The Auschwitz Album, as it is referred to, is the only surviving visual account of the great atrocities that occurred at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Donated to Yad Vashem by Lilly Jacob-Zelmanovic Meier, the photos were taken in May or June 1944 by either Ernst Hofmann or Bernhard Walter, two SS men whose task was to take ID photos and fingerprints of the inmates.
Early summer 1944 was the apex of the deportation of Hungarian Jewry. For this purpose a special rail line was extended from the railway station outside the camp to a ramp inside Auschwitz. Many of the photos in the album were taken on the ramp. The Jews then went through a selection process, carried out by SS doctors and wardens. Those considered fit for work were sent into the camp, where they were registered, deloused and distributed to the barracks. The rest were sent to the gas chambers. They were gassed under the guise of a harmless shower, their bodies were cremated and the ashes were strewn in a nearby swamp. The Nazis not only ruthlessly exploited the labor of those they did not kill immediately, they also looted the belongings the Jews brought with them. Even gold fillings were extracted from the mouths of the dead by a special detachment of inmates. The personal effects the Jews brought with them were sorted by inmates and stored in an area referred to by the inmates as "Canada": the ultimate land of plenty.
View several of the heartbreaking photos below.
Since the railroad car has no convenient steps, the old Jews have to be assisted in disembarking. The words written on the side of the train are "Deutsche Reichsbahn" ("German State Railway").
The Jews who just arrived are taking care of their property as they are under the assumption they will be needing it. They have no idea that most of them will be murdered, and their property appropriated by the Nazis.
Two of Lili Jacob's siblings - Sril (Israel) and Zelig. They were gassed shortly after arrival.
The line of Jewish men on the left is advancing toward a SS man, In the background, the selection of the Jewish women is taking place. The two Jewish women in front have, as it seems, been selected for slave labor.
These Jewish men have just entered Birkenau as prisoners.
Jewish women cross through a camp section in Birkenau on their way to the "Sauna" (shower). The men watching from behind near the electrified barbed wire are prisoners in Birkenau.
The Jews chosen for slave labor have become prisoners of Auschwitz. Their personal belongings were confiscated, their hair was shaved, they were given prison uniforms, and a registration number was tattooed on their left arm.
Jewish women prisoners walk inside the women's camp, wearing the standard prison uniform. On the left, a SS man watches them.
A view of the endless bags and suitcases that were collected and sorted in "Kanada."
Clothes confiscated from the arriving Jews.
The undressing rooms of the gas chambers were not sufficient for the masses of Hungarian Jews who arrived daily in the summer of 1944. They therefore had to wait until the undressing rooms were ready to absorb them. The common waiting place was the grove closest to the crematorium. At this point, the Jews were exhausted and in a state of shock from the horrors of the journey and the selection process that they had just endured. The vast majority had no idea what fate awaited them. These were the last relatively peaceful moments together, before being driven into the gas chambers and murdered.
Jewish women and children forced to walk towards the gas chambers. On the platform, some railroad cars are still waiting. No memory of the men, women, and children that were deemed “valueless” upon their arrival remains in camp records. This album is the sole witness to their fate.
All images via Yad Vashem