Images of Dora
With camera and pencil, artists documented Dora and presented the perspective of the regime and its victims. Some artists left powerful visual evidence of the ambition and efficiency of the high–tech V–2 program and the efforts to sanitize its brutality. Others recorded the intense suffering and death of the prison laborers.
Walter Frentz, known as Hitler’s favorite photographer, was commissioned by Albert Speer, German Armaments Minister, to photograph and film rocket assembly at Mittelwerk, the underground factory at Dora. Speer intended the photos to persuade Hitler to maintain support for the V–2 program. Frentz and a team of assistants visited Dora in early summer of 1944 and took specially staged photographs to showcase the efficiency of forced labor and the vast scale of the cavernous factory. The photographs are significant for their early use of Agfa color film. They are also striking examples of propaganda, showcasing only skilled assembly work, not back–breaking excavation and construction work, and featuring relatively healthy prisoners in clean clothing hand–picked for the photo shoot. The photographs also omit the presence of the SS and Wehrmacht in the factory, as well as the “kapos,” prisoners charged with supervising other prisoners, often with notorious brutality.
In powerful contrast to the sanitized Frentz photos are the sketches and drawings completed by prisoners who survived Dora. These images feature prisoners engaging in exhausting manual labor under the control of stick-wielding kapos, piles of emaciated dead bodies, corpses burning on open pyres, and public hangings. The artwork was prepared secretly by prisoners who had privileged status based on SS recognition of their distinguished artistic backgrounds, including Léon Delarbre, a painter, museum curator, and member of the French resistance, and Maurice de La Pintière, an art student pinpointed as official portraitist for the camp and also charged with painting barracks. These artists worked in offices, workshops, and supply stores under the supervision of German civilians rather than SS guards, which gave them access to paper such as envelopes salvaged from trash cans, and pencils, some privacy for drawing, and access to hiding places for their images. The artists carefully documented atrocities at Dora to which they were witnesses, even though they personally escaped the worst ravages. At the time of Dora’s dissolution in April 1945, they risked their lives to smuggle the drawings, which they recognized as valuable historical evidence, out of the camp. These artists and others also created additional drawings following the war.
Dora remains an object of fascination and horror today. Tourists and professionals photograph the site and the remaining evidence of the wartime atrocities.