Saturday, July 02, 2011


A crudely-erected obstacle course for the rider of this BMW R51
A laborer in New Jersey regularly cut the grass of an elderly German man, upon whose death he inherited 50,000 baseball trading cards, and a photo album which was clearly from a professional photographer during WW2.  The album held a curious blend of very personal snapshots, such as convalescing in a hospital, contrasted with closeups of Hitler and other heads of state during the eastward push of the Wehrmacht across the Soviet Union towards Stalingrad during 1941-2.
The mystery photo album
The laborer borrowed money from a New York garment district executive, and when he was unable to repay the loan, the exec was happy to take the baseball cards and photo album and settle the debt, recognizing the value of all-access photos of Hitler, obviously assembled by a professional photographer, although they bore no identification. This New Yorker recently fell on hard times after quadruple-bypass heart surgery, and anonymously contacted the New York Times to help identify the photographer, and to help value and sell the photographs, anonymously.  The Times put the story online in late June, in association with Der Spiegel, and within 3 hours the mystery of the album was solved via the internet.
A slowly advancing German military column, somewhere in the Ukraine, 1941.  Note the horses pulling Howitzers
Franz Krieger was a professional photographer in Salzburg between 1938-41, working on staff for the Nazi propaganda ministry, and very briefly joined the SS police in 1941, before quitting that notoriously nasty group, and joining the Goebbel's Propogandakompanie, which followed the military into battle, documenting the rapid advance of Hitler's army eastward, after Germany broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Agression Pact, which had made temporary allies of Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939.  Hitler needed Ukraine's grain, and the oil fields of the Caucasus, to fuel his war machine, and invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.  Stalin's pact with Hitler was sheer expedience, as Hitler's autobiography and political blueprint 'Mein Kampf' ('My Struggle') laid out a plan to exterminate or deport to Siberia all 'subhuman' Russians in the valuable grain and oil fields of the western USSR.  Stalin may have been simply buying time in 1939 to bolster his military, expecting to defend against an inevitable German invasion.
Two Propogandakompanie soldiers film the destruction of Minsk
Krieger documented the fall of Minsk and areas of the Ukraine, photographing ethnic Russian and Jewish prisoners taken along the way, the destruction of cities and towns, and the toll taken on German soldiers as well.  As the Propogandakompanie went further into the Soviet Union, Krieger quit the SS photo unit, and was sent to Bregenz (in Austria) to train as a simple soldier, becoming a supply-truck driver.  Krieger's move away from the elite and ideologically-driven SS (police and photo units) to the non-combatant status of a driver, hint that his initial enthusiasm for the Nazi party gave way to a distaste for the realities of war.  His imagery changed from the pageantry of pre-war parades and rallies in Salzburg, historic meetings between heads of state, to troop movements, destroyed homes, ethnic and military prisoners (and the horrors of their treatment), and haunted German soldiers.
Training to ride a DKW RT125 over a tipping board...
While back in Germany in 1942, Krieger documented the Motor SportSchule, at which motorcyclists were trained for battle.  His photographs show the unusual tactics and crude equipment used to raise the skill level of military motorcyclists, including giant teeter-totters and suspended truck tires the riders had to negotiate.  The motorcycles in the photographs are a BMW R51 and DKW RT125, the BMW being quite a hot machine for training purposes; more typical for the military were BMW R71 sidevalve twins, which, ironically, were also made in the Soviet Union under license, and continue to be produced in modified form to this day in both Russia and China, as the Dnepr, Neval, Chiang Jiang, Yangtze, etc, making this the longest continuous-production motorcycle ever.
Two German infantry soldiers showing the toll of war on ordinary men
Krieger was sent back to the Eastern Front in 1942, just in time for the siege of Stalingrad, in which Soviet urban guerrilla tactics stymied the German army, who were trained for rapid heavy-artillery advances with air support, and not small-arms combat.  With the Germans mired in Stalingrad, a heavy winter combined with a slow buildup of Soviet troops, who eventually surrounded the city, led to the defeat of the Germans and the turning point of WW2.  Hitler had not secured his oil fields in the Middle East nor in Crimea, and could not supply bread for Germany from Ukranian fields; in truth his grand plans were finished, although it took two more years and millions more deaths to drive the point home.  The battle of Stalingrad itself cost 2 million lives on all sides.
Kriegers' self-portrait in the mirror of his Kompanie bus
Our photographer Krieger was lucky though, developing jaundice before things got ugly in Stalingrad, and was sent by train back to Germany in late 1942.  He survived the war, and died a merchant in Bavaria in 1993.  How his photo album arrived in New Jersey is still a mystery.
Propogandakompanie buses, as seen in several of the photos
The Minsk Opera House shortly after the German occupation.  Now known as the Bolshoi Theater of the Repulic of Belarus, the building was clearly spared by German guns...perhaps because Soviet fascist architecture was so similar to German fascist architecture!
3 gents before the SportSchule, in Kochel am See
A Soviet prisoner in the Minsk prison camp
A very young Soviet prisoner in Minsk wearing Red Army budenovka hat
The lucky Hepatitis...Krieger at his Bavarian hospital


camerabanger said...

