Each month Abington Library will feature a favorite book from a faculty, staff member, or student. They will give a brief synopsis of their chosen book.
Teddy Davis is Dean of Arts & Humanities/Associate Professor of Social Sciences at ASU-Beebe
Book Review By: Teddy Davis
The Auschwitz Photographer: The Forgotten Story of the World War II Prisoner Who Documented Thousands of Lost Souls
By: Luca Crippa and Maurizio Onnis – Sourcebooks 2013
The Auschwitz Photographer is the story of Wilhelm Brasse, prisoner number 3444. Brasse, a native of Poland, was sent to Auschwitz in 1940, at the age of 22. When Germany invaded Poland, Brasse was given the opportunity to join the German Army because he could speak German. He refused and was then sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau prison.
Prior to his internment, Brasse had been a portrait photographer in Poland before the war. When the Schutzstaffel, also known as the SS and Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard unit, learned of his photography skills they enlisted him to take identification photographs of prisoners as they entered the prison. When they saw his portrait skills, in addition to the identification photographs he was also ordered to take other photographs around the camp and was even ordered to take photographs of German Officers. Eventually, he was ordered to document through his photographs some of the medical experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele and Dr. Eduard Wirths.
From 1940 to 1945, Brasse took close to 50,000 photographs. Working long hours 7 days a week he documented many of the horrors of Auschwitz. This work kept him alive and sane as he worked to give people in their last days some dignity through his portraits of them.
As the war drug on Brasse became involved with the camp Resistance movement faking documents and trying to smuggle images to the outside world. As Soviet troops moved toward the camp to liberate it, Brasse was ordered by SS troops to destroy his photographs, he refused. Instead he and another prisoner scattered negatives, photographs and rolls of film all over the photography studio to make it difficult for the SS to take everything. The next day he sat and waited to be killed for what he had done. But the SS officers in charge of the Identification Service never returned to the studio. They had already fled the camp.
Because of his photographic skills Brasse survived to be liberated. Wilhem Brasse returned to his native Poland and lived to age 94. He tried to take up photography again but found that his heart was just not in it anymore. He married and had two children and lived a quiet life.
The Auschwitz Photographer is an intimate and personal perspective on a time in history which must never be forgotten or denied. Brasse’s photographs serve as further evidence of a time and place in history that unfortunately was all too real. People should read this book to honor the memories of the thousands of individuals – men, women, children, young and old, who lived out their final days in this place.