Friday, March 14, 2008

'On holiday' at Auschwitz

"Lighting the tree, Auschwitz, 1944," photographer unknown

The man shown above lighting the Christmas tree was called "a specialist in annihilation" by a German prosecutor who later tried him for war crimes. Named Karl Hoecker, the man had spent World War II directing the murder of European Jews at Nazi concentration camps. This picture was taken at Auschwitz, where as 2nd in command, Hoecker did his part in killing & disposing of the approximately 1.1 million people who died there.

The picture is taken from a recently discovered album of snapshots Hoecker made in 1944 of Nazi SS officers enjoying themselves at a resort called Solahutte, just outside the death camp. I wrote about it here when the NY Times covered it in September. In its March 17th issue The New Yorker revisits the story & includes a slide show (unfortunately, the text is not posted).

"SS officers singing, Auschwitz, 1944," photographer unknown

From the text by Alec Wilkinson:
"Over the Auschwitz album, like a gloss, clings a sense of prideful observance of manners and customs, a tranquil and purified world, a shared purpose, a satisfaction in uniforms, boots and accordions. Lives so exalted required trips to the hills, shotguns and game hunting, companionsable dogs, wine, and the presence of young women. "That SS officers went on vacation didn't take us by surprise," Judith Cohen says. "What surprised us was that Auschwitz wasn't only a place to imprison men and women and kill European Jews; it was also a place to have fun."

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