German concentration camp at Auschwitz was not hell for everyone

July 6th, 2008 - 11:36 am ICT by ANI  

London , July 6 (ANI): The concentration camp established for Jews and other non-Aryans at Auschwitz by German dictator Adolf Hitler’s Nazis was without doubt a place of horror, but for camp officers and staff, there were pleasurable activities like sunbathing, going on picnics, music sessions and putting up decorations.

According to The Sunday Telegraph, which has acquired access to some rare photographs of life at Auschwitz in 1945, it was not hell for everyone.

According to the paper, in June1945, an American Army officer in Frankfurt found an abandoned apartment and was hoping to make it livable during the period of transition after the war.

While going through the apartment, he opened a closet door, he discovered an album of photographs. It had 31 pages, and 116 black-and-white images.

Most of the pictures were a little smaller than playing cards, and nearly all of them portrayed German officers - at a picnic, at shooting practice, at a resort among fir trees and hills, at the dedication of a hospital, dressed as miners and visiting a coal mine, at a dinner at a long table with a white tablecloth, wine bottles and waiters, lighting candles on a Christmas tree, at a funeral in the snow where the coffins are draped with Nazi flags.

There was one particular photograph of an accordion player entertaining Nazi officers Karl Hoecker, Otto Moll, Rudolf Hess, Richard Baer, Josef Kramer, Franz Hoessler, Josef Mengele and Walter Schmidetzki. At that time it was not determined whether the location was Auschwitz .

Eventually, the officer returned to America and settled down in a government job and lived in Virginia . In December 2006, the officer, elderly and disposing of his possessions, wrote to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington , offering it an opportunity to look at the album. The images, he wrote, appeared to depict ‘activities in and around Auschwitz , Poland ‘.

His letter was delivered to Rebecca Erbelding, a young archivist, who then undertook a detailed examination of the album. Initially, she assumed that the officer was mistaken about Auschwitz, which was the largest of the Nazi concentration camps in Poland .

It enclosed 15 square miles and was divided into three parts: Auschwitz I contained the camp offices; Auschwitz II, also called Birkenau, contained the gas chambers and the crematoriums; and Auschwitz III had a synthetic-rubber-and-oil factory, operated by forced labour.

Auschwitz was also the camp where the most people died: approximately 1.1 million. There was a photography studio, where portraits were made of certain prisoners, but, except for official purposes, such as documenting construction or a dignitary’s visit, photography was forbidden; what went on at Auschwitz , as in all the camps, was a state secret.

There was only one album known to portray life at Auschwitz , and it came to light years ago. Originally, it included about 200 photographs, taken on 26 May, 1944, depicting the arrival of a train of prisoners and their dispersal.

Often called the Lili Jacob album, after the young woman who found it, it is now at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem .

In addition, there are three photographs, at the Auschwitz Museum , of bodies being burnt and women being sent to the gas chambers, which were taken clandestinely, probably in August or early September 1944, by inmates with a camera apparently discovered among the belongings of arriving prisoners.

Erbelding asked the officer to send her the album. It arrived in the middle of January 2007. She unwrapped the album on a table. It had no cover. The leaves, held together by three brass split pins, had been speckled and spotted by water and insects. Some of the pictures had captions, carefully lettered in black ink on a black line drawn with a straight edge.

The American officer, who asked to remain anonymous, died last July, never having said why he had kept the album to himself for so long. But the reason appeared to have been that he had not recognised anyone in it and so did not think it was significant.

Erbelding thought, ‘the pictures are of Auschwitz.’ and took the album to Ron Coleman, a reference librarian. She says they were looking at a photograph of four officers, and among them stood Josef Mengele, the doctor who had conducted experiments on prisoners, often on children, and particularly on twins.

No photographs had ever been shown Nazis at leisure at Auschwitz , but in the album Hoess appears with Mengele at a retreat in the hills called Solahutte, which lay just beyond the camp’s border. It was a long, lodge-like building above the Sola River , which flowed past Auschwitz I; it is now a tavern.

The photographs at Solahutte are the most provocative, partly because they are so strange and partly because of the notoriety of the figures they contain. There are 29 images, divided between two occasions, one involving officers, and the other, officers and young women.

The most surreal of the photographs shows nearly 100 officers arrayed up the side of a hill. The accordion player stands across the road. All the men are singing except those in the very front, who perhaps feel too important for it.

The museum is still in discussions over whether to offer the photographs for public viewing. (ANI)

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