The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/auschwitz//photos.01

Mark Van Alstine has transcribed some information about photographs
taken at the Auschwitz camp, from _Auschwitz: a History in Photographs_,
ed. by Teresa Swiebocka, published for the Auschwitz-Birkenau State
Museum by Indiana University Press, 1993.  Only minor formatting changes
have been made to his post.

From: (Mark Van Alstine)
Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Re: Photos Deny the Myth
Date: Tue, 13 Feb 1996 01:05:57 -0700

In article <4ff0nn$>, (Matt Giwer) wrote:

> In article <4f7le7$>, (Gord
McFee) says:

> >Fact is, although it was forbidden to do so, many SS took photographs of
> >their "work", among them Fritz Jacob and Max Taeubner.  Jacob's photographs
> >survive.
> It appears you are saying people were forbidden to take pictures of what you
> say the lack of pictures proves.  Would you like to explain?

Sure. Here it goes....


_Auschwitz: a history in photgraphs_, ISBN 0-253-35581-8; pp. 34-42:


"The Nazis wanted to record what they were doing, but on the other hand
they were aware that photogtaphs of concentration camps would be damning
evidence of their crimes. Accordingly, and in compliance with the general
directives of SS_Reichsfu"hrer Heinrich Himmler and the Inspectorate of
Concentration Camps, the Auschwitz authorities sought to forbid
unauthorized photography of anything connected with the camp, directly or
indirectly. Order No. 4/43, dated 2 February 1943 and signed by the camp's
commandant, SS_Obersturmbannfu"hrer Rudolf Ho"ss, was explicit on this>
Item 3 reads: 'I want to point out once more that taking pictures in the
camp is forbidden. I shall punish with the utmost severity those who do
not observe this order.' The only exception was for official photographs
specifically authorized.

"_Gestapo Photographs_

"At first, all photographs were made in a single laboratory known as the
Erkennungsdienst (Reconnaissance Service) which was supervised by the
Political Section--that is, the camp Gestapo. The head of the laboratory
was SS-Hauptscharfu"rer Berhardt Walter and his assistant was
SS-Unterscharfu"hrer Ernst Hofmann. The whole operation of developing the
film, fixing the negatives, and printing photographs and enlargements was
generally done by a team of ten to twelve prisoners. This process was
supervised by SS men to ensure that the negatives and prints did not fall
into the wrong hands. The finished photographs were handed over to the
authorized recipients and their delivery was recorded; duplicate and
defective prints scrupulously destroyed. Highly sensitive picture--for
example, those of executions or the burning of bodies--were developed by
the SS men themselves the most incriminating were printed only in a single
copy, and the negatives would be destroyed when they had been handed over
to the commandant.

A major part of the photographs in the Museum are contact prints of
headshots of prisoners: about 38,000, or just under 10 percent of the
people who were registered in the concentration camp for forced labor. In
this context, perhaps, it needs to be restated that Auschwitz had two
functions: it was the largest of the Nazi concentration camps used as an
instrument of terror and for forced labor, and later in the war it became
the main centre to which Jews were deported to be murdered. Prisoners sent
to Auschwitz in order to be interned there were registered and received
prisoner numbers; until 1943, most were also photographed. These
photographs comprised part of the camp records and were numbered
consecutively. The majority are of Polish prisoners, since prisoners were
photographed systematically only during the first years of the camp's
existence, when it was used mainly for Poles. Jews sent straight to the
gas chambers on arrival were not registered, had no prisoner numbers, and
were not photographed. Of the relatively few Jews who were selected on
arrival as beinfit fit for forced labor, only a very small proportion were
photographed. The consequence is that there are therefore very few
headshots of Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz; many of those which do exist
are of Jews who happened to have been among groups of political prisoners
sent to Auschwitz before 1942.

"The practice of photographing prisoners was largely discontinued in 1943,
except for particular groups of newcomers: Germans, for example, were
photographed until the very end. The Erkennungsdienst also took
photographs of captured partisans; of prisoners shot while trying to
escape; of prisoners who committed suicide rather than face torture; and
of the effects of medical experiments conducted on prisoners by SS
doctors. However, except for the latter category, virtually none of these
photographs have survived. Jews considered particularly 'interesting'
because of their physical features or dress were also brought to the
Erkennungsdienst to be photographed from time to time.

