Picturing the War: the Sadler Collection

Being a historian of World War II puts you in touch with the most interesting people. It is a rare day that my email does not contain a message from someone I’ve never met before asking me a factual question about some aspect of the fighting, or calling my attention to a new book I ought to read, or asking my advice on some memorabilia that Dad or Granddad brought back from the war. Indeed, it’s one of the great aspects of studying World War II: you meet the nicest and most interesting people.

Today’s proof for that rule is Mr. Bruce Sadler of Evansville, in my former home state of Indiana. Bruce is a plain spoken guy, down to earth and a delight to talk to. He messaged me the other day out of the blue and told me that his father, Paul, had been a G.I. in the ETO, and had brought a photo album back with him when he returned to the states. My ears perked up, but only a little. Photos of World War II? Dime a dozen. It was the most photographed war of all time, after all, and anyone who studies it for a living begins to feel that he has seen every picture ever taken, anywhere.

But then Bruce sent me a couple of examples, and suddenly I wasn’t feeling so jaded. These are high quality images, 1940-43, in both France and the Soviet Union—beautifully composed, nicely lit, clearly the work of a professional German war photographer. They run the gamut from action shots in the field to staff meetings, parades and ceremonies, and the commonplace of everyday life. I know the photos of this war as well as any historian, and I hadn’t seen these before.

There’s a back story here. Paul paid some heavy dues for that photo album. On May 1, 1945, he arrived at a small Bavarian town named Dachau, two days after the U.S. Army liberated the camp there. Dachau was never officially an “extermination camp,” but by the end of the war, overcrowding, mass starvation, and epidemics of just about every contagious disease known to man had all down their awful work. Paul saw some scenes that, frankly, he didn’t feel like talking about in much detail—and he never really did.

He’s passed now, and his son Bruce is on an unusual quest: trying to identify the persons, places, and things in these photos, and perhaps even identify the original photographer. I told him I’d print a couple of images and see if The Best Informed Readership in America might have some hints. Let’s start with these two:

 

What about it, readers? Any thoughts?
 

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16 Responses

  1. Robert Carver, MA

    I don’t know who took these amazing photos but if Mr. Sadler needs an appropriate repository for his father’s album of photos we would love to add them to our collection at the National World War II Museum here in New Orleans. We were tasked by Congress to tell the story of WWII to the American people and pictures like these certainly would benefit our charter. Thanks for sharing them and I look forward to seeing more of them.

    Reply
    • Bruce Sadler

      Mr. Carver, Thanks for the offer. I feel that once the pictures are in a museum that no one will try to find out anything about the them. I have some 240 pictures and have been able to find some information on a few of them. I have been able to map out the the towns and have found that it goes from France 1933 to a small town in Russia. I do have a few copies of the pictures on display in a museum in Russia. The town was glad to get the pictures since it was taken a few weeks before it was blown up. It was one of the few photos that had the name of the town and date(in German) on the back.

      Reply
      • Robert Carver, MA

        Greetings Bruce: I work in the Collections/Curatorial Department at the museum and we are the folks tasked with accepting historic donations, cataloging the collection, writing the deed transferring the collection to the museum and then utilizing the material from the collection to tell the story of WWII. We obviously cannot use every photo we receive but there have been some excellent exhibits that have greatly benefited from having the appropriate photographs that communicate the history of the event being high-lighted. When we go through each photo we do our best to document every bit of information we can about what is depicted in the photo which goes into our computer database for future reference, retrieval and use. I wish you the best of luck and success in tracking down the information you seek about these fascinating pictures. Such history is important to be preserved for future generations.

  2. Mike H.

    These are new to me, too, but (if I read my Wehrmacht epaulets correctly), the gent in picture 1 in the helmet is a General officer; and is the same person on the right in Pic 2. Looks like he won the Iron Cross
    I and II (EK I und II) in the First World War, as the Eagle tab indicates…Hope that adds a clue.

    Reply
    • Bruc Sadlere

      Hi Mike, Thanks for the information. Did you happen to see the person in the black top hat. He is in the background between the officers. I have a another picture that shows a few men in black top hat. Any idea who would wear something like that??

      Reply
      • Alex Dekker

        For the first picture, I can’t tell which branche the most men are. The second from the right in de background is a police officer. The third (or second in the first row) is a NSKK-officer. I wish I could tell you who he was, unfortunately, I do not know. I’m a NSKK-specialist, but this face doesn’t look familiar.

        Further in the background are men from the army looking.

  3. Mike S.

    Photo 1 looks like Stepp Detrich (sp). He always favored wearing a helmet for headgear, rather then a soft cap.

    Photo 2 Is Rommel, the map in the background (on the wall) is of Northern France; So this picture was in all probability taken after Normandy and before the attempt on Hilter.

    Reply
    • Alex Dekker

      Negative. These men are not Dietrich or Rommel. Dietrich would be wearing a Waffen-SS uniform. Rommel had a Pour le Merite and a Knight’s Cross with oakleaves and swords, not to mention the rank. The man on the left is a major but not a fieldmarshall.

      Though the second pic shows an officer with ‘Wiederhohlungsspangen’, a sort of Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class rewarded during World War 2. This officer, (probaly a staff officer) was awarded the both crosses during World War One, hence the ‘Wiederhohlungsspangen’.

      Reply
  4. Eric Sadler

    Thanks to all for providing insightful information. My grandfather fought hard in WWII and had many stories that he was not comfortable sharing with us. My father (Bruce) has been working hard over the years to gather factual historical information about these photos and giving recognition to all soldiers who worked hard for the freedom we so much enjoy.

    Reply
  5. Rob Citino

    Thanks for weighing in, Eric. Your dad is a great guy! –RC

    Reply
  6. Brennan

    Great images – you may try posting them at a forum I frequent devoted to wartime photography. We have a number of historians who have similar negative collections who may be able to help. Pixpast.com

    Reply
    • Bruc Sadlere

      Brennan, Thanks for the information. I will check out the site.

      Bruce Sadler

      Reply
  7. Keith

    Hi, great heirloom. Google has a new feature where you can search using an image. Drag an image onto the search box in the image tab.
    If the image is on the net it will retrieve it. I did that with these two and came back to this site. If you scan in other photos you might start getting hits after using this function.
    Are there any markings on the back of the pictures that would provide clues?
    Good Luck.

    Reply
    • Bruce

      Keith, Thanks for the information. The only marking on the back are a set of numbers. Some of the photos did have the date and the towns name. There is also some that are stamped on the back: not censored by the military and political departments

      Reply
  8. Miguel Agreda

    The man in the second photo, right could be panzer. general Balck??

    Reply
  9. Bruce Sadler

    Since this article came out I have found out that the pictures where taken by a number of PK war correspondents such as Walter Henisch.
    If you would like to read some of the articles please Google “Bruce Sadler Dachau” The last article to come out was in the French News online. This will have a link to view all the pictures that are posted on Flickr.com

    Reply

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