Its modest form, with a simple, string-bound cover, brings to mind an ordinary tourist album of photographs and postcards of landscapes. Meanwhile, we are faced with a shattering work made for the sake of memory and admonition which at the same time establishes the methodology of working with memory and depicting the experience of Auschwitz – its starting point being the graphic motif on the cover, which refers to the striped uniforms worn by the detainees.
The illustrations consist mostly of photographs of the camp taken by Stanisław Mucha, a renowned photographer from Kraków. They are complemented by reproductions of visual works produced by prisoners and a few historical photographs taken while the camp was active (some of them of them taken by the Nazis, or by the Sonderkommandos).
Mucha started photographing the camp at the beginning of March 1945 for the Extraordinary State Commission, which was investigating crimes perpetrated by the Fascist German invaders. He took 138 photographs, part of which was included in the album, while some of the others were used during the trials of Nazi war criminals. The photographer also participated in some of the latter in person, as on 18 October 1945 he testified against Rudolf Höss. Mucha presents the camp in the topographic and documentary conventions which he specialised in before the war. There is not a trace of the artistic over-expression, affective sentiment, or image interpretation that were so typical of later publications. Instead, the photographs demonstrate the high technical standards also apparent in Mucha's tourist and photojournalist works, beginning with those created while he was with the Polish Legions (before World War One), through postcard shots of Kraków and Krynica, to the documentation of Marshal Piłsudski's funeral. Especially striking is the impressive fold-out panorama of the grounds of the Birkenau camp, authored by another prominent architecture photographer from Kraków, Stanisław Kolowca. Curiously enough, the photograph could be associated with Mucha's famous panoramas taken with the use of a special lens. Regardless of its actual author, the picture, reminiscent of the “greetings” albums of old, nowadays comes across as a strange blend of landscapes and martyrological imagery. When the book was published, however, this mishmash of conventions was not, it appears, as jarring, while the photographs included in the publication were also released in the form of postcards. Their documentary and informational aspect, as well as the widest possible distribution, were crucial.
Apart from photos of the camp's architecture, as found at the moment of liberation, the book contains images of piles of shoes collected at the camp, prostheses, and glasses belonging to the victims – which later became common photographic motifs of Auschwitz. It captures the interesting time of systematising the camp and the birth of the future museum's concept. Another theme worthy of mention is the presence of the martyrology of the Jews, whose traces will be consequently wiped away by communist propaganda, insisting rather on the suffering of the Polish nation and – more generally – of humankind. Apart from photographs of the memorial room commemorating the murdered Jews, we find a picture of a figure of Crucified Christ, scratched into the wall of one of the cells. Such religious motifs will also be absent from the later publications appearing in the Polish People's Republic.
photographs: Stanislaw Mucha, Stanisław Kolowca and others
texts: author unknown
graphic design: Franciszek Tadeusz Myszkowski
publisher: Association for the Maintenance of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site, Kraków
year of publication: 1948
volume: 52 pages
format: 14.5 x 19 cm
cover: paperback, string-bound
print run: 2500