Scrapbookpages Blog

November 14, 2014

British students amazed by photos displayed at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photos displayed in the Sauna building at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photos displayed in the Sauna building at Auschwitz-Birkenau

My 2005 photo above shows a wall of photos, which are displayed in the building called the “Sauna” at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The floor in the room is covered with glass, and the wall of photos is reflected in the glass, making it look like two walls of photos, but there is only one wall and the reflection of the wall.

I previously blogged about the Sauna on this blog post:

The photo wall at Auschwitz-Birkenau consists of photos found at the camp after it was liberated.  Allegedly, these photos were selected and saved, by the Nazis, from a larger number of photos, which had been brought to the camp by the Jews.

How did the Nazis decide which photos to save and which to burn? Look at the photo above again.  Almost all of the photos, on display at Auschwitz, are color photos.

Recently, a group of British students were taken on a tour of Auschwitz by the HET; you can read about the trip here.

This quote is from the news article about the HET trip:

We were taken to a room which was full of photographs on display. When the prisoners packed a suitcase to leave their homes, the most important possessions were photographs.

The majority of them [the photos] were burned by the Nazis. But a small collection were left behind. It was touching and poignant to see all the smiling faces of families and loved ones of those who perished in Auschwitz.

I find it strange that the students were so concerned with the photos, and not with the purpose of the Sauna building, where the exhibit of the photos is located.

What criteria did the Nazis use in selecting photos to save?

Look at the photo below, which shows a wall of photos at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

Hall of photo at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Hall of photo at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Notice that the photos, in the display shown above, are mostly black and white, while the photos displayed in the Sauna at Auschwitz are almost all color photos.

I can see it all now: those evil Nazis were going through the luggage of the prisoners and sorting the photos into piles for a future Museum at Auschwitz, and a future Museum in America.

One thing that the British students, on the HET trip, might not have realized is that most people were not taking color photos with their primitive box cameras in the 1940ies.  Color film was expensive and it had to be sent to Rochester, New York to be processed.

The first modern color film, Kodachrome, was introduced in 1935 based on three colored emulsions. Most modern color films, except Kodachrome, are based on technology developed for Agfacolor (as ‘Agfacolor Neue’) in 1936.

Unfortunately, when WWII came along, color photography was still a novelty. The first batches of color film from Kodak were hard to find, leaving combat and civilian photographers with little choice but to record events in black and white.

When I was taking photos back in the 1940ies, I had a box camera like the one shown in the photo below.

Box camera used in the 1940ies in America

Box camera used in the 1940ies in America

Students today, who are taking selfies with their iPhone do not realize the significance of color photos in 1944.  A person who had color photos of their family members, in the 1940s, was a rich privileged person.

The purpose of the Sauna building, where the exhibit of the photos is located, was to save lives by disinfecting the clothing to prevent the spread of disease, and to provide a shower for incoming prisoners in an effort to prevent disease.

The room with the photos is at the end of the present-day tour of the Sauna.  These students weren’t impressed by the effort to save lives; they were only concerned with the (dubious) claim that the Nazis went through the photos in the luggage and callously burned some of them, while selecting other photos to save.

I suspect that the students were not told that this building was closed to tourists for 60 years.  I believe that the building was closed so that tourists would not realize that the Nazis made a big effort to save the lives of the Jews who were sent to Auschwitz.

Lviv ghetto in Ukraine, where Jews hid in sewers, is back in the news

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:13 am
Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler in Lviv, Nov. 7, 2014. (Courtesy of Limmud FSU)

Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler in Lviv, Nov. 7, 2014. (Courtesy of Limmud FSU)

The photo above is from a newspaper article, which you can read in full here.  It shows one of the manhole covers, that can be lifted up, to enter the sewer in Lviv.

The news story is about the sewer system in the city of Lviv, where Jews hid for 14 months, during World War II, to escape the Genocide perpetrated by the Nazis.  Strangely, there is no Holocaust memorial to mark this historic spot, nor any of the other manhole covers where the Jews entered the sewer.

A few years ago, there was a movie, entitled In Darkness, about Jewish children hiding in the sewers.  I blogged about the movie here.

Scene from the movie "In Darkness, shows children hiding the sewer

Scene from the movie “In Darkness,” shows children emerging from the sewer

In the movie scene, shown in the photo above, notice that the little girl is wearing a ribbon in her hair.  One must keep up appearances, even while living in a sewer.

I didn’t actually go to see the movie because I thought that it would be too upsetting.  Personally, I would not live in a sewer for 14 months to escape death.  I would have just said, “Kill me now.”

Near the end of the war, the survivors of the Lviv ghetto were sent to Dachau.  I wrote about one of the survivors of the ghetto on this page of my website:

This quote is from my website:

Six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, including the entire family of William Weiss, who was among the prisoners at Dachau when it was liberated by the US Seventh Army on April 29, 1945. Before the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Weiss family had lived in peace and prosperity in Lwow, which at that time was a Polish city, also known by the English name Lvov. The city was originally called L’viv when it was founded in 1256 as the capital of Galicia; today the city of L’viv is in the Ukraine. From 1772 until 1919, the city was called Lemberg, after it became part of the Austrian Empire in the first partition of Poland.

