The Auschwitz Album under the microscope of historians

The Auschwitz Album under the microscope of historians


The Auschwitz Album, a collection of photographs taken by the Nazis in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, is reissued in French on Friday with attentive explanations from historians who have passed it under the magnifying glass. 

“An album of Auschwitz: how the Nazis photographed their crimes” (Editions du Seuil) is the work of the Frenchman Tal Bruttmann and the Germans Stefan Hördler and Christoph Kreutzmüller.

The German edition of their book was published in 2019. The French is translated by Olivier Mannoni, also a translator of “Mein Kampf”.

The critical edition of Adolf Hitler's programmatic book published in 1924- 1925, by Fayard in 2021 in French, after the German version in 2016, had already shown how Nazi production could be transformed into a support for a story accessible to anyone who wants to understand the genocidal mechanics of Nazism.

This “album” was made in 1944 by two SS photographers. And historians start from the same ambition: to deconstruct what initially aimed to exalt the National Socialist project for Europe.

“These are images, an object totally different from the text. And while Mein Kampf has been extensively commented on, no one before us has looked at these photographs. In general, the analysis of photos is rarely integrated into the work of historians”, explains Tal Bruttmann to AFP.

“World famous” photos

< p>In the case of Auschwitz-Birkenau, an extermination camp in southern Poland where 1.1 million people were murdered, the SS document the work of receiving Jewish deportees from Hungary.

Officially, it is a question of “displacing” populations designated as undesirable, and of selecting the individuals capable of working. In fact, photographers know they capture the last moments of convicts in the gas chambers.

According to the historian, “these photos are world famous. If you are looking for images of Auschwitz, you come across it. They are in the documentaries, in the books, in all the museums that talk about the Shoah. So they are rooted in representations, and they have irrigated popular culture.”

But “if you have seen them in isolation, you probably do not know that they come from this album of 197 photos made by of the SS. That is what we found,” adds Tal Bruttmann.

From Auschwitz to Miami

The lawyer and historian of the deportation Serge Klarsfeld had clarified the history of this album after its discovery. Taken by its first owner, a German, to the Dora camp, it was found there by chance by a 19-year-old deportee, Lili Jacob, in the bedside table of a former SS room.

She sees a lot of people she has known in the photos, including her parents. She will cling to this object, preciously preserved and taken during her emigration to Miami after the war.

Serge Klarsfeld will find her under her married name and will convince her to bequeath the album to the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.

For this, he writes in the preface, “it took thirty-five years (…) Forty years were still necessary for this book [the one published on Friday] to provide an answer to most of the questions that remained unanswered”.

What the three historians, who combine ” very different fields of competence”, this is both the conditions of these shots, and what they teach us about Auschwitz.

“There is a lot to be learned from it for our understanding Tal Bruttmann points out.

“While masking the assassination process itself, the photos reflect the attempt to fix the process of arrival (…) as a well-oiled value chain sum up the authors in conclusion.

Printed on luxury paper, the book is priced at 49 euros, with the support of the Franco-German Office for Youth and of the Foundation for the memory of the Shoah.