The only surviving visual evidence of the process of mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest extermination center created by the Nazis. It has become the symbol of the Holocaust and of willful radical evil in our time.
Auschwitz was established as a concentration camp for enemies of the Nazi occupation regime – first Poles and later other nationalities as well. During 1942-1944, the camp became the principal extermination center for European Jewry. At Auschwitz II (Birkenau), the Nazis erected four murder facilities, each with undressing rooms, gas chambers and crematoria. Jews were sent to Birkenau in transports from all over Europe. Most were murdered upon arrival. Only a few survived the selection and remained alive temporarily as camp inmates. In spring and summer 1944, the pace of transports and extermination quickened with the deportation of Hungarian Jews and the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto.
The Auschwitz Album is the only surviving visual evidence of the process of mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The album fell into the hands of one of the few survivors of that transport, Lily Jacob, who gave it to Yad Vashem in 1980.
The photos presented here are part of the 200 some photos that comprise the album.
The album is unique – there is not a similar album of its kind in the entire world.It documents in photos from every direction and from every angle, the arrival at Auschwitz of a transport of Hungarian Jews from Carpatho-Ruthenia, the selection that would send most of them to their death in the gas chamber , the few chosen for slave laborers and the confiscation of their property even as they were being murdered.
Upon arriving in Auschwitz, the Jews were removed from the trains and forced to make two separate lines, men in one line and women and children in the other. The selection process began immediately. During a selection, the few men and women considered “able bodied” were sent for slave labor. The vast majority though were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers.
The transport of Hungarian Jews from the area of Carpatho-Ruthenia arrived at the ramp of the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944.
In the photos we see the men, women and children step out of the overcrowded train, traumatized and fearful after their torturous journey. They have no clue that they have just been delivered to a death factory and that few of them will survive.
Survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel described his arrival as a teenager at Auschwitz:
Every yard or so an SS man held his gun trained on us. Hand in hand we followed the crowd. “Men to the left, Women to the right”. Eight words spoken, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short simple words. For a part of a second I glimpsed my mother and my sister moving to the right. I saw them disappear in to the distance while I walked on with my father and the other men. I did not know that at that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and my sister forever.”
The selection process seen here carried out by SS doctors and wardens took place twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, as train after train unloaded its human cargo. Most Jews were sent immediately to the left, to their death.
The undressing rooms of the gas chambers were not sufficient for the masses of Hungarian Jews who arrived daily in the summer of 1944. They therefore were forced to wait in the grove closest to the crematorium that would soon turn their bodies to ash. At this point, the Jews were exhausted and in a state of shock from the horrors of the journey and the selection process that they had just endured. These were their last moments together before being driven into the gas chambers and murdered.
Jews who were classified as “not fit for work” in a grove before they were to be gassed.
A minority of the Jews that arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau was selected for forced labor. Their personal belongings were confiscated, their hair was shaved and a registration number was tattooed on their left arm.They were brutalized and subjected to the Nazi policy of extermination through work.
In the words of survivor and author Primo Levi:
“For the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offense, the demolition of a man.
It is not possible to sink lower than this. Nothing belongs to us anymore: they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name and if we want to keep it, we will have to find in ourselves the strength to do so. It is in this way that one can understand the double sense of the term “extermination camp.”
The work of sorting the possessions that the Jews brought with them to Auschwitz was done by Jewish prisoners who were forced to collect the packages and sort the items that would then be sent to the Reich. By the time the sorting was completed, most of the previous owners were already dead.
“A person would enter the camp in the morning on his feet, and by night time his clothes would already be packed for shipment to Germany, and his ashes scattered in the nearby rivers.” Raul Hilberg
Jewish prisoners sorting items confiscated from what the Jews had brought with them to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
No memory of the men, women, and children that were deemed “valueless” upon their arrival remains in camp records.This album is the sole witness to their fate.
The Auschwitz Album was discovered after the war by Lily Jacob, a survivor of this transport. Her photo appears here with the women selected as slave laborers.
Lily gave the album to Yad Vashem, where she knew that its tragic contents would be safeguarded for posterity and shared with generations to come.