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January 19, 1996 - Image 32

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-01-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Close Up
The Picture Man

The

Picture

RONNI DREYFUSS

SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

From two steamer

trunks full of

photographs,

Otto Bettmann

built the world's

largest picture

archive.

he Nazi border guards thought he was crazy.
"Ein birchen verruckt," they murmured, staring in
amazement at the contents of 32-year-old Otto
bulging luggage. "(He's) some kind of nut."
st Jews attempted to smuggle family heirlooms and
Most
other valuables out of Germany when they fled to the Unit-
ed States before 1939. But the guards could not imagine why
this slight, scholarly-looking refugee's two steamer trunks
were crammed full of musty old pictures.
With a pitying glance, they allowed Dr. Bettmann to board
the S.S. Staatendam in Rotterdam. Little did they know
the "useless" pictures would pave the way for the Bettmann Archive — a
repository of images used for a fee in textbooks, newspapers, books, ad
campaigns and T-shirts that was sold for multimillions in November to
computer magnate Bill Gates.
"I felt like Dostoyevsky in front of the firing squad, reprieved five min-
utes before his execution," said Dr. Bettmann, now 92, from
Opposite Page:
his apartment in Deerfield Beach, Fla. "Of course, Dos-
Otto Bettmann:
toyevsky then faced four years of servitude in Siberia. I was
In the picture
business.
sentenced to paradise."

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