The photo was taken during a meeting of the League of Nations. In September 1933, LIFE magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt (a German-born Jew) traveled to Geneva to document the event. Goebbels smiled at him until he learned that Eisenstaedt was Jewish – a moment Eisenstaedt captured in this photo. Goebbels was initially unaware that the man photographing him was a German-born Jew. At first, Goebbels indulged Eisenstaedt with a few photographs, showing him in a much more pleasant, if not jovial mood.
Not long after, it came to Goebbels’ attention and knowledge that Eisenstaedt was in fact Jewish. It is this information that abruptly changes his demeanor. 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”. His tense posture transmits an almost palpable enmity.
But how did Goebbels found out that the photographer was Jewish. No one know for sure but maybe the surname is what gave it away and Eisenstädt is a distinctly Jewish surname. It’s entirely possible that Goebbels was told his name and drew the easy conclusion that he was Jewish or at least of Jewish heritage.
In the 1985 book, Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt: A Self-Portrait, the then-87-year-old photographer discussed how the Goebbels picture came about:
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.