all likelihood saw these Nazis taking photos. I cannot say whether she saw them taking this specific photo or any one of the other photos, but she reports coming out of the bunker and seeing a group of Nazis taking photos repeatedly.

SIMON: What happened to Konrad, the photographer?

Mr. PORAT: Konrad was caught by the Americans, the CIC, the predecessor of the CIA, in the summer of 1945 after the CIC got a tip that Konrad is holding onto the personal diaries of Hitler. The CIC ends up catching Konrad and finding instead a pair of shredded trousers of Hitler. When asked why was he possessing these, he responded that he was planning to sell them in America for a lot of money.

He was then extradited to Poland, stood trial together with Stroop, was convicted of execute - of killing, murdering seven Jews, and sending about a thousand others to the death camps, and was executed together with Stroop in March of 1952.

SIMON: And Joseph Blosche, the man pointing his gun at the little boy?

Prof. PORAT: At the end of the war, Blosche was caught by the Soviets, but they did not associate him in any way or manner with the SS. And he would end up marrying and becoming a loving and caring father. His wife would testify later that he would care and worry about each and every ailment of their children. And for 19 years they lived a happy marriage.

His wife probably did not know about his past. In January of 1967, the German Stasi, the secret service - East German secret service - gets a tip that Blosche is living in a small town in East Germany and they arrest him.

Already on his second day in the investigation room, the Stasi presents him with the photograph of the little boy. And on the back of that photo - and I held this photo in my hands in Berlin - he wrote in his handwriting that I am the SS man with a rifle in his hands in a combat position and with a helmet on his head, aiming my rifle at the little boy, signed Josef Blosche, Berlin.

He was to go through interrogations for two and a half additional years. And in July of 1969, he was executed, his body and belongings cremated and buried in an unknown location in East Germany.

SIMON: So who is the little boy and what happened to him?

Prof. PORAT: The exact identity of the little boy, I believe, will never be known. But in fact, I know of at least seven or eight claims to the identity of the little boy, ranging from Australia to Israel to Poland to France to England, and one in the United States.

A physician living in New York was believed by many to be the little boy...

SIMON: We should say, Dr. Tsvi Nussbaum.

Prof. PORAT: Yes, Dr. Tsvi Nussbaum. I must say, he took that claim hesitantly. He never stated it in definitive terms. And unfortunately, I believe he is not the little boy, although this photograph very much represents his traumatic experience, his traumatic moment in the Holocaust.

SIMON: You do find it in a way fitting that we can't we really personalize this photo too much.

Prof. PORAT: That's correct. This photo has become an icon. This is a photo that represents so many survivors whose childhood was robbed away from them by the German Nazis. And this boy stands for that childhood that went missing.

SIMON: Dan Porat of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His new book is "The Boy: A Holocaust Story."

Dan, thank you very much.

Prof. PORAT: My pleasure.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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