"When the Nazis evacuated Auschwitz, they tried to destroy the
photographs. Bronislaw Jureczek, a former Polish political prisoner,
described how the photographs survived:

   "At almost the last moment we were ordered to burn all the negatives and
   photographs which were in the Erkennungsdienst. First we put wet
   photographic paper and also photographs and then a large number of
   photographs and negatives into a tile stove in such large numbers as to
   block the exhaust outlet. This insured that when we set fire to the
   materials in the stove only the photographs  and negatives near the
   stove door would be consumed, and that the fire would later die out due
   to lack of air. After the war I learned that our assumption had been
   right, and that a high percentage of the photographs and negatives had
   survived and found their way into the right hands...Moreover, under the
   pretext of haste, I had deliberately scattered a number of photographs
   and negatives in the rooms of the labs. I knew that with the hurried
   evacuation of the camp, no one would have time to gather them all and
   that something would survive.

"Supervision of the laboratory by the camp Gestapo was very strict because
the photographs were considered top secret; even the slightest suspicion
of a prisoner could result in a death sentence. Even so, prisoners working
in the Gestapo photographic laboratory risked their lives may times to
smuggle material out of the camp. According to Alfred Woycicki, another
Pole who had worked in the laboratory:

   "Original photographs showing equipment and various scenes in the camp
   were sent out several times. In one case, they were pictures taken by
   someone i the women's section of Birkenau. I do not now the
   photographer's name. He was a Hauptscharfu"hrer who had been especially
   sent [to Auschwitz II-Birkenau] for this purpose by order of the RSHA.
   That was in late 1943 or early in 1944. The camp was informed about his
   arrival...He took a number of pictures in the women's camp and then
   brought then to the Erkennungsdienst on the same day to have them
   developed so he could decide if the pictures were good. Because of that,
   I saw all the pictures. Their contents so incriminated the camp
   authorities that I could not understand why they had been taken. One
   showed a pile of female bodies...Another showed the infirmary for women.
   Patients lay in total disorder; several naked and clearly exhausted.

"Woycicki later testified that in spite of the exceptional vigilance of
the SS he had managed to make one print of each photograph, and that these
were smuggled out of the camp. Unfortunately, like many other photographs
smuggled out of the camp, they have disappeared.

"_The Murder of the Jews of Hungary: How the Evidence Survived_

"The best known of the SS photographs are those taken to record the
arrival of the Jews from Hungary at Auschwitz II-Birkenau in 1944, the SS
doctors' selection of those to be murdered immediately by gassing, and how
the victims actually went to their deaths in the gas chambers. What is
less well known is how these photographs survived.

"The photographs come from an album found after the war by a Jewish
survivor of Auschwitz named Lili Jacob (later Zelmanovic, now Meir). She
came originally from Bilk, a small Slovak town annexed by Hungary in 1939.
The Jews of Bilk were forcibly relocated to the ghetto in Berehovo, and on
24 May 1944 they were deported from Berehovo to Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
When their train arrived there after an exhausting two-day journey, they
had to undergo the life-or-death selection conducted on the railway ramp
by SS doctors. Lili, then 18 tears old, her three elder brothers, and her
father survived the selection. They were designated by the SS doctors as
fit for work and were sent off for forced labor rather than to their
deaths in the gas chambers of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Other family members,
including her mother, two younger brothers, and more distant relatives,
were not so lucky. In fact, Lili Jacob was the only one of that group to

"At the end of the war, Lili Jacob was in the Nordhausen-Dora camp, sick
with typhus and in the camp hospital. Along with other sick prisoners she
was rehoused by the liberating army in barracks that had formerly housed
the SS. In searching the barracks for winter clothing, Lili came across
the photograph album. In the album she found photographs of concentration
camp prisoners, including--by remarkable coicindence--photographs not only
of members of her family who had been murdered in Auschwitz II-Birkenau,
but of herself in a roll-call of new women prisoners. Not surprisingly,
she decided to keep the album.

