Saturday, February 18, 2006

Auschwitz Album: A Book Based Upon an Album Discovered by a Concentration Camp Survivor Lili Meier: Text by Peter Hellman

I became aware of The Auschwitz Album on Monday when I saw a small but emotionally moving exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The photographic exhibit displays dozens of the photographs that were found by Lili Jacob (her maiden name) in a vacated SS barrack being used as a hospital in April 1945. The photographs in the album showed the "welcoming" of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. Looking in the album, Jacob found her rabbi, members of her family, and herself. Feeling that she was destined to find this album, she kept and protected it through her journey back to her home town of Bilke and on to America.

What is remarkable about The Auschwitz Album is that there is no other photographic collection of the Jewish death camps. Scared of the reaction that might follow international knowledge of their genocidal activities, the Nazi command usually forbad photographs. So, why were these photographs taken? Peter Hellman speculates that the SS wanted to use them in propaganda showing how well the Jewish workers were treated. There had been some efforts to reassure authorities in other countries from which the trains came that no Jews was being mistreated. All but one photograph in the collection shows passive waiting, walking, and working. The people in the photographs mostly believed they were going to work in family camps. They still had some hope. Someone in the SS must have realized that the distribution of the photographs would not help the Nazi cause. Who would be reassured by images of hungry people with shaved heads being herded like cattle?

There have been several books of the collection published. The latest is a deluxe edition from Berghahn Books, list price $90.00, ISBN 9653081497. The Field Museum Store is selling it for $72.00 ($64.80 for members), less than Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Baker & Taylor. It seems to be the only edition in print. I am surprised there is not a more affordable edition available, one that more museum visitors would buy and that libraries with tight budgets would consider.

Fortunately for readers, some libraries still have older editions. I read the most available edition, a 1981 Random House publication. Libraries that sometimes buy used books can easily get a good copy at a reasonable price from several of the online used book markets. Should you see a copy in your donations, keep it.

The Auschwitz Album: A Book Based Upon an Album Discovered by a Concentration Camp Survivor Lili Meier. Text by Peter Hellman. New York: Random House, 1981. ISBN 0394519329

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