© Margaret Bourke-White, April 1945, Liberation of KZ Buchenwald a.o.
Some photographs are so much of their time that, as years pass, they acquire an air of genuine authority — about an event, a person, a place — and even, perhaps, of inevitability. This is what it was like, these pictures tell us. This is what happened. This is the moment. This is what must be remembered.
Of the many indispensable photos (#4 - at the bottom) made during the Second World War, Margaret Bourke-White’s portrait of survivors at Buchenwald in April 1945 — “staring out at their Allied rescuers,” as LIFE magazine put it, “like so many living corpses” — remains among the most haunting. The faces of the men, young and old, staring from behind the wire, “barely able to believe that they would be delivered from a Nazi camp where the only deliverance had been death,” attest with an awful eloquence to the depths of human depravity and, perhaps even more powerfully, to the measureless lineaments of human endurance.
What few people recall about Bourke-White’s survivors-at-the-wire image, however, is that it did not even appear in LIFE until 15 years after it was made, when it was published alongside other photographic touchstones in the magazine’s December 26, 1960, special double-issue, “25 Years of LIFE.” (read more)
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