The Auschwitz album under the microscope of historians

The Auschwitz album under the microscope of historians

The Auschwitz Album, a collection of photographs taken by the Nazis at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, was reissued in French on Friday with careful explanations from the historians who vetted them.

The Auschwitz Album: How the Nazis Filmed Their Crimes (Editions du Seuelle) is a work by the Frenchman Tal Brotmann and the Germans Stefan Hordler and Kreuzmüller.

The German edition of their book was published in 2019. The French was translated by Olivier Magnoni, who is also the translator of “Mein Kampf”.

The critical edition of Adolf Hitler’s Codebook published in 1924-1925, by Fayard in 2021 in French, following the German edition in 2016, has shown how a Nazi production can be turned into support for an accessible story to anyone who wants to understand the mechanics of Nazi genocide.

This “album” was made in 1944 by two SS photographers. Historians begin with the same ambition: to dismantle what was initially intended to glorify the National Socialist project for Europe.

“These are images, an object quite different from the text. And while Mein Kampf has been extensively commented on, no one before us has looked at these images. In general, image analysis is rarely integrated into the work of historians,” Tall Brotman explains to AFP.

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“world famous” photos

In the case of Auschwitz-Birkenau, an extermination camp in southern Poland where 1.1 million people were murdered, the SS documented the work of receiving Jewish deportees from Hungary.

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Formally, it is about “displacing” the population classified as undesirable, and selecting individuals who are able to work. In fact, the paparazzi are known to capture the last moments of convicts in the gas chambers.

According to the historian, “These images are world famous. If you are looking for images of Auschwitz, you come across them. They are in documentaries, in books, in all museums about the Holocaust. So they are rooted in representations, and they have permeated popular culture.”

But “if you’ve seen them in isolation, you probably wouldn’t know they came from this album of 197 photos taken by the SS. That’s what we found,” adds Tal Brotman.

From Auschwitz to Miami

Deportation lawyer and historian Serge Klarsfeld explained the history of this album after its discovery. It was taken by its first owner, a German, to the Dora camp, and was found there by chance by a 19-year-old deportee, Lily Jacob, in a bedside table in a former SS room.

In the photos you see a lot of people she knows, including her parents. She’ll cling to this thing, which was treasured and transported during her emigration to Miami after the war.

Serge Klarsfeld would find her under her married name and persuade her to bequeath the album to the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.

For this, he wrote in the preface, “It took thirty-five years (…) forty years were still necessary for this book to [celui publié vendredi] Provides an answer to most unanswered questions.

What the three historians, bringing together “very different fields of expertise,” shed light on are the circumstances of this footage and what they teach them about Auschwitz.

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“There is a lot to learn for our understanding,” Tal Brotman asserts.

“While masking the assassination itself, the images reflect an attempt to reform access (…) as an established value chain,” the authors summarize in conclusion.

The book, printed on deluxe paper, costs €49 and is supported by the Franco-German Office for Youth and the Holocaust Memorial Foundation.

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About the Author: Hermínio Guimarães

"Introvertido premiado. Viciado em mídia social sutilmente charmoso. Praticante de zumbis. Aficionado por música irritantemente humilde."

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