'Camp Weinberg near Zossen' and 'Zossen 1914-17'

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Description

The three pictures show prisoners of war photographed by Otto Stiehl, who was assigned to the headquarters of both propaganda camps near Berlin.

Context

After the first few weeks of intense fighting, Germany was confronted with far more prisoners of war than expected. The military leadership had not expected the war to last more than a couple of months. Realising that their infrastructure did not meet the demands of a long war, the German government had to provide housing for hundreds of thousands of prisoners. Otto Stiehl (1860-1940), a professional architect, volunteered for the military in 1915 and, due to his experience in construction, was assigned to the headquarters of the two propaganda camps close to Berlin, first to the Weinberglager and later to the Halbmondlager. The two camps predominantly housed Muslim prisoners of war from the Entente’s colonies, as well as South Asians from various sects. The aims of the propaganda sought to portray Germany as an ally of the Muslim world, in order to foment the prisoners against the colonial powers. These prisoners were given food that complied with their religious traditions and they received proper housing and education in contrast with regular prisoners of war. Excursions to nearby Berlin were also part of this policy of favourable treatment. Through this propaganda trope of Muslim-German friendship, Germany hoped to recruit from these ranks troops for the Ottoman Army. Otto Stiehl started to take pictures of everyday life in the camps. Since they were never intended to be published, these images differ from official propaganda photography and give insights into the daily life of the prisoners. These pictures were kept in the two private photo albums that are now on display within the collections of the Museum Europäischer Kulturen in Berlin. In 1916, Stiehl published selected portraits in the propaganda publication Unsere Feinde. 96 Charakterköpfe aus deutschen Kriegsgefangenenlagern, in which he categorised the prisoners of war according to racial types, reflecting anthropological and ethnological theories of that time. After receiving permission for publication from the Ministry of War, the book was translated into Swedish and Dutch to counter rumours circulating in neutral countries that POWs were subject to bad treatment in German captivity. Around 40.000 copies were sold. As a consequence, Stiehl was seen as an expert in anthropological circles. Stiehl used his photographs for public lectures such as one on 'Ethnography in POW Camps', given in 1917 at the Senckenberg Institute in Frankfurt. Stiehl accompanied the last group of volunteering POWs to Istanbul, who were sent to fight with Ottoman comrades against the Entente. After the war, Stiehl took up his profession again until he retired in 1923. In 1924, Stiehl became a member of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory and published in the field of architecture.