Photographs taken in the camp and kept in the Archives of the Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum show both male and female prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former concentration camp. They were taken in a laboratory of Erkennungsdienst, which was subordinate to Politische Abteilung – the camp Gestapo. Photographs were taken by prisoners engaged to work in a photo laboratory in Block 26 Auschwitz I, among others, by: Wilhelm Brasse (No. 3444), Alfred Woycicki (no. 39247), Tadeusz Myszkowski (no. 593), Józef Pysz (no. 1420) Józef Światłoch (no. 3529), Eugeniusz Dembek (no. 63764), Bronisław Jureczek (no. 26672), Tadeusz Krzysica (no. 120557), Stanisław Trałka (no. 660), and Zdzisław Pazio (no. 3078). The Kapo of the kommando was Franz Maltz (his number has not been identified), and his successor was Tadeusz Bródka (No. 254). The head of the kommando was Bernhard Walter, SS-Hauptscharfürer, and his deputy was Hans Hoffman, SS-Oberscharführer.
The prisoners were summoned to the photo laboratory by Häftlingsschreibstube. Those who were summoned to be photographed had to have their faces shaven and their prison shirts legibly embroidered with their respective numbers and triangles in a specific colour. In addition, headwear was required. At a set time, they queued in front of block 26, in order from the lowest numbers upwards. This was to make the photographers’ work easier; they fixed on a special plate single digits making the relevant camp number of the prisoner being photographed, his/her nationality and the reason for which s/he was in the camp.
The collection of prison photographs consists of 38,916 photos, including 31,969 photos of men and 6,947 photos of women. The photos were taken in three body positions: profile, en face and en face in a cap (men) or en face in a shawl (women). The prisoners in the photographs wear striped uniforms. Some of them wear civilian clothes. In the bottom left corner of the photographs there are respective camp numbers, nationality, the reason for which a given prisoner was in the camp and the “KL Auschwitz” reference.
The photographs were taken from the first quarter of 1941. The very first prisoners were photographed first, the others deported to KL Auschwitz were photographed next.
Wilhelm Brasse and Bronisław Jureczek, the prisoners from the photo laboratory, helped to save the photographs. In January 1945, during the evacuation of the camp, they were ordered to burn the entire photo-documentation. Their work was supervised by Bernhard Walter, the head of Erkenundienst. While destroying the documents, they put wet photo paper in the furnace first and a great number of photos and negatives. Such a vast amount of material prevented the smoke from escaping and the fire went out quickly. When Walter left the laboratory, Brasse and Jureczek retrieved the undestroyed photographs from the furnace. They scattered some of them in the rooms of the laboratory. Before the evacuation, they boarded up the door to the laboratory to prevent unauthorised access. 38,916 photographs were saved.
After the liberation of the camp, the photographs and negatives were placed in bags and according to Józef Dziura, a former prisoner (no. 1148), they were handed over to a photographer in Chorzów (Semrau or Nowar). Subsequently, they were taken to an office of the Polish Red Cross in Cracow at Św. Anna street. In 1947, the photographs were placed in the archives of the newly-established State Museum in Oświęcim.
The person who was in charge of the process of describing and cataloguing such precious material was Karol Rydecki, a former prisoner (no. 3011), and an employee of the Mechanical Documentation Department of the museum. While looking through the photographs, he made some annotations on the back of them with pencil or ink. Rydecki’s annotations concern names, dates and places of birth, dates of transportation to the camp and dates of death as well.
Database: “Camp Photographs”
The camp photographs kept in the Archives were used to create database “CP” which contains 38,916 records. The work was started in 1991 as part of a project entitled “Protection of the Documentation of KL Auschwitz” implemented by the then Computer Section. Each record contains the following data: prisoner number, sex, prison category, notes, dates of notes and picture size. Later on, the camp photographs were scanned and attached to the relevant records.