Memories of World War II
by Paul A. Levengood
In walking through Memories of World War II: Photographs from the Archives of The Associated Press—an exhibition that just opened in the VHS galleries—I was struck by several things. Most prominent among them is that even though I have read a good deal on the period, I was amazed that so many of the magnificent black-and-white images were new to me. There is, for example, a shot that captures Adolf Hitler standing in a mixed group of German military officers and Polish civilians shortly after the September 1939 invasion. Though the smiling Hitler is trying to ingratiate himself with the Poles, they can’t even bring themselves to look at him, even the children. And the adults are clearly weeping.
These lesser-known images hang side by side with the iconic shots that I, and many of you, have seen in books and documentaries. They range from the inspiring image captured by Joe Rosenthal of the American flag being raised on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, to the haunting photo that captures the eyes of a young boy being rounded up by German soldiers along with other Jewish residents of the Warsaw Ghetto. Whether they are tragic or jubilant, all the images will leave a mark on viewers.
I hope that Memories of World War II can serve as an opportunity for parents and grandparents to visit the VHS with members of their families’ younger generations. The lessons of the past in these photographs connect more profoundly when they are accompanied by the stories of those who lived through the historic events of World War II—either in the line of fire or on the home front. I will lead a Gallery Walk on May 26. The exhibition runs through August 1.
Paul A. Levengood is President and CEO of the Virginia Historical Society.