There are myriad books about the Holocaust, many of them memoirs. All are stories that need to be told, yet after a while it can be exhausting. But a work of forensic archaeology, in which a specialist historian of the Holocaust takes just one image, examines it closely and establishes who exactly is in it, how it came about and what happened afterwards, felt like a corrective to the anonymity of the poor dead bodies of Belsen ... For me, increasingly, less is more. There will be people who find Lower’s writing unemotional. She doesn’t feel the need to load her sentences with colourful words expressing feeling. She doesn’t imagine the green grass, the feelings of the mother who cannot protect her family, the callousness of the killers. Her writing is spare, with no adjectival intrusion. I welcome it. I don’t need to be told that shooting a woman and children beside a pit is brutal. The book is an act of calculated justice — turning the 'mass' in mass murder into the families, the people who suffered. Giving them something, however small. For me, that is its power ... To the murdered others, this book is an act of restitution.
Lower wants to do several things with this image. She hopes to discover who, exactly, the Jewish victims were: to say their names. Though she is an admirably dogged researcher — she uses, among other sources, live and videotaped witness testimonies, legal documents and grave excavations — in this she fails; their names are lost to history ... She also hopes to recreate the details of that day in Miropol and thus reveal the networks of complicity that made the Holocaust possible. Here, she succeeds with a vengeance: Her chapter The Aktion is devastating ... There is a vociferous debate among historians and photography critics about whether 'perpetrator photographs,' especially from the Nazi era, should be viewed. Some argue that they revictimize the victims. Lower, rightly, disputes this, though in a sparse and not especially illuminating way. Yet her book is a refutation of those who urge us not to look.
The personal narratives and photographs throughout are rich with heartbreaking detail into lives lost and the severe persecution of Ukrainian Jews ... No comparable title exists that focuses exclusively on the mysterious background behind one single photo, making this compelling history an essential read for World War II enthusiasts.