"After the war, Lili Jacob lived for a time in Czechoslovakia. In 1946, in
desperate need for money, she attempted to sell the album to
representatives of the Jewish community in Prague. They could not afford
her price, but eventually she agreed to let them make negatives from the
photographs in return for a smaller payment. Thirty were subsequently
reproduced in a book entitled _The Tragedy of Slovak Jews_ which was
published in Bratislava in 1949.

"For several years thereafter, the negatives remained unused. In 1955, two
Czech researchers who had themselves been in Auschwitz, Ota Kraus and
Erich Kulka, were going through the archives of a Prague museum looking
for material for a book when they came across two packets labeled
'Photographs from Auschwitz'. The packets contained 203 glass negatives in
a 5x7-in format, and they recognized them as being photographs of
Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Knowing that in order to identify them properly
they would have to go to Poland, they contacted a former Auschwitz
prisoner in Poland for assistance. The person they was Jo'zef
Cyrankiewicz, the Polish Premier; and at his invitation they went to the
Auschwitz Museum taking sixty-four of the negatives with them.

"Careful examination of the photographs in the Museum by Professor Jan
Sehn and two former Auschwitz prisoners, Kazimierz Smolen' and David
Szmulewski, confirmed their opinion. In an official note written on
November 1956 they stated: 'Having analysed carefully the contents of the
reproductions, we have come to the conclusion that, with the exception of
two photographs, all the others are prints of photographs are prints made
when great numbers of Jewish people were getting off at the railroad
siding in Brzezinka [Auschwitz II-Birkenau]/ One set of these photographs
was given to the Auschwitz Museum and another to Yad Vashem in Israel.
However, the origin of the photographs was unknown, beyond the fact that a
women in Prague had permitted negatives to be made in 1946.

"Lili Jacob had meanwhile emigrated to the United States, taking the album
with her. In 1961, in connection with the trial of Adolf Eichmann, an
interview with her (now Lili Zelmanovic) was published in the United
States in _Parade_ magazine in which she described how she had found the
album and explained that she still had it in her possession. When the
Auschwitz Museum learned of the interview, they wrote her and asked for
more details. Her reply provided the information that has been given here.

"The negatives found by Kraus and Kulka played an important role in the
pre-trial investigations in connection with the trial in Frankfurt in
1963-65 of twenty-two former SS men from Auschwitz. When the existence of
the original album was mad known, Lili Jacob was herself invited to
testify in Frankfurt, bringing the album with her/

"The photos served to identify a former Blockfu"hrer, Baretzky, as one of
the SS men present at the selection of Jews at the railway ramp. During
this trial, Bernhardt Walter, former head of the Gestapo photographic
laboratory, was questioned as to who had taken the photographs. During the
pre-trial investigations by the German prosecutor's office, he had
admitted that he had run a photographic laboratory in Auschwitz, but said
that his only task had been to photograph the newly arrived prisoners sent
to him in Auschwitz I. When he was shown photographs taken on the ramp at
Auschwitz II-Birkenau he denied having taken them. He claimed that he had
visited Auschwitz II-Birkenau only once, to take a panoramic view of the
camp from the main guardhouse watch-tower, and that he had received the
order to do so from Berlin. Questioned again, he admitted he had heard
talk of the 'ramp', but denied that he had ever heard the term
'selection'. Asked who might have taken the pictures, he was unable to
give definite answer but said that it could have been Ernst Hofmann, his
assistant. Later he admitted having seen in the drying room of the
laboratory photographs of groups of Jews that could perhaps have come from
a set of pictures taken at the ramp. While he admitted that he had taken
photographs of Jews brought to the Erkennungsdienst because their physical
features or dress were considered particularly interesting, he again
stressed that he had never taken pictures outside Auschwitz I, and
repeated that Hofmann had been one of the 'outside' photographers. He did
not question the authenticity of the photographs. He even admitted that
they were official photographs, and that they could not have been taken
from a hiding place.

"During the trial, Walter continued to deny that he had ever been at the
ramp. Baretzky accused him of lying and said that he had often seen him at
the ramp riding a BMW motor cycle. Walter initially denied the accusation,
claiming that he had had a smaller motor cycle; later he confessed that he
had been at the ramp but had not said so earlier because he had not
understood the questions of the court.

