The Summer Camp For Auschwitz Personnel
These photos were taken between May and December 1944, and they show the officers and guards of Auschwitz relaxing and enjoying themselves — as countless people were being murdered and cremated at the nearby death camp. In some of the photos, SS officers can be seen singing.
In others, they are hunting and in another, a man can be seen decorating a Christmas tree in what could only be described as a holiday in hell. The album also contains eight photos of Josef Mengele — some of the very few existing snapshots taken of the concentration camp’s notorious doctor during the time he spent there.
The images are significant because there are few photos available today of the “social life” of the SS officers who were responsible for the mass murder at Auschwitz.
These are the first leisure time photos of the concentration camp’s SS officers to be discovered, though similar images do exist for other camps, including Sachsenhausen, Dachau, and Buchenwald.
The album belonged to Karl Höcker, the adjutant to the final camp commandant at Auschwitz, Richard Baer. Höcker took the pictures as personal keepsakes. Prior to its liberation by the Allies, Höcker fled Auschwitz.
After the war, he worked for years, unrecognized, in a bank. But in 1963 he was forced to answer to charges for his role at Auschwitz at a trial in Frankfurt.
In his closing words in the trial, Höcker claimed:
“I had no possibility in any way to influence the events and I neither wanted them to happen nor took part in them. I didn’t harm anyone and no one died at Auschwitz because of me”.
In the end, though, he was convicted on charges of aiding and abetting the murders of 1,000 Jews and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was released after serving five years. In 2000, he died at the age of 88.
Solahütte, a little known SS resort some 30 km south of Auschwitz on the Sola River. Archival records reveal that the SS rewarded Auschwitz guards who performed their work at Auschwitz in an exemplary fashion with a trip to Solahütte. Danuta Czech, in her daily chronicle of the camp wrote that on August 18, 1944, "SS Private Johann Antoni and SS man Hans Kartusch from the 3rd Guard Company of Auschwitz II receive eight days' special leave in the SS recreation center of Solahütte as recognition for the successful use of their weapons during the escape of four prisoners, in spite of darkness."
The photos were made public by the United States National Holocaust Museum in Washington. The museum obtained the photos from a retired US Army intelligence officer, who came across the album in an apartment in Frankfurt and has now given them to the museum.
“These unique photographs vividly illustrate the contented world they enjoyed while overseeing a world of unimaginable suffering”, museum director Sara Bloomfield said in a statement.
“They offer an important perspective on the psychology of those perpetrating genocide”. The director of the museum’s photographic reference collection, Judith Cohen, said there are no photos depicting anything abhorrent, “and that’s precisely what makes them so horrible”.
Later in this series of photographs, “the women and the officer turn their bowls to the camera; some invert them to show that they are empty,” Wilkinson writes. “One woman pretends to weep.
The scene took place on July 22, 1944. On July 23rd the Soviets liberated Majdanek, the first concentration camp to fall. Majdanek was about a hundred and eighty miles northeast of Auschwitz. When the camp was abandoned, a thousand prisoners were force-marched to Auschwitz. Only half of them arrived.
“In a series of photographs, the women and three officers run toward the camera, grinning wildly, apparently because it has suddenly begun to rain,” Wilkinson writes.
The women with Hoecker “were typists, telegraph clerks, and secretaries in Auschwitz, and were called Helferinnen, which means ‘helpers,’” Wilkinson writes. “Their racial purity had been established—should an officer be looking for a girlfriend or a wife, the Helferinnen were intended to be a resource.”
As the SS members took time off, hundreds were being murdered nearby at Auschwitz.
This photograph, taken at Auschwitz, shows “nearly a hundred officers arrayed like a glee club up the side of a hill. The accordion player stands across the road,” Wilkinson writes. “All the men are singing except those in the very front, who perhaps feel too important for it.”
The group includes Richard Baer; Rudolf Hoess, who had supervised the building of Auschwitz and had been its first commandant; and Josef Mengele, the doctor who performed infamous medical experiments on twins and other prisoners. This album contains eight pictures of Mengele—the only known photographs of him at Auschwitz.