The Historama
Alex Ben-Arieh
P.O.Box 32128
Tel Aviv, Israel 61321
Phone: +972-547-680-086
Fax: +972-3-546-1971

History in Your Hands:
The Story Behind a Photograph of an Execution

This article is an experiment in analyzing an anonymous historical document. I chose an item which peaked my curiosity, knowing ahead of time that I had no idea what story lay behind it.

Although I could have studied it on my own and release any findings at a later date - thereby looking successful in my research retroactively, I thought it would be more worthwhile to invite the reader to join me in this inquiry.

I don't know what I will discover about this item, but the journey to locating its origins will be stimulating at the very least...

The item under examination is a photograph I acquired in Israel in 2005. It's at least a third smaller in reality than it appears here. It's a black and white photograph of an execution (by hanging), somewhere, in some place, by certain agents on a date unknown. All the additional information that this photograph yields is on the reverse: in pencil, someone wrote the number "228", in much lighter writing the number "1940", and the paper of the print has a horizontal diamond logo with very light - and as yet indistinguishable - letters.

I will write this article in diary form with dates, as the research will be ongoing and updates periodic. This is what it takes to start research with few clues from scratch... using a x10 loupe:

7 June 2005: I'm beginning the research with a few observations and principles. First, I'll establish a date for the photograph based on details drawn from it, as opposed to merely relying on - perhaps - "1940" as being the date; perhaps "1940" will simply corroborate details in the picture. Second, from the general appearance of the surroundings (the peaked long windows on one of the buldings), it seems that the location may be somewhere in the Balkans or in a place with middle eastern influences. But to determine that, I'll be looking for signs and writing, hopefully using Cyrillic characters. Uniforms may also indicate the country.

Setting off: with much strain, one detail I have seen is a sign behind the monument which reads "Salon Grand" - unfortunately, all in Latin characters. I haven't managed to identify the uniforms yet, but the appearance of the headwear looks like the distinctive Serbian caps (maybe even the Romanian field caps) and German-styled helmets. However, the Yugoslav Army wore French, not German helmets and the Romanian Army wore Dutch steel helmets). No progress for me there yet... And if the date really is 1940, but the location is not Poland or Western Europe then the soldiers won't be German either.

1 Dec. 2005: Apologies for the delay in updating the article. The photograph was on loan for a while, so my new entry is late. A closer examination of the picture raises more questions than it answers, but those questions may open up an original direction to identifying its source.

For a start, many of the people in the picture are wearing head-dress that looks either Arabian or religious Christian. One person appears to be wearing an Arab 'Keffiyeh' in white. There are also several civilians in white jackets or suits, suggesting perhaps, a hot climate (North Africa? Egypt?). So far there is no other identifiable latin lettering anywhere, but one of the signs over the shops on the left appears to be in Arabic - I'll have to ask someone to attempt to read it.

As regards the uniforms, among the uniformed personnel are a few wearing white or khaki pith helmets. The dark (black?) hats of the other men may even be in the French 'kepi' (i.e. not Serbian) style. The steel helmets of the men by the central lamp post are still difficult to see, but they do not look like French Adrian helmets.

In closing this entry, I need to investigate more closely if there is any chance that this scene is non-European. One key that may help is determining which side of the cars the drivers would drive on - on the right would indicate a British colony; on the left... well, not a British colony. Given the non-British uniforms, this is likely not a then-current or former British colony, but if the scene is non-European, I have to determine under whose influence it is. Another question: which countries or cultures would have condoned executions by hanging (and in what manner). All these unknowns will keep us hanging until the next entry...