Sunday, April 29, 2012

Photographic Studios in the German occupied territories and the NKVD

During WWII countless cases of espionage and betrayal were discovered by each country. Some were exceedingly devious. One such case concerns the use of photographic studios by the Germans and their Allies in the East.

In the Eastern front the German security services were waging a silent war against Soviet intelligence. In order to keep the population under control they created security and police forces loyal to them. The people organized in these agencies needed security papers with their photographs and personal details.

Photographic studios in the Soviet territories were few and it seems the owners had a connection with the NKVD. During the German occupation the people in these studios were able to provide the NKVD with the pictures and addresses of the people working for the Germans. In many cases they also tried to compromise German personnel.

Eventually the Germans managed to uncover this operation but by then it was too late…

The relevant information is available from FMS P-122German Counterintelligence Activities in Occupied Russia 1941-45' by  Wladimir W. Posdnjakoff, p128-30 (available from fold3)

VI. Photographic Studios as Espionage Centers

The Soviets made clever use of photographic studios. German intelligence and counterintelligence agencies did not pay attention to these studios soon enough. In the Soviet Union their number was small, and the owners always had trouble securing the necessary film and other photographic materials. The NKVD kept the majority of them under its control and during, the occupation this agency exercised increasing pressure on its agents operating in these establishments. NKVD agents collected all the photographs made of German military personnel. On the basis of those pictures, the Soviets were able to follow the changes in uniforms, observe how decorations and medals wore worn as well as learn the names  and postal addresses of individual soldiers and their units. Incidentally, the Soviets thought for a long time that certain sports modals awarded to German soldiers, such as a medal depicting a sword or the head of a horse, were military decorations. No wonder that they were confused and did not know how those medals should be worn. The procedure followed by the photographer was simple, when the soldier called for his pictures, he was informed that the photographic paper was of such poor quality that the print would have to be made all over again. The photos would therefore be forwarded either to him or to his family.

The local inhabitants employed by the Germans, always needed photos for various identification purposes. Seldom did they refuse to give their addresses or the position they held. Thus Soviet intelligence secured a complete list of "betrayers of their country".

With these photographs the respective sections of NKVD easily prepared superimposed pictures, showing the suspect in question in the uniform of the NKVD or chatting in a friendly manner with a prominent Communist. Those superimposed photos were ideal for blackmailing those who refused to become Soviet spies. By using these methods, a Soviet agent known as "Count Trubetskoi" was responsible, for the death of many a Russian anticommunist in Gomel.

Expert Soviet agents were also able to use this form of blackmail on German military personnel. If for example a soldier was married and his home address known, his photograph was falsified to show him in a compromising situation with a woman. The agents then threatened to send this picture to his wife unless he disclosed some information, which at the beginning was only of a trifling nature. Late in 1943, some of the Abwehr agencies became interested in these photographic studios but by that time great harm had already been done. It was characteristic that the store owners obtained films and plates on the black market. Prices were high and such items were the most popular among the articles that German military personnel brought back from Germany for black-market purposes.

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