Even for those who have little knowledge of the Holocaust, Auschwitz is a name that is instantly recognisable. Many of the most iconic images of the Holocaust are directly associated with Auschwitz: the blue and white camp uniforms, the sign the reads ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ that still hangs above the gates to Auschwitz I today, the very notion of gas chambers and crematoria that dealt out death on an industrial scale. All of these perceptions of what the Holocaust was are found within that single word – Auschwitz.
Sixty eight years ago this week, on 15th May 1944 the Nazis began the mass deportation of over 400,000 Jews from Hungary. The vast majority of these people ended up in Auschwitz.
Of the many photographs of the Holocaust, most of those that exist from Auschwitz focus on these Hungarian Jews who arrived in huge numbers in the final months of the war. There are around 200 photographs of one transport from either May or June 1944 that were discovered shortly after the end of the war by Lilly Jacob, herself a Hungarian survivor of Auschwitz. This collection has become known as the Auschwitz Album. The Yad Vashem online exhibition of this album tells the incredible story of how Lilly discovered the album:
“On the day of her liberation, in the Dora concentration camp hundreds of miles from Auschwitz, she found in the deserted SS barracks a photo album. It contained, among others, pictures of her family and friends as they arrived on the ramp and unknowingly awaited their death. It was a unique tie to what once had been, could never return, and could never be rebuilt.”
The Auschwitz Album is an excellent online and classroom resource. These are the only photographs that we know about that show the arrival of Jews at Auschwitz or indeed any concentration camp. They give stark visual support to the witness testimonies that we have from other sources. They also provoke questions about the determination of the Nazis to complete their destruction of European Jewry even as the Reich was collapsing and the Allies approaching.
In schools, teaching the Holocaust tends to focus on Poland as that is where the key ghettos and the camps were and it is easy for students to forget that many of the victims who died in these places came from all over the continent, and in some cases beyond. The Auschwitz Album is a resource that acts as a pertinent reminder that Jewish victims came from all parts of Europe to share their fate.
If you want to further enrich your students’ knowledge and understanding of how Hungary’s Jews were affected by the Holocaust, why not get in touch with the London Jewish Cultural Centre and request Susan Pollack to come to speak at your school? I have had the privilege of hearing Susan tell her story on two separate occasions . I first met her when she came to speak to my Year 9 class in Brighton and then I specifically asked for her to come to Roedean and speak to a larger audience of students from Years 9-13 for Holocaust Memorial Day in 2010. On both occasions her audience was gripped by her story, and many students lingered to ask her more questions even after the official Q&A was finished.