JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
Aside from the strong impact that this 1918 image [the original available at our blog bookstore, here] makes, the enormous mounds of clothing of captured German solders that were routinely handled as part of their processing, it struck a deeper chord to an older image still (that we'll see below). The photograph seems threatening to me, even though the action taking place in it wasn't, it was mundane--the men, who I believe are German POW's, are processing the clothing for disinfection and cleaning. But the size of the mound reminds us of the magnitude of the numbers of the dozens of millions who were killed during WWI, as well as the millions who were taken prisoner. What remains to be said about this image is how often that pile of clothing was replaced: is it a monthly, or weekly, or daily pile? My guess is that it was more daily than anything else, if for no other reason than there is an enormous oil lamp in the background of the photo, suggesting that the process went on all day and into the night. My initial reaction is that this pile was replicated often during any given month....
And the image it reminds me of are those made of the enormous mounds of buffalo hides, piles readied for shipment away from the Plains by rail.
I am in no way suggesting that the prisoner were skinned like the buffalo, not in any way. But they do bear a resemblance in the way that thousands of men or buffalo could be represented in such a compact space, flattened husks of the living thing, gross representations of big numbers.