Nazi guards' photos of Auschwitz victims being sent for execution
20th October 2022

Queueing up for death: Nazi guards’ photos of Auschwitz victims being sent for execution and the piles of possessions they left behind go on display in chilling new exhibition

  • Images were taken at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Nazi-occupied Poland in the summer of 1944
  • Taken by the Nazis themselves, the images are a meticulous record of the murder of 1.1million Jews at the site
  • The exhibition, Seeing Auschwitz, opened today at 81 Old Brompton Road in south-west London
  • The photos, of which there are 193 in total, were found by Holocaust survivor Lilly Jacob-Zelmanovic Meier 

They are images which provide documentary evidence of one of the 20th century’s greatest horrors.

Faces etched with fear; mothers holding their children close; piles of possessions giving a hint to the horrific fate of the arrivals.

Now, some of the photos of thousands of Hungarian Jewish men, women and children after arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944 have gone on in display in a new exhibition.

Taken by the Nazis themselves, the images are a meticulous record of the murder of 1.1million Jews at the site, which was in occupied Poland. 

The Jewish victims who died in the camp were among six million murdered by Adolf Hitler’s forces.

The exhibition, Seeing Auschwitz, opened today at 81 Old Brompton Road in south-west London and will run until the end of December.

The images were taken over a three-month period in the summer of 1944, when an estimated 400,000 people, nearly all of them Jews, were murdered in Auschwitz’s gas chambers. 

The display also shows the enormous piles of possessions that Jews both selected for work and for death had to surrender on arrival.  

The photos, of which there are 193 in total, were found in an album by Holocaust survivor Lilly Jacob-Zelmanovic Meier in the aftermath of the Second World War. The collection, which is known as the Auschwitz Album, is held by Israel’s Yad Vashem museum. 

The photographers are likely to have been SS men Ernst Hofmann and Bernhard Walter. When taking the images, they often stood on the roof of a train to get a better composition. 

Some of the photos of thousands of Hungarian Jewish men, women and children arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944 have gone on in display in a new exhibition. Above: Mothers are seen lining up with the children by their sides. Many of them wear the enforced stars n their clothes signifying that they are Jewish

Taken by the Nazis themselves, the images are a meticulous record of the murder of 1.1million Jews at the site, which was in occupied Poland. Above: Nazi officers are seen standing by as lines of elderly men make their way into the camp. Many of the elderly were murdered in the gas chambers because they were not deemed fit enough to work 

Victims arrived at Auschwitz on trains that had previously been used to transport cattle. The conditions in the packed carriages were horrendous. Above: Thousands of people are seen carrying their belongings after emerging from the carriages

Female inmates are seen sorting through an enormous pile of shoes of the dead. The images were taken over a three-month period in the summer of 1944, when an estimated 400,000 people, nearly all of them Jews, were murdered in Auschwitz’s gas chambers

As well as the arrival of Jews, the images show the selection process that led to many of the elderly and children being sent to the gas chambers, whilst healthy men and women were chosen for forced labour. 

Survivor Renee Salt, 93, was among the first visitors to see the new exhibition. She arrived at Auschwitz aged 15 with her parents.

She and her mother survived Auschwitz as well as Bergen-Belsen, another death camp in northern Germany. 

However, her mother died 12 days after the camp’s liberation. Speaking in the Guardian, Ms Salt said that seeing the images made her ‘broken-hearted’. 

The pain ‘never goes away but it hits you every time you see these scenes,’ she added.

The exhibition also displays drawings made by an inmate known only as MM. They survived after being hidden inside a bottle. The drawings depict the brutality of the camp guards, as well as the sorrow of separated family members. 

Elderly men are seen lying on the ground after emerging from the trains that took them to Auschwitz. The photographers are likely to have been SS men Ernst Hofmann and Bernhard Walter. When taking the images, they often stood on the roof of a train to get a better composition

After arriving at the camp, men, women and children were separated. Those selected for work had their heads shaved and their own clothes taken away. Above: Hundreds of Jewish women are seen lined up after having their heads shaved

Camp inmates are seen performing the heartrending task of sorting through clothes that had belonged to arrivals at the camp

Lead curator and one of the world’s leading experts on the Holocaust, Paul Salmons said: ‘They look like faithful portraits of an instant, but these photographs are not neutral sources at all: we are looking at a piece of reality but seen from the Nazi perspective. 

‘It is necessary to stop and analyze them to really see what each image truly reveals, not only about the place and the moment, but also about their own authors, the people portrayed, and even about ourselves as viewers’.

Karen Pollock CBE, Chief Executive, Holocaust Educational Trust says: ‘Jewish men, women and children were stripped of their humanity before being murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. 

