In September 1933, LIFE magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt traveled to Geneva to document a meeting of the League of Nations. One of the political figures at the gathering was Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, one of Hitlers most devout underlings and a man who became known for his “homicidal anti-Semitism.”
When Goebbels Learned the Photographer Was a Jew
Eisenstaedt was a German-born Jew. Not knowing this at first, Goebbels was initially friendly toward Eisenstaedt, who was able to capture a number of photos showing the Nazi politician in a good and cheerful mood (as in the photograph above).
However, Goebbels soon learned of the Jewish blood flowing through Eisenstaedt’s veins. Subsequently, when Eisenstaedt approached Goebbels for a candid portrait, the politician’s expression was very, very different. Instead of smiling, he scowled for the camera, and the famous photo that resulted shows the man wearing “eyes of hate”:
Eisenstaedt’s Account of His “Eyes of Hate” Photo
Here’s what Eisenstaedt later shared regarding experience:
I found him sitting alone at a folding table on the lawn of the hotel. I photographed him from a distance without him being aware of it. As documentary reportage, the picture may have some value: it suggests his aloofness. Later I found him at the same table surrounded by aides and bodyguards. Goebbels seemed so small, while his bodyguards were huge. I walked up close and photographed Goebbels. It was horrible. He looked up at me with an expression full of hate. The result, however, was a much stronger photograph. There is no substitute for close personal contact and involvement with a subject, no matter how unpleasant it may be. [#]
He looked at me with hateful eyes and waited for me to wither. But I didn’t wither. If I have a camera in my hand, I don’t know fear. [#]
This powerful photograph would become one of Eisenstaedt’s most famous images, though he did shoot an even more iconic just months after Goebbels committed suicide at the end of World War II.
On August 14, 1945, Eisenstaedt photograph a sailor celebrating Japan’s surrender by kissing a random nurse in New York City. The photo came to be known as “V-J Day in Times Square.”
P.S. This photograph is reminiscent of Yousuf Karsh’s famous portrait of Winston Churchill, in which Karsh elicited a scowl from Churchill by stealing the cigar that was in Churchill’s mouth.
Image credits: Photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt/LIFE Magazine