Auschwitz through the lens of the SS: Photos of Nazi leadership at the camp
In January 2007, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives received a donation of a photograph album. The inscription “Auschwitz 21.6.1944” on its first page signaled the uniqueness of the album—there are very few wartime photographs of the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, which included Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi killing center. Though his name does not appear anywhere in the album, the dates of the photographs and various decorations including adjutant cords on the uniform of the album’s owner, indicate that the album almost certainly belonged to and was created by SS-Obersturmführer Karl Höcker, the adjutant to the commandant of Auschwitz, SS-Sturmbannführer Richard Baer. Höcker was stationed at Auschwitz from May 1944 until the evacuation of the camp in January 1945.
The photographs depict Höcker with other SS officers in Auschwitz in the summer and fall of 1944 and provide us with a new understanding of their lives and activities in the camp. Even in the final months of the war, after Soviet troops had liberated concentration camps and labor camps to the east, SS officers stationed at Auschwitz enjoyed social functions and formal ceremonies. The album shows Auschwitz at a pivotal time—the period during which the gas chambers were operating at maximum efficiency—as the Hungarian Jews arrived and during the last months before the evacuation of the camp. The only other known album of photographs taken at Auschwitz, published as the “Auschwitz Album” (first published in 1980), specifically depicts the arrival of the Hungarian Jews and the selection process that the SS imposed upon them.