Survivor Renee Salt, 93, was among the first visitors to see the new exhibition. She arrived at Auschwitz aged 15 with her parents

Jewish children are seen with their mothers on a grassy area at the camp. Many of the small children were sent to the gas chambers shortly after arriving 

Nazi guards are seen walking through a huge crowd of inmates at Auschwitz-Berkanau. Some prisoners are wearing the camp uniforms, whilst others are seen with their own clothes

Jewish mothers are seen with the children in a wooded area at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Lead curator and one of the world’s leading experts on the Holocaust, Paul Salmons said: ‘They look like faithful portraits of an instant, but these photographs are not neutral sources at all: we are looking at a piece of reality but seen from the Nazi perspective’

‘Their family photos and prized possessions were seized, their bodies were used for slave labour, and they were ultimately slaughtered in the gas chambers. The Nazis intended there to be no trace of the centuries-old Jewish communities of Europe.

‘But a few of these photos survived, hidden in Auschwitz by prisoners sorting the possessions of the dead. 

‘And in this display, some of these photographs are presented alongside those taken by the perpetrators, showing us the real faces of the victims, and allowing us to remember them as individuals and to bear witness. We are proud to support this important exhibition.’

Tickets are available at Fever, starting at £10 for adults. 

The Nazis’ concentration and extermination camps: The factories of death used to slaughter millions 

Auschwitz-Birkenau, near the town of Oswiecim, in what was then occupied Poland

Auschwitz-Birkenau was a concentration and extermination camp used by the Nazis during World War Two.

The camp, which was located in Nazi-occupied Poland, was made up of three main sites.

Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, a combined concentration and extermination camp and Auschwitz III–Monowitz, a labour camp, with a further 45 satellite sites.

Auschwitz, pictured in 1945, was liberated by Soviet troops 76 years ago on Wednesday after around 1.1million people were murdered at the Nazi extermination camp 

Auschwitz was an extermination camp used by the Nazis in Poland to murder more than 1.1 million Jews

Birkenau became a major part of the Nazis’ ‘Final Solution’, where they sought to rid Europe of Jews.

An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, of whom at least 1.1 million died – around 90 percent of which were Jews.

Since 1947, it has operated as Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which in 1979 was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

Treblinka, near a village of the same name, outside Warsaw in Nazi-occupied Poland

Unlike at other camps, where some Jews were assigned to forced labor before being killed, nearly all Jews brought to Treblinka were immediately gassed to death.

Only a select few – mostly young, strong men, were spared from immediate death and assigned to maintenance work instead.

Unlike at other camps, where some Jews were assigned to forced labor before being killed, nearly all Jews brought to Treblinka were immediately gassed to death

The death toll at Treblinka was second only to Auschwitz. In just 15 months of operation – between July 1942 and October 1943 – between 700,000 and 900,000 Jews were murdered in its gas chambers.

Exterminations stopped at the camp after an uprising which saw around 200 prisoners escape. Around half of them were killed shortly afterwards, but 70 are known to have survived until the end of the war

Belzec, near the station of the same name in Nazi-occupied Poland

Belzec operated from March 1942 until the end of June 1943. It was built specifically as an extermination camp as part of Operation Reinhard. 

Polish, German, Ukrainian and Austrian Jews were all killed there. In total, around 600,000 people were murdered.

The camp was dismantled in 1943 and the site was disguised as a fake farm.  

Belzec operated from March 1942 until the end of June 1943. It was built specifically as an extermination camp as part of Operation Reinhard

Sobibor, near the village of the same name in Nazi-occupied Poland

Sobibor was named after its closest train station, at which Jews disembarked from extremely crowded carriages, unsure of their fate. 

Jews from Poland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union were killed in three gas chambers fed by the deadly fumes of a large petrol engine taken from a tank. 

An estimated 200,000 people were killed in the camp. Some estimations put the figure at 250,000. 

This would place Sobibor as the fourth worst extermination camp – in terms of number of deaths – after Belzec, Treblinka and Auschwitz. 

Sobibor was named after its closest train station, at which Jews disembarked from extremely crowded carriages, unsure of their fate

The camp was located about 50 miles from the provincial Polish capital of Brest-on-the-Bug. Its official German name was SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor.

Prisoners launched a heroic escape on October 14 1943 in which 600 men, women and children succeeded in crossing the camp’s perimeter fence.

Of those, only 50 managed to evade capture. It is unclear how many crossed into allied territory.

Chelmno (also known as Kulmhof), in Nazi-occupied Poland

Chelmno was the first of Nazi Germany’s camps built specifically for extermination. 

It operated from December 1941 until April 1943 and then again from June 1944 until January 1945. 

Between 152,000 and 200,000 people, nearly all of whom were Jews, were killed there.  

Chelmno was the first of Nazi Germany’s camps built specifically for extermination. It operated from December 1941 until April 1943 and then again from June 1944 until January 1945

Majdanek (also known simply as Lublin), built on outskirts of city of Lublin in Nazi-occupied Poland

Majdanek was initially intended for forced labour but was converted into an extermination camp in 1942. 

It had seven gas chambers as well as wooden gallows where some victims were hanged.

In total, it is believed that as many as 130,000 people were killed there. 

Majdanek (pictured in 2005) was initially intended for forced labour but was converted into an extermination camp in 1942

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