Auschwitz in images
At least 1,100,000 people—mainly Jews—were murdered at Auschwitz during the Second World War. It was the largest of the extermination camps run by Nazi Germany between 1940 and 1945.
Every day, thousands of men, women and children would arrive there. Most would meet their deaths in the gas chambers within a few hours from being unloaded from the trains. It was the last stage in a process that was meticulously planned by the state and overseen by the SS. In winter 1945, the SS tried to dismantle the camp and erase the “visible” traces of its crimes before fleeing.
But not everything disappeared.
Seeing Auschwitz invites visitors to look beyond the perpetrators’ gaze and ask what these images really reveal.
The liberation of Auschwitz on 27 January 1945 brought to light a vast body of new evidence of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany against Jews, Poles, the Romani, Soviet and other prisoners of war, criminals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and other groups classed by the regime as “undesirable”.
Part of this testimony of the horrors of the camp included some of the thousands of photographs taken at Auschwitz that attest to the process of systematic extermination. The images range from the arrival of deportees through to their incineration, including portraits of prisoners and scenes from the everyday life of the camp officials.
This priceless visual testimony has exerted a strong influence on the collective image of Auschwitz through to our times. Yet the images also raise a number of questions: Are the photographs neutral sources or do they show Auschwitz from a specific perspective? Do these windows onto the past represent the immensity of the shocking reality of Auschwitz? Perhaps most importantly, can we really say we have “seen” Auschwitz through them?