“Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Place Where You Are Standing...” is the latest publication of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The album presents 31 historical photographs taken by SS men in 1944 depicting the extermination of Jews in the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. They were set in contrast with present-day photographs of the same locations.
The original 1944 album is known nowadays as “The Auschwitz Album” or “Lili Jacob Album”. Almost as many as 200 photographs taken by SS men depict the arrival of a transport of Hungarian Jews at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. The pictures lay bare almost every stage of the extermination: departure from the train, formation of columns, selection, march to the gas chambers, waiting to enter the undressing room, looting of property as well as the very first moments of those who were selected us fit to work during the selection and registered in the camp. The only stage the German author failed to record is the killing of people.
“Setting the pictures depicting the tragedy of a Jewish transport in 1944 against the pictures of places we can visit today is shocking. I know the famous Lili Jacob Album very well, and I also know every preserved fragment of the Birkenau camp, but Paweł Sawicki’s work made me see even more. When I walk through the camp now, I see something completely different from what I used to see,” the Secretary of the International Council of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, Marek Zając, said about the album.
The director of the Museum, Piotr M.A. Cywiński, wrote in the introduction to the album: “We have set it as our goal to find those points in the landscape that feature in the photographs in the Album. We wanted to show, on the one hand, their present-day emptiness and, on the other hand, their nature as a deep vestige that cannot be allowed to be effaced. That is the essence of the Memorial.”
“Working on this album proved to be a huge challenge. At the very beginning, a detailed analysis of the historical photographs was necessary in order to find the same places and to get to know the working methods of the German author. For example, it turned out that most of the pictures in the Auschwitz Album were taken from some elevation, which had to be taken into account,” said Paweł Sawicki, the author of the present-day photographs in the album.
“There can be no doubt concerning the location of most of the places. However, the project was not about creating faithful replicas of the historical photographs. It was rather about reminding the viewer in a profound manner about all that took place here, in this very place. While taking the photographs one after another, I could sense the peculiar emptiness more and more. The people, who are the essence of the pictures in the album, were missing. Today, they are not here anymore. Only the place where they were murdered is still here,” added Sawicki.
Piotr Cywiński has stressed that the album puts great value on the authenticity of the entire area of the former Nazi German camp. “At the Memorial, imbued with authenticity, we can count on more: on deeper reflection and fuller understanding. Among the guard towers and fences, on the ramp and at the ruins of the chambers and crematoria, in the birch grove and in the shadow of the barracks, we live through our own individual experience of Auschwitz. The experience of the place where we are standing” says the album.
The album “Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Place Where You Are Standing...” has been published in Polish and English language versions. It is available in the Museum bookshops as well as through the online bookshop of the Auschwitz Memorial.
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