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The first page of the Höcker Album features a dual portrait of Karl Höcker (at right) and his boss, Auschwitz commandant Richard Baer.

The Höcker Album (or Hoecker Album) is a collection of photographs believed to have been collected by Karl-Friedrich Höcker, an officer of the SS during the Nazi regime in Germany. It contains over one hundred images of the lives and living conditions of the officers and administrators who ran the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex. These photographs are among the only examples of their kind. The album is considered to be an indispensable document of the Holocaust; it is in the archives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C.

Contents

Discovery

According to the museum, the photograph album was found by an unidentified American counterintelligence officer who was billeted in Frankfurt after Germany's surrender in 1945. This officer discovered the photo album in an apartment there, and when he returned to the United States, he brought the album with him.[1]

In January 2007, the American officer donated the album to the USHMM, with the request that his identity not be disclosed. The captions of the photographs, and the people featured in the images, quickly confirmed that it depicted life in and around the Auschwitz camps. The very first photograph is a double portrait of Richard Baer, Auschwitz camp commandant between 1944 and 1945, and Baer's adjutant, Karl Höcker.[2]

Contents

The album contains 116 photographs, all in black-and-white, almost all of them featuring German officers. It is believed to have been the property of Hoecker because he appears in far more of the images than any other individual. On the title page underneath a picture of Hoecker and Baer written is "With the Commandant SS Stubaf. Baer, Auswitsch 21.6.44", identifying Hoecker as the owner of the album. He is also the only person in the album to appear alone in any of the images.[3]

Some of the images depict formal events, like military funerals and the dedication of a new hospital. They also include images of the camp officers relaxing at a staff retreat known as the Solahutte, a rustic lodge only a few miles away from the camp complex. These images are regarded as the most striking, because they show cheerful staff officers singing, drinking and eating while, in the camp itself, tremendous suffering is taking place.[4]

A number of the photographs show officers relaxing in the company of young women—stenographers and typists who were known generally as Helferinnen, the German word for "helpers."

Mengele photographs

Both of the camp's most well-known commanders, Richard Baer and Rudolf Höss, are visible in the photographs. But possibly the most notorious Auschwitz figure who features in the album is Dr. Josef Mengele, known to camp prisoners as the "Angel of Death."[citation needed] Mengele, a trained physician, directed the medical experiments on twin children in the camp. He regularly took part in the "selection" on the train arrival platform, judging which prisoners would be immediately murdered and which would be permitted to live and perform slave labor.[3]

In all, the album contains eight photographs in which Mengele appears. Before the donation of the album to the museum, no images were known to exist showing him within the camp grounds.

Timing of photographs

The photographs in the Höcker Album are viewed as especially chilling because of the time during which they were made, between June and December 1944.[5] It has been noted by archivists and historians that this period overlaps with the mass extermination of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews in the spring and summer of 1944—an event known as "the Hungarian Transport". These Jews were gathered and shipped to Auschwitz after the March 1944 invasion by the Nazis of Hungary. So many Hungarian Jews were killed in the Auschwitz camps during that period that the crematoria were incapable of consuming all the bodies, and open pits for the purpose were dug.[6] The contrast of these events with the singing, flirting and blueberry-eating in the Höcker album is particularly disturbing.

According to Rebecca Erbelding, the museum archivist who received the album from its donor and first recognized its significance, "the album reminds us that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were human beings, men and women with families, children and pets, who celebrated holidays and took vacations... These people were human beings... and these photographs remind us what human beings are capable of when they succumb to anti-Semitism, racism and hatred."[7]

Höcker's case

Karl Höcker survived the war and, after evading arrest, turned himself in to authorities in 1952 for being a member of the SS. He received a nine-month sentence but was spared from serving it. In 1963, he was again put on trial, this time for mass murders at the camps where he served. He was found guilty of aiding and abetting the deaths of a thousand people in four separate instances, but it was never fully proven that he himself took part in the "selections."

Höcker served five years of a seven-year sentence, and was paroled in 1970.[8] He died in 2000 at the age of 89.[9]

References

  1. ^ Wilkinson, Alec, Picturing Auschwitz, New Yorker Magazine, March 17, 2008. Page 48
  2. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 50-51
  3. ^ a b Wilkinson, page 51
  4. ^ Wilkinson, pp. 48-52
  5. ^ Erbelding, Rebecca, interview, NYTimes.com, Sept. 18, 2007
  6. ^ Wilkinson, page 52
  7. ^ Erbelding Interview in New York Times
  8. ^ Wilkinson, page 54
  9. ^ Lewis, Neil A. In Shadow of Horror, SS Guardians Frolic, New York Times, September 18, 2007

See also

External links

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