All the major national archives of the former belligerent countries, such as the German Federal Archives, the National Archives in the United States or even the Imperial War Museum in London, have photo collections that are of great importance for the history of the Second World War. As a rule, these are official photos for propaganda purposes.

However, many soldiers also went to war with their own cameras. Consequently, amateur photography is another source of great importance, especially for research into everyday military life. The quality of the photographic equipment is often lower than that of the propaganda photographers and the images are generally repetitive and conventional compared to the material produced by professionals. Moreover, the latter are rarely preserved by archives and more often remain in the possession of their creators' families or can be found at flea markets and on the internet.

Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv (Photo Archive of the German Federal Archives; Fund Bild 101 I-III)

© BArch, Bild 101I-303-0587-07 / phot. Funke

Many of the pictures shown on our website were taken by photographers who accompanied the armed forces and produced propaganda material. They come from the picture archive of the Federal Archives in Koblenz. As far as the Italian theatre of war is concerned, their number can be estimated at about 25,000 pictures spread over 70 albums. About 100 Wehrmacht photographers were active in Italy, at least half of whom left behind extensive photographic material. Unfortunately, the collection is not complete due to wartime losses from bombing and looting.

The period actually covered stretches from 1942 to the late summer of 1944. Apart from the obvious subjects of propaganda and "war tourism", the German photographers also paid special attention to the everyday life of the population in the cities and in the countryside. This makes this fund one of the largest visual archives of Italy's history during the Second World War. Rediscovered as historical sources in the 1990s, some of these images have become part of the memory of the German occupation of Italy.

In recent years, questionable digitisation measures by the German Federal Archives and the subsequent destruction of the original negatives have meant that some of the material is no longer available in acceptable quality.

The private photographic archive of Nils Olger

© Nils Olger

In 2013, Austrian filmmaker Nils Olger found a metal box in his grandparents' house containing 12 films and around 400 photographs of his grandfather Olaf Jürgenssen, who served as a medical officer with the Panzer Reconnaissance battalion of the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division 'Reichsführer-SS' in 1944. In 2018, Olger made a documentary film entitled “Eine eiserne Kassette” (An Iron Cassette). He succeeded in reconstructing his grandfather's story because he was able to identify some of the locations in the photographs and draw on new historical evidence. Some of the photos show Vinca and its surroundings in the days of the massacre committed there.

The private archive of the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division “Reichsführer-SS”

This private collection contains several dozen negatives and prints of pictures taken in connection with the wartime operations of the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division "Reichsführer-SS" between 1943 and 1945. These are reproductions of original pictures collected after the war by members of the division's veterans' association. The photos were made available to us on condition of anonymity.

The private archive of Carlo Gentile

The collection contains documents and pictures of the war in Italy that were given to the historian Carlo Gentile by family members of former German soldiers. Of particular interest is the material documenting the social activities of an association of SS veterans and their families in post-war Germany. The photos were made available to Gentile on condition of anonymity.

The photo collections at NARA

The National Archives in Washington DC, USA, preserve extensive documentation on the investigation conducted by the Judge Advocate General of the Fifth Army into war crimes committed by German troops in Italy (Record Group 153, Judge Advocate General (Army), War Crimes Branch, 1944-49), Entry 143). This also includes photos of alleged perpetrators, victims and the exhumation of their bodies. Particularly noteworthy are the photos taken by the priest Don Innocenzo Lazzeri in the days after the massacre in Sant'Anna di Stazzema, as well as photos related to the massacre in Casalecchio di Reno and Sant'Anna Morosina.

The aerial reconnaissance holdings (Record Group 373: Records of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Aerial Photography of the Defense Intelligence Agency, 1935-1971) contain images of the sites of the massacres of great historical value, including the areas of Monte Sole, Sant'Anna di Stazzema and Vallucciole.

Film Collection of the City of Bologna (Cineteca di Bologna)

Walter Reder at the entrance to the military courtroom in Bologna, September 1951. © Cineteca di Bologna / Fondo Ufficio Stampa - Comune di Bologna

The photo library of the Cineteca di Bologna keeps pictures showing the trial of Walter Reder before the military court there. These are photographs taken by photojournalists sent to report for the newspapers and collected in the Aldo Ferrari Fund and that of the city's press office.