KL Auschwitz: Documentary Photographs - 1980

Front Cover, KL Auschwitz Documentary Photographs of the German death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Warszawa: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1980.

Front Cover, KL Auschwitz: Documentary Photographs of the German death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Warszawa: Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1980. GGA Image ID # 1662bf776f


The State Museum in Oświęcim thus releases a five-language version of its album containing documentary photographs portraying the most grandiose German death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The Auschwitz Museum is in possession of rather rich archives, a part of which are unique in character. The mechanical documentation section is of particular importance as it has iconographie material from the years when KL Auschwitz functioned as a death camp, and from the period following its liberation.

The camp authorities were under orders from the Reichstührer SS and the inspectorate for concentration camps to keep the crimes perpetrated at the camp a secret, and thus it was forbidden to take photographs of anything directly or indirectly connected with the camp. This fact is confirmed quite explicitly in one of the orders issued by the authorities of KL Auschwitz (Kommandanturbefehl) No. 4/43 of Feb.2, 1943, whose article 3 reads:

.."l would like to point out once again that taking photographs within camp limits is forbidden. I will be very strict in treating those who refuse to obey this order". This document was signed by the camp commander, SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss.

Only chosen SS-men were allowed to take pictures at the order of the camp commander, while the film had to be developed and the prints made only in the local laboratory. Most of the photographs were made in the laboratory of the intelligence service (Erkennungsdienst) supervised by the camp Gestapo (Politische Abteilung), and headed by SS-man Bernhardt Walter.

The laboratory was in charge of such work as: photos of inmates in three poses, which were later kept in the archives of the laboratory together with files, photos of detained resistance fighters, photos of prisoners shot during escape attempts, and of those who-unable to endure the torture - committed suicide.

Moreover, the laboratory developed films of specialistic photographs which presented the criminal experiments being made on the inmates by SS physicians, and the effects of these. The films were actually developed and the prints made by chosen inmates.

This work was always carried out under the supervision of SS-men who saw to it that neither the negatives nor the prints got into unwanted hands. The ready material was then sent to the appropriate branches, while the technically substandard copies were dutifully destroyed.

Top secret photos, such as those made during gas poisoning actions or the burning of bodies, were developed personally by SS-men. In the most drastic cases, the negatives were destroyed immediately after developing, and the prints - in one copy only - were sent to the camp's commandant.

Apart from the already mentioned photographic laboratory, there was for a while a second, smaller one attached to the construction office of the camp - Zentralbauleitung der Waffen SS, which was headed by SS-man Kamann. He was in charge of the documentation of the camp's expansion and of the use of inmates as labour by the SS.

Although security measures were stringent and there was an order to destroy all of the camp documents shortly before it was to be liquidated, several hundred photos made by the SS survived. Some of them were buried by the inmates before or during the camp's evacuation, others were discovered by chance in places abandoned in a hurry by retreating SS groups.

For example, the pictures taken by SS-man Kamann were found in a ditch next to the Bauleitung barracks, where they had been buried in the ground by one of the prisoners. An album with photographs made at the arrival railway platform in Birkenau by SS-man B. Walter was found in Czechoslovakia.

Although the collection of photographs made by the SS-men is incomplete, it does have the greatest documentary value and significance because of its origin.

Some forty thousand sets of photographs of inmates together with their negatives escaped destruction. The history of their salvation has thus been described by one of the camp inmates:

"Almost at the very last moment we were told to burn all the negatives and photographs kept in the Erkennungsdienst. There was a coal stove in the laboratory into which we first began to put wet photographic paper and pictures, and then loads of photos and negatives. The enormous amount of material shoved into the stove closed off the chimney.

When we set the material afire, we were convinced that only a part of the photos and negatives near the opening would burn, and that the remaining part would not, as the fire would die out for lack of air. After the war I found out that our intentions were successful, and at least a large percentage of the photos and negatives fell into the hands of the right people.

