Waiting for Death in the Birch Forest in Birkenau
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Contributed by jarmen
Tuesday, 04 March 2003
A unique album containing 189 pictures taken by Germans at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in the spring of 1944 has been published again (in English). It is called "The Auschwitz Album" or, using the name of the camp prisoner thanks to whom it was saved, "Lili Jacob's Album."
In May and June 1944, the Nazis deported over 430,000 Jews from what was then Hungary to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Among them, along with her whole family and the other Jewish residents of the town of Bilke in Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia (now part of Ukraine), was Lili Jacob. Alone of her family, she survived the war. After an odyssey through the camps, she was liberated at Dora-Mittelbau in Germany in April 1945. It was there that she found the album titled "Aussiedlung der Juden aus Ungarn” [The Deportation of the Hungarian Jews]. She recognized members of her family in some of the photographs; in one, she recognized herself — photographed by the Nazis a year earlier in the Birkenau women's camp!
In 1945, the Jewish National Museum in Prague made copies of the photographs. This led to some of them being published in "The Tragedy of the Jews of Slovakia," edited by F. Steiner, which came out in Bratislava in 1949. In 1956, the Czech historian and former Auschwitz prisoner, Erich Kulka, donated some of the prints to the Museum in Oświęcim, where they have since served as an important element in the permanent exhibition on the Destruction of the Jews in Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
That same year, Kulka and another former prisoner, Ota Kraus, published their "Tovarna na smrt" [The Death Factory], featuring more of the photographs from Auschwitz. Only in Serge Klarsfeld's 1980 French "L'Album d'Auschwitz" did reproductions of all the photographs appear. An English version of this work, The Auschwitz Album (Random House) followed a year later, and a German version, Lili Meiers Album (Verlag Das Arsenal, Berlin), in 1995.
The new edition, "The Auschwitz Album: The Story of a Transport," is a cooperative effort, co-published by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Yad Vashem Memorial Institute in Jerusalem. The photographs appear here in the order that was followed in the original album, divided into "thematic sections": "Ankunft eines Transportzuges” (the arrival of the transport); "Männer bei der Ankunft” (newly arrived men); "Frauen bei der Ankunft” (newly arrived women); "Aussortierung” (selection); "Nach der Aussortierung noch einsatzfähige Männer” (after selection—men fit for labor); "Noch einsatzfähige Frauen” (women fit for labor); "Nach der entlausung” (after delousing); "Einweisung ins Arbeitslager” (assignment to the labor camp); "Effekten” (personal effects); "Nicht mehr einsatzfähige Männer” (men unfit for labor), and "Nicht mehr einsatzfähige Frauen und Kinder” (women and children unfit for labor).
A series of photographs of the principal Auschwitz sub-camps and of a visit to Auschwitz by Heinrich Himmler comes at the end of the album.
Four articles by Polish and Israeli historians make it easier for the reader to grasp the context of the photographs: "Auschwitz Concentration Camp: A Historical Sketch—Aims, Tasks, and Methods of Extermination," by Franciszek Piper (Auschwitz Museum); "The Destruction of the Jews of Hungary," by Israel Gutman; "The Auschwitz Album: The Story of Lili Jacob," by Gideon Greif, and "Photographs as Historical Documents," by Nina Springer-Aharoni.
Lili Jacobs donated the original album to the Yad Vashem Memorial Institute in 1980.
*** The Auschwitz Album. The Story of a Transport
Editors: Israel Gutman and Bella Gutterman
Publishers: Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland; Yad Vashem, Izrael. 2002
278 pp., 23 x 31 cm., text, photographs, hard cover.