Seeing Auschwitz

Dec 3, 2022 by

by David Herman, The Article:

Seeing Auschwitz at 81 Old Brompton Road in South Kensington is one of the most moving and original exhibitions of the year. As the curators point out at the beginning of the exhibition, a relatively small number of photographs, nearly all taken by the Nazis, influence how we “see” Auschwitz. Seeing Auschwitz presents the lesser-known photographs, taken by victims themselves, by Nazis in their off-duty moments and aerial photos, taken by the Allies.

Approximately 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz. 1.1 million were murdered there. 1 million were Jews and most of these were killed on arrival. 75,000 were ethnic Poles, 21,000 were Roma and Sinti, 15,000 were Soviet POWs and 10-15,000 were political opponents of the Nazi regime. Smaller numbers were gay men, criminals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The very first picture captures the sense of chaos as a group of Hungarian Jews arrive at Auschwitz in mid-1944. They look confused, bewildered, in the foreground there is a man with no trousers and just one shoe. It is hard to imagine an image more different from the early accounts of the efficiency of the “Final Solution”. This image speaks of mayhem and disorder. How could the new arrivals possibly make sense of this new world as they arrived hungry, exhausted, hot, after several days in crowded cattle trucks? To think they could have rebelled is obscene.

Others show a group of Jews in the Birch Grove, including two pictures of  young children waiting with their mothers. Approximately 90 per cent of all Jewish children in German-occupied Europe were murdered by the collaborators — one of a number of reasons why John Boyne’s bestselling novel, The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, is so misleading.

Other photos show scenes of plunder: inmates sorting out huge piles of shoes and clothes. What is immediately striking is how many of the Jews who arrived at Auschwitz brought huge bundles of possessions.

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