(...) We deliberately scattered some of the pictures and negatives in the rooms of the laboratory faking nervousness. I knew that the evacuation was being carried out in such a hurry that no one would have the time to clean away everything, and that something would survive. "

Another group of photographs are those made secretly by the prisoners themselves - members of the Camp Resistance movement, and smuggled out of the camp in order to unmask and document the criminal activities of the SS. One of the messages smuggled out of the camp said the following:

Urgent. Send two metal rolls of film for 6x9 camera as fast as possible. Have possibility of taking photos. Sending you snaps from Birkenau -gas poisoning action. The photos show one of the stakes at which bodies were burned, when the crematory could not manage to burn all the bodies. The bodies in the foreground are waiting to be thrown into the fire.

Another picture shows one of the places in the forest, where people are undressing before "showering" - as they were told - and then go to the gas chambers. Send film roll as fast as you can. Send the enclosed photos to Tell - we think you should send the enlargements further on.

Much of the material was smuggled out of the camp by inmates working in the Erkennungsdienst who risked their lives doing so. This group of prisoners was forced to complete work classified by the SS as top secret (streng geheim), hence they were particularly strictly controlled by the camp Gestapo. Even the slightest mistake could mean a death sentence.

Unfortunately, most of the photos sent "beyond the wires" was lost, only some were turned over to the Auschwitz Museum by those who survived the camp, by families of murdered inmates, and by members of the camp Resistance.

To learn the whole truth of Auschwitz it is necessary to mention the many photographs taken in 1945. which show the rescued prisoners and the partly undestroyed camp buildings. These photos are from the "Chronicle of the Liberation of Auschwitz", made by the cameramen of the liberating Soviet Army: N. Bykov, K. Kutub-Zade, A. Pavlov, A. Vorontsev, and during inspections of the prisoners and camp made by special commissions visiting Auschwitz to collect evidence for the trials of German war criminals.

The photographs were taken by : Henryk Makarewicz, who arrived in Auschwitz as a soldier of the Polish Army toward the end of January 1945, Stanislaw Mucha, who accompanied the Polish Red Cross team from the middle of February to the middle of March 1945; during this period Stanisfaw Mucha also took a series of photos for the Soviet commission examining German crimes in Auschwitz.

This group also contains photos by Stanislaw Tuczko, an employer of the Institute of Forensic Expertise in Krakow, who was the photographer working for judge Jan Sehn during inspections of the camp from May 11 to 25, 1945, and photos by Stanislaw Kolowca, who accompanied the British delegation led by Canterbury Dean H. Johnson during a visit to the camp on May 29, 1945.

Publishing this material, the editors have systemized the photographs in order to present the camp's history as clearly as possible. Realizing this aim, the publishers ran into difficulties resulting from the incomplete character of the collection. For this reason in sporadic cases - when necessity required this - we have used photographs made in present times, but showing authentic objects. The introduction to the album discusses the most significant facts from the camp's history, and is a background material for the photographs presented in this album.

Renata Boguslawska-Swiebocka

Teresa Ceglowska

Library of Congress Catalog Listing

  • Main title: KL Auschwitz : fotografie dokumentalne = documentary photographs / [kolegium redakcyjne Państwowego Muzeum w Oświęcimiu, Kazimierz Smoleń (redaktor) .. et al.].
  • Edition: Wyd. 1.
  • Published/Created: Warszawa : Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza, 1980.
  • Description: 238, [14] p. : chiefly ill. ; 23 x 24 cm.
  • LC classification: D805.P7 K54 1980
  • Related titles: K.L. Auschwitz.
  • Related names: Smoleń, Kazimierz. Państwowe Muzeum w Oświęcimiu.
  • LC Subjects: Auschwitz (Concentration camp)--Pictorial works. World War, 1939-1945--Atrocities--Pictorial works.
  • Browse by shelf order: D805.P7
  • Notes: English, French, German, Polish, and Russian.
  • LCCN: 81217101
  • Dewey class no.: 940.53/15/03924
  • Language code: polengfregerrus
  • Geographic area code: e-pl---
  • Type of material: Book
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