You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

December 3: The Photographer of Auschwitz

December 3, 2013
wilhelm-brasse-ad-auschwitzimagesWilhelm Brasse, a non-Jewish, anti-Nazi Pole who became a prisoner in Auschwitz assigned by the SS to take photographs of prisoners, labor activities, and medical experiments, was born in Poland on this date in 1917. When the Nazis invaded his country in 1939, Brasse, a portrait photographer, was pressured to join the Nazi party, refused, withstood Gestapo interrogations, and tried to escape to France, but he was captured at the Polish-Hungarian border. Still refusing to sign a pro-Hitler loyalty oath, he was deported to Auschwitz shortly after the concentration camp was built. After six months of imprisonment there, he was assigned to the Erkennungsdienst, the photographic identification unit, and soon after was assigned to Doctor Josef Mengele’s infirmary to photograph subjects of Mengele’s experiments in torture. Brasse took tens of thousands of photographs in Auschwitz, most of which were eventually destroyed by the Nazis. He spent the later war years in a concentration camp in Austria, one of the last to be liberated by Soviet troops. After the war, he could not stomach picking up a camera again and went into the sausage casing business. He lived to be 94 and left two children and five grandchildren. “The photographs are the work of a man who fought to keep his humanity alive in a place of unimaginable evil.” —Fergal Keane