Just when I thought that I was all blogged out, a reader of my blog made a comment that included three links to the news about the death of Wilhelm Brasse, the photographer at Auschwitz. Two of the links (New York Times and Spiegel) showed the identification photos of a young Polish girl, which you can see below.
Here is the caption on the photo in the New York Times:
Prisoner identity photographs, taken by Wilhelm Brasse, of Czeslawa Kwoka of Poland. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Czeslawa arrived with her family at Auschwitz on Dec. 13, 1942, and died on March 12, 1943. She was 14.
I actually remember seeing these photos of this young girl in the Museum exhibits in the Auschwitz main camp when I was there in 1998.
Why have these photos captured the attention of the world? The photos of this young girl capture the essence of the misfortune of the Auschwitz prisoners. This is a cute young girl, only 14 years old, but the first two photos show her as old and haggard, her hair shown, and her lips compressed in definance. In the third photo, the photographer has captured her youth and beauty with a jaunty scarf on her head and an upward adoring gaze. The girl has been “humanized” by the photographer with the way that he posed her in the third photo.
The first photo shows that her head is pressed against a device to hold her head at the correct distance from the camera, so that the photographer did not have to re-focus the camera for each new prisoner.
The quality of the photos is excellent, indicating that a camera with a good portrait lens was being used, and that the photographer knew how to develop and print black and white photos, which is now a lost art.
The third link given by a reader of my blog was to the Wikipedia entry for Wilhelm Brasse.
The photo above is shown on the Wikipedia page for Wilhelm Brasse with this caption:
Brasse in 2005 with one of his Auschwitz photographs
Oops! The photo that Brasse is holding is NOT one of the photos that he took. It is a still shot from a film taken by the Soviet liberators of Auschwitz. The Soviets filmed these prisoners because, according to the Soviets, these were Jews who had been experimented on by Dr. Josef Mengele. Wilhelm Brasse could not have taken the film which included this still shot because he had been death marched out of the Auschwitz camp on January 18, 1945 before the Soviets arrived on January 27, 1945 to liberate the camp.
So why did Brasse pose with this still photo? Did his memory fail him and he couldn’t remember which photos that he took? Or was he persuaded to pose with a photo that he knew was NOT one of the photos that he had taken?
I previous blogged about the photo that Brasse is holding here. Don’t bother trying to change the Wikipedia entry; the lie about this photo is so firmly entrenched into Holocaust history that it is one of those famous “events that never happened, but are true.”
The photo actually shows Gypsy children who are suffering from the disease called “Noma.” When the Gypsy camp was closed, all the Gypsies were sent to the gas chamber, except for these children who had Noma, who were left behind for some unknown reason. I previously blogged about the gassing of the Gypsies here and here.
The news articles about the death of Wilhelm Brasse mention that he did not take photos of the prisoners who were immediately gassed upon arrival at Auschwitz. That is correct: the prisoners who were gassed immediately were not registered in the Auschwitz camp, so no identification photos were taken of them. That is why the names of the prisoners who were immediately gassed are completely unknown; also the number of Jews who were immediately gassed is completely unknown. The Nazis were no fools; they had the good sense not to leave behind records of the Jews who were gassed.
This quote is from Wikipedia about Wilhelm Brasse:
Dr. Mengele had insisted that Brasse take the “identity” portraits of Auschwitz prisoners “in three poses: from the front and from each side.” After taking hundreds of thousands of such photographs, Brasse and others disobeyed later Nazi orders to destroy them, yet only some of his photos have survived….
Personally, I don’t believe that Dr. Mengele had anything to do with the “identity” portraits. The taking of the identity portraits in the main camp started long before Dr. Mengele arrived at the Birkenau camp to be the doctor assigned to take care of the Gypsy family camp.