The Illusion of the Objective

ICRC Delegate Maurice Rossel and the Theresienstadt Photographs
By Sébastien Farré, Yan Schubert

The 36 photographs taken by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegate Maurice Rossel during his visit to the Theresienstadt ghetto, 23 June 1944, offer a valuable testimony for understanding the attitude of the ICRC in relation to the genocide of the Jewish European population during the Second World War. These iconographic documents are emblematic of the failure of the ICRC and raise issues and questions concerning the delegates’ visits to the ghettos and concentration camps. In contrast to the iconic photographs of the liberation of the camps, these images reveal the determination of the SS services to manipulate information diffused by the ICRC concerning internment in the concentration camps. As an intermediary between the Jewish charities, the Allied governments and the German authorities, the ICRC was restricted in its action to an extremely circumspect policy focused on gradual, slow progress. In this context, the visit of Dr Rossel constitutes a window on the policy of the ICRC concerning the “Jewish question”. In addition, the visit is representative of the work of the delegate as an humanitarian actor. The study of his methods is essential for understanding the use and function of photography by the ICRC during the Second World War.


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