Germany's best-selling newspaper, the tabloid Bild, ran a Tuesday edition online and in print without any of its customary flashy pictures.

The decision, wrote Julian Reichelt, Bild's editor-in-chief in a statement, "is a tribute to the power of images." It was framed as a riposte to critics of the newspaper who were upset that Bild ran images last week of the body of a drowned Syrian toddler on a Turkish beach.

The death of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi became an international news event, a vivid dramatization of the plight of Syrian refugees and the tragic risks they have taken to find safer sanctuary in Europe. Kurdi, his mother and 5-year-old brother were among a dozen Syrian refugees who died last week while attempting the dangerous crossing from the Turkish coast to Greece's island islands. The image of his drowned body, almost doll-like, lifted their story out of the grim statistics of a spiraling humanitarian disaster.

Bild often gets rebuked in Germany for some of its more lurid photo selections, but it used the present moment to moralize on the importance of pictures.

"Without photos, the world would be more ignorant, the weak would be lost and invisible," wrote Reichelt. "Without photos, many crimes would not only remain unpunished -- they would not even be remembered. Photos are the outcry of the world."

His memo invoked the role that photos of shocking scenes in Vietnam, Rwanda and elsewhere played in driving home the horrors of those particular conflicts. "[Graphic photographs] remind us that any civilization may collapse within a short time, and that it's human beings who open the gates of hell again and again, if we look away," Reichelt wrote.

Many major publications, including this one, wrestled internally with what particular images of Kurdi's death to print in their own pages. Others, in particular foreign correspondents who cover the Syrian conflict, were less ambivalent, and immediately shared the most haunting image -- a close-up of the toddler lying alone in the sand.

The Washington Post's Liz Sly received a bit of a backlash, with commenters on Twitter suggesting the act stripped young Kurdi of "dignity."

"This response puzzled me. What, exactly, in this context, is 'dignity'? How many photos of dead Syrian children show up on social media every day? Don’t people know what has been happening in Syria?" asked Sly. "And then it occurred to me — perhaps they don't."

Rick Noack contributed to this post.