Photographing the Holocaust – the ‘Auschwitz Album’
The ‘Auschwitz Album’ is the only surviving photographic evidence of the process that led to mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The album contains 197 photographs taken by SS photographers during the spring and summer of 1944. Between 15 May and 9 July Hungarian police, under the guidance of German SS officials, deported 440,000 Hungarian Jews by train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The ‘Auschwitz Album’ images document their arrival at Birkenau after a three-day journey on cattle wagons and the process of selection and dehumanisation that followed. HSFA member Eugene Black has been identified in one of the photographs. John Chillag, Iby Knill and Ibi Ginsburg were also among those deported.
Prisoners on the ramp at Birkenau after ‘selection’. Image from the Auschwitz Album, courtesy of Yad Vashem
For six decades the photographs in the ‘Auschwitz Album’ have been central to how the camp is represented and to the way in which the ‘Final Solution’ has been interpreted. It has shaped representations of the Holocaust in film, literature and documentaries. However, we know almost nothing about the album. Who made it, why, and for whom? What do the photographs actually show? How can we analyse these pictures as historical sources, and what can they tell us about the workings of Auschwitz-Birkenau?
In this talk Dr Stefan Hördler will discuss new research into the ‘Auschwitz Album’, demonstrating that it is above all an internal propaganda project that celebrates SS efficiency during the deportation of the Jews from Hungary. Hördler will raise questions about how the album was commissioned, made and shared, and about the staging of a number of the images, reminding us that historians should examine photographic evidence just as critically as textual sources.
The lecture will take place in the Diamond Jubilee Lecture Theatre, located in the Charles Sikes Building at the University of Huddersfield. The HSFA’s exhibition, ‘Through Our Eyes’, will be open until 6pm before the lecture starts.
About the Speaker
Dr. Stefan Hördler is director of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial and lectures at the University of Göttingen. He is a specialist in 20th century German history, Holocaust studies, public history and social and economic history. He has previously worked at the German Historical Institute in Washington DC and the Institute of Contemporary History at the University of Vienna. In 2009 he held a Ben and Zelda Cohen Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, based at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Hördler is the author and co-editor of several books. His most recent publications are (with Christophe Busch and Robert Jan van Pelt, eds.) “Das Höcker-Album. Auschwitz durch die Linse der SS” (Darmstadt: Philipp von Zabern, 2016) and (with Kobi Kabalek, eds.) “The Final Stage of the Holocaust” (special issue, Dapim 29, Oxford/New York: Routledge, 2015).