The Holocaust

Ghosts of Auschwitz

One thing that always came to my mind when photographing Auschwitz & Birkenau, was whether I would capture any lost souls. Just to clarify this photograph is a digital manipulation and not an actual ghost. Out of the hundreds of photo’s I captured, I haven’t noticed any yet. I start to think, had I been one of them victims I would not of wanted to stick around. There are photographs on the internet of apparent ghosts captured, however, these cannot always be trusted to be legitimate.

After speaking to a paranormal investigator on the topic of ‘ghosts’, apparently SLR cameras are not the best to use due to the built-in filters (Infra red etc). I was recommended to use a decent compact camera instead, but my purpose of the visit was not to hunt ghosts.

Wilhelm Brasse

One photographer I admire is Polish born Wilhelm Brasse. Wilhelm was an inmate of Auschwitz Concentration Camp and was forced to take photographs for the SS. This skill had likely saved Wilhelm’s life, he was useful to the Nazi’s for which he also spoke German. Many of Wilhelm’s photographs can be seen at Auschwitz and at Yad Vashem. Wilhelm literally took thousands of photographs and many were destroyed before the liberation. Wilhelm had managed to store several hundred\thousand negatives from the Nazi’s and used this as evidence against them, he is considered a hero for this.

After the war Wilhelm never picked up a camera again which is very sad but completely understandable. Wilhelm stated “when I took a portrait photograph all I saw was dead people, I could no longer continue”. The trauma and experience of Auschwitz would haunt Wilhelm for the rest of his life until his death in 2012 age 94.

Wilhelm Brasse is a person I would love to meet, sit down at a table have some Polish food and talk about his experiences. As a photographer like Wilhelm, I cannot imagine shooting under these circumstances, but also knowing it was the camera that saved his life. A picture truly speaks a thousand words.

Courtesy of http://www.visitare-auschwitz.it/[/caption]

Photography Tips:

To create an image like this, I used two photographs and blended them together. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. When blending you need to get the tone, colour and transparency just right. Ideally you want to make the image look as real as possible. Digital photography and Photoshop has bought a new era in photography, with regards to digital art. Don’t shun digital photography use it to your advantage and create compelling masterpieces.

Angels at the gates of Birkenau

The photograph featured is the central gates of Birkenau Concentration Camp, that splits the camp in two. The gates were open and have likely remained so since liberation in 1945. Upon visiting Birkenau, I was astonished at the size of the camp. Walking the perimeter of the camp with a few friends took about an hour. Birkenau is located in the middle of a woodland area, which is isolated from the outside world. The reason to the name ‘Angels at the gates of Birkenau’, is due to the sense of liberation and the piercing light through the clouds.

After the war

Around 12 percent of Auschwitz’s 6,500 staff who survived the war were eventually brought to trial. Poland was more active than other nations in investigating war crimes, prosecuting 673 of the total 789 Auschwitz staff brought to trial. On 25th November 1947, the Auschwitz Trial began in Kraków, when Poland’s Supreme National Tribunal brought to court 40 former Auschwitz staff. The trial’s defendants included commandant Arthur Liebehenschel, women’s camp leader Maria Mandel, and camp leader Hans Aumeier. 22nd December 1947 saw the end of the trials, with 23 death sentences, 7 life sentences, and 9 prison sentences ranging from three to fifteen years. Hans Münch, an SS doctor who had several former prisoners testify on his behalf, was the only person to be acquitted — Wikipedia

Photography Tips:

Maintain a level of decency when exploring these camps. When visiting the camps, you may likely find many signs around the camp, which will inform whether photography is allowed and whether silence is required. Flash is prohibited at most locations and I actually don’t advise to use them (too invasive). If you have the equipment available, I recommend using a camera that is good in low light with a decent ISO rating. Think about the amount of equipment you are taking, you will likely be doing a lot of walking. Security guards will check all of your equipment before entry. Personally, I only took camera, lens, spare battery and carry bag. I recommend using a lens that is capable of ranged photography, such as the Sony SAL1680Z.

Block 11

During my tour of Auschwitz I came across many different blocks, all initially designed for harrowing things. Block 11 was no surprise to me, I had read about it and heard about it from various sources. Anticipation (in a negative sense), came over me, I was about to walk into a building of such darkness and human depravity. This building does not disappoint, such disgust and shame to be part of a race that can do this to its own kind.

When entering Block 11 you will pass a room with a long table and many chairs, this room is where SS sat and ordered either life or death. Upon a decision of death, the prisoner was then stripped of their clothing and either shot, hung or tortured. At the end of the corridor is a small noose for the hangings, which still stand to this day. Follow the stairs to the basement and you will notice a massive difference in the atmosphere, a dark, damp lonely place. The basement is where the torture happened, there is also a small room where the first gassings took place using Zyklon-B. Due to the amount of tourists visiting the camps, I was rushed around and didn’t have much time to absorb the moment. If possible I would always recommend visiting the camps during the quiet months and try to avoid summer.

History of Block 11

There are many blocks at Auschwitz and all come with their own horrors, but 11 was the most feared. Block 11 was known for torture, brutality and death. The block had a variety of cells ranging from normal, dark and standing. The standing cells were 1 sq metre and had an air hole measuring 5x5 cm in diameter. Prisoners in these cells were expected to stand for up to 20 days and assuming they survived, forced to work afterwards. Prisoners were generally sent here due to: attempted escapes, aiding escapees or contact with civilians.

Photography Tips:

Too be honest photography is difficult in block 11 due to the amount of visitors, lack of light and flash restrictions. If I remember rightly most of the block prohibits photography, likely to these issues and also the historical nature of the building. I suggest putting the camera down and just absorbing the awful atmosphere as its important to feel the emotion in this block.

Paul Simon Carver·
29 min
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