"According to Herman Langbein's account of the trial, Walter eventually
admitted he had taken the photographs at the ramp; however introductions
to two books published almost simultaneously, Serge Klarsfeld and Peter
Hellman both said that Walter was adamant to the very end that he had not
taken the pictures. It is quite obvious that the photographs could only
have been taken by an SS man authorized to do so: it could have been
Walter, Hofmann acting with Walter's knowledge, or both of them. The
latter seems the most probable. Bronislaw Jureczek, the former Polish
prisoner mentioned earlier as having worked in the laboratory, said in his
testimony, 'Boss Walter also took pictures of prisoners coming to
Auschwitz by train.' Wilhelm Brasse, another former prisoner who had
worked in the laboratory, said that 'Hofmann used to replace Walter in
supervising prisoners at work, and like Walter, used to leave that place
in order to take pictures outside.' When Brasse saw the photographs from
the album he asserted: 'Some [photographs] were taken by Walter, some by
Hofmann, and some were reproduced from a film delivered personally by the
camp commandant, Rudolf Ho"ss. The photographs were placed in the album by
Myskowkski, a prisoner working in the Erkennungsdeist he decorated the
album and wrote the captions for the photographs, The album was made for
the camp commandant.'

"_Bauleitung Photographs_

"At the end of 1941 or the beginning of 1942, a second photographic
laboratory was established in Auschwitz. This was operated by the Central
Construction Office of the SS (Zentralbauleitung der Waffen SS) and was
known as the Bauleitung laboratory.

"The Bauleitung laboratory was under the direction of Dietrich Kamann, an
SS man responsible for photographic documentation of the construction work
in Auschwitz and its surroundings to supplement the Construction Office's
written reports. Originally the Erkennungsdienst laboratory had been
responsible for this, but because the staff there objected to doing
location work in all weathers it was hard for Kamann to maintain the
necessary records. Ludwik :Lawin, a Polish prisoner employed in arranging
the photographs in albums to record the progress of construction,
suggested to Kamann that he set up a separate photographic unit in the
camp's construction office. The idea appealed to Kamann: having his own
photographic unit would make him indispensable and help prevent him being
sent to the front. He set about obtaining the necessary authorization and
rapidly succeeded.

"The majority of the Bauleitung photographs were taken in 1943, the year
when building activity in Auschwitz II-Birkenau was at its peak. They
provide a solid record of the very many types of construction undertaken:
barracks for prisoners, drainage ditches, workshops and storage
facilities, gas chambers and crematoria, and other buildings.

"Lawin decided to keep some of the photographs he was supposed to be
pasting into albums for Kamann--many of which had figured in Bauleitung
progress reports, had been enlarged for display on the Bauleitung bulletin
boards, or used in albums presented to SS dignitaries--so that he would
have documentary evidence of Nazi atrocities. He later wrote:

   "I found it relatively easy to persuade Kubiak, a prisoner working as an
   assistant in the laboratory, to make contact prints from many
   negatives...I mean photographs which in my opinion had higher value than
   those connected with construction. I gave one set of prints to Dubiel [a
   prisoner assigned to work as a gardener]; I wanted him to have them in
   case I didn't survive.

"Unfortunately those photographs have disappeared. However, Lawin buried
another set of photographs beneath a waste dump near the Construction
Office and took care to remember the place he had chosen. On 25 September
1946, a flask containing negatives of fifty-two photographs taken at
Auschwitz was found in the exact spot Lawin specified, fourteen paces from
the third barrack used by the Construction Office.

"In 1982, the Auschwitz Museum received from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem about
500 negatives of photographs from an album called _Bauleitung_. The
majority showed the construction and expansion of the camp and buildings
in the vicinity of Auschwitz; some were identical to the photographs
hidden by Lawin. The album had reached Yad Vashem via the Jewish community
of Berlin, having probably been turned over to them by a Soviet general in
October 1945. It had been carefully looked after by a member of the
community, Heinz Cols, but in 1975 he had suggested giving it to a museum
in Jerusalem. It was ultimately acquired by Yad Vashem, which later gave a
set of the photographs to the Auschwitz Museum.



"Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes 
not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties--but
right through every human heart--and all human hearts." 

-- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "The Gulag Archipelago"

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.