According to his own account, as told to newspaper reporter Marsha Low in 2001, Weiss was a studious child who earned good grades and he expected to one day take over his father’s military supply business in Lvov. When World War II started in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, the Soviet Union captured the city of Lvov on September 17, 1939, the first day that the Russians entered the war on the side of Nazi Germany. After Poland was conquered, Lvov was in the section that was occupied by the Soviet Union, as part of the pact made with the Germans prior to the joint invasion. The original population of Lvov was one third Jewish and there were an additional 100,000 Jewish refugees in the city, who had fled to the east, escaping from the Germans when they invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.

The area occupied by the Soviet Union, after September 1939, had formerly belonged to the Russians from 1795 until after World War I when the Poles finally regained their independence. After the Russians took back their lost Polish territory in September 1939, they set up a Communist government and the Soviet secret police, known as the NKVD, was put in charge of arresting any resistance fighters.

On July 2, 1941, the life of the Weiss family changed drastically, according to his account, as told to Marsha Low. On June 22, 1941, the German Army had invaded the Soviet Union and by July 2nd, they had captured the city of Lvov. The name of the city was changed back to Lemberg, the name that had been given to it by the Austrians. According to Weiss’s account, the Nazis began rounding up the Jews in the city within the first month, taking them to the Brygidki and Loncki prisons on the edge of town.

Weiss told Ms. Low that by August 1941, the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police began forcing the Jews into a ghetto in Lvov, allowing them to take with them only what they could carry. Lvov became one of the five major ghettos in Poland; the other four were Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow and Lublin. Altogether, there were 356 ghettos established by the Nazis in Poland after September 1939.

The evacuation of the Lvov Jews began on March 19, 1942 and continued for one month until 15,000 Jews had been sent to the gas chambers at Belzec, one of the three Operation Reinhard extermination camps, which had been set up specifically to kill the Jews as part of the Final Solution. Between August 10 and August 23, 1942, 50,000 more Jews from the Lvov ghetto were sent to Belzec, which is north of Lvov, on the west side of the Bug river, the border between the part of Poland occupied by the Germans and the former Soviet occupied zone. Between March and December 1942, a total of 600,000 Jews were murdered in the gas chamber at Belzec.

Weiss told reporter Marsha Low that, in August 1942, his father had found a hiding place in Lvov and had planned an escape for the entire family on the evening of a day when the Lvov Jews were rounded up, but it was too late. Weiss and his mother and two sisters had already been put into the group that was assembled, ready to be sent to either Belzec or the concentration camp at Janowska. Weiss was 19 years old at that time. He told Ms. Low that his mother and two sisters were sent to Belzec, but he managed to escape certain death because, on the day that the Jews were assembled for transport, his mother told him to sneak over to the other side where able-bodied people were being sent to work at Janowska, not to be killed at Belzec.

As quoted in the newspaper article, Weiss said, “I listened to her. Now I know she knew she’d be killed. They put me on a truck and took me to the Janowska camp.” Weiss said that he managed to escape from the Janowska camp that same night, running to the place where his father was hiding in Lvov, ready to escape with the whole family. When he told his father that their escape plan was too late because his mother and sisters were already on their way to Belzec, his father cried, the first time that Weiss had ever seen his father cry. After a week in hiding in Lvov, Weiss said that he and his father were captured and sent to Loncki prison. Another 5,000 Jews from Lvov were evacuated in November 1942, and sent to either Belzec or Janowska, but Weiss and his father remained for a year in the Loncki prison until the Soviet Army arrived in 1943.

Weiss and his father were among 30 prisoners who were evacuated from the Loncki prison before Russian troops captured Lvov; they were sent to the Auschwitz death camp, where both managed to survive. In his interview with Marsha Low, Weiss said that he still dreams of naked bodies being herded into the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

As the Soviet Army advanced further into Poland, Auschwitz was evacuated in January 1945. In the dead of winter, through knee-deep snow, the starving prisoners were forced to march 50 kilometers to Gleiwitz near the border of Germany. Weiss said that his 42-year-old father died of starvation on the forced march. After a few weeks in Gleiwitz, Weiss was transported by train to the Dachau concentration camp. When Dachau was liberated by American troops, 22-year-old William Weiss, who was 5 foot 7 inches tall, weighed only 75 pounds and he was suffering from typhus. He had survived nearly three years of imprisonment by the Nazis. He said that he was sent to a hospital in Munich, where he met his future wife, Regina, who was also a survivor. They were married on March 13, 1946 in the city hall in Munich.

William Weiss and Regina emigrated to America where they settled near Detroit in West Bloomfield, Michigan. In 2001, Weiss was retired from the clothing business, and was working as a volunteer at least once a week at the Holocaust Memorial Center in West Bloomfield, telling his story to a new generation, so that the horrors of the Nazi regime will never be forgotten.