20 September 2007

Auschwitz: USHMM receives photo album

A few days ago, we read the mystery of an album of photos and drawings. Yesterday, we read in the New York Times about a photo album donated to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

How many other resources will turn up, retrieved from high closet shelves, from attics, from basements? As the people who care for these items get on in years, perhaps they begin to think about the future and how important these artifacts are to our understanding and view of history.

Today, I spoke with Cynthia Wroclawski, outreach director for Yad Vashem's Shoah Victim's Database, albeit it on another issue. We discussed the drawings and these photographs. She believes that many more such objects will be coming out of hiding in the future.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 — Last December, Rebecca Erbelding, a young archivist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, opened a letter from a former United States Army intelligence officer who said he wanted to donate photographs of Auschwitz he had found more than 60 years ago in Germany.

Ms. Erbelding was intrigued: Although Auschwitz may be the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, there are only a small number of known photos of the place before its liberation in 1945. Some time the next month, the museum received a package containing 16 cardboard pages, with photos pasted on both sides, and their significance quickly became apparent.

The 116 photos, from June 21, 1944 detailed the lives of senior SS officers, collected by the camp commander's adjutant, Karl Höcker. It shows the men singing with an accordionist playing, lighting of the camp’s Christmas tree or staff on a smoking break. The photos contain eight of Josef Mengele, the first authenticated pictures of him at Auschwitz.

Previously, the so-named Auschwitz Album (owned by Yad Vashem) contained the only preliberation photos, taken by SS photographers from spring 1944, and depict a Hungarian Jews transport's arrival and the Birkenau selection process.

The collections contain both life and death, from the "horrific reality within the camp" to SS communications specialists eating bowls of blueberries.

The Höcker album photos are available online on the museum’s Web site this week. Some of the new photos are compared with Auschwitz Album images:

In one, SS women alight from a bus at Solahütte for a day of recreation; meanwhile, in a picture from the Auschwitz Album taken at about the same time, haggard and travel-weary women and children get off a cattle car at the camp.

Museum director Sarah J. Bloomfield believes that other undiscovered caches of photos or documents exist in attics and might soon be lost to history.

The donor, who had asked to remain anonymous, was in his 90s when he contacted the museum, and he died this summer. He told the museum’s curators that he found the photo album in a Frankfurt apartment where he lived in 1946.

The photos of the Auschwitz Album were discovered by Lili Jacob, a Hungarian Jew who was deported in May 1944 to Auschwitz, near Krakow in Poland. She was transferred to another camp, Dora-Mittelbau in Germany, where she discovered the pictures in a bedside table in an abandoned SS barracks.

She was stunned to recognize pictures of herself, her rabbi and her brothers aged 9 and 11, both of whom she later discovered had been gassed immediately after arrival.

Read the complete story here.

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