Andre Cantelmo Photography | Thoughts on The Auschwitz Album

Thoughts on The Auschwitz Album

April 01, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I recently viewed the online album that is referred to as the Auschwitz Album. It is a chilling experience, looking at page after page of photographs of a crime that I cannot find the words to describe. The first book I viewed I found at, The second album, a record from the viewpoint of camp administrator Karl-Friedrich Höcker, left me equally speechless. This link; shows the leisure photographs from the guards point of view.


The first series of photographs, documents the handling of prisoners that were deemed unfit to work. This group consisted overwhelmingly of women and young children. Waiting in long lines, their faces reveal nothing of the horror that waits just ahead. You see Mothers holding their youngest children, and older siblings holding the hands of their younger brothers and sisters. They look calm, innocent, and unafraid. The photographs, taken by camp guards, are without any emotional point of view, and are documentary in approach. Someone took the time to compose, focus, and adjust depth of field. Someone also gave no hint in those photographs that all of these people would soon be gassed to death. I was born the week after WWII ended. As a “baby boomer” it was impossible to grow up and not know the history of World War II. Looking at these photographs today leaves me with a sick feeling in my stomach, and at a loss for words.


The second album, “Laughing at Auschwitz” documents the leisure time of the camp personnel. Here are photographs of the men and women who worked at the camp and made it function. You move from one photo to another, essentially looking at what might pass for vacation photographs. Male and female, smiling, laughing, relaxing, eating blueberries, and playing the accordion. These images were produced to document and preserve, to make a record, and were proudly assembled into an album. There is even an image of Karl Hocker lighting candles on a Christmas Tree.


Learning about WWII and the Holocaust in school gives a generalized knowledge of the history of one of the most deadly events in human history. Estimates are that a total of 55,000,000 humans died as a result of WWII. Taking time to view the images in these two albums gives a much closer look, a look in intimate working detail. I find myself struggling for words that can accurately express my thoughts and feelings. I wonder about the disconnect from humanity of the person behind the camera. That person calmly and efficiently created a historical record. That person composed, focused, and adjusted the light meter of their equipment. Someone went into a darkroom and developed those negatives. Someone took the time to arrange the photographs in these two albums. How is it possible for humanity to betray it own kind on a scale such as this? What does it take to get someone to suspend their ethics, morals, and humanness to this extent? These two albums are a small part of the archive that exists documenting the Holocaust. In addition to all the photographic evidence there is the personal testimony of survivors, as well as the eyewitness evidence of the liberating armed forces that entered the camps.


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