I am one generation removed from the people who lived through and fought the Second World War. I have been blessed in that I have not had to experience any of the sorts of horrors that that generation did. But still there are pin-pricks of pain that certain words, places and images evoke in me. I suppose it has to do with growing up hearing the stories...
Everyone knows of people who would not buy a VW or a BMW product because of their association with the war effort. I won't argue the correctness of this but it always surprises me what a strong (almost scary) response I feel when I see pictures like these. This man was a talented photographer. What I feel is a testament not only to the subject matter but to his skill.
Once again, thanks for sharing this material.

The Vintagent said...

Yep, we have a lot of cultural baggage around this war, much of which has to do with repeated exploration/exploitation of the imagery and stories from that era; its powerful stuff.
And, most of the people involved were ordinary individuals, not monsters, although ordinary people are capable of monstrous acts: see Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Wounded Knee, Nanking, etc, etc. To think Nazi Germany was an exception in human history would be a grave error.

ATOM said...

Amazing post, great historical photo's.Thanks for posting.

Flying Pigeon said...

Great photos and a fascinating story. In other words what I have come to expect from the Vintagent.

Just a point: The Chang-Jiang and the various Russian boxers are NOT R71s, maybe with the exception of the very,very early Russian bikes, rather they are different limbs on the boxer family tree.

The CJs sidevalves have not been produced for sometime but could be built from parts. CJs in general are the object of a big custom bike business in China.

The CJ was a brand, like many other brands, and had various upgrades over it's lifetime. These included various technical improvements, even in sidevalve form, over the R71, although the execution of the engineering improvements could be dubious.

The last CJs were OVH, 12V, electric start, with complete fiberglass fairings for the bike and and a fiberglass body for the side car. The frame was a perimeter frame similar (but not exactly like) a BMW /5.

Nonetheless I would have to say that the CJs I rode in China shifted much more smoothly than the BMW /2s in my garage now.

Pipérade said...

Those dispatch riders in the Wehrmacht should count their lucky stars that they were given BMWs or Zundapps to ride..
On the Allied side the choice was usually between a BSA M20, a 350 Matchless or a 750 HD.
I once read somewhere that the M20 was so designed such that it would be impossible for the average Tommy to derive any pleasure from the riding of one.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
the world is small. Very much smaller than we think!
Photographer Franz Krieger is the late father of a schoolmate of mine.
The younger Franz Krieger and me visited the school for weapon engineers (higher grade of gunsmith) in Ferlach/Kärnten from 1965 to 1970.
We are still in a loose contact and I informed him about mentioning his father in your really nice blog.

ian said...

mm very interesting... a photo collector in Europe just discovered this week a small group of original German agfacolor farbdias (color slides) from this same photographer. Posted on

here is the link to the new discovery.


Anonymous said...

Dear Paul,

I thought you might be interested to know that the WWII photo album you blogged about in July is now coming up for auction.

An uncommon Nazi album containing 214 photographs of military activities in Germany and the Soviet Union, in addition to images of the photographer's personal life. The photographs were largely shot and, apparently, sequenced and compiled by Franz Krieger, an Austrian-national soldier. Krieger joined, and then quit, a Wehrmacht propaganda unit known as the Propagandakompanie (a.k.a. "Reichs Autozug Deutschland" [Reichs Automobile Platoon]). With compelling images of Jewish and Red Army political prisoners in Minsk, the Jewish ghetto, Hitler meeting Adm. Horthy in Marienburg, in addition to scenes of Nazi soldiers at the Eastern Front, self-portraits (including a few of Krieger recovering in a hospital), motorcycle demonstrations, and snapshots of the photographer and his paramour on holiday. Silver prints, 2 3/4x4 inches (7x10.2 cm.), 4 to 5 tipped to a page. Oblong 4to, green leatherette; ties; condition of the prints is generally excellent. 1941-1942

Let me know what you think.



Rebecca Weiss
Communications Director
Swann Galleries
104 East 25th Street
New York, NY 10010
212-254-4710, ext. 23

"J.M." said...

Hello Paul,
Thanks for this post-all be it coming at a very late date-from me. I have been asked by the gentleman mentioned in your original posting about this incredible and controversial album, to assist in its sale.
I wanted to make a comment here and see if anyone including the folks at Swann would be interested in purchasing/aiding in the sale.
The health of the gentleman you mentioned has deteriorated, he is interested in selling the album.
Out of respect for those that commented on this post before me, I must tell you that the images are chilling and carry a rare, nervous energy or their own. As a person completely removed from this part of world history, and an amateur photographer myself, it has become clear to me that this is an extremely rare collection of photos, regardless of the controversial and negative nature of the subjects within. History tells us about Hitler and his minion, but what are the stories of the prisoners pictured in them? In addition, one is forced to wonder about Krieger's story and how the war affected him and his family, regardless of how difficult it is to find empathy for those involved in the Nazi era. Anyone (seriously) interested in this album should contact me via email.
Best regards,