Here at NYIP, we have often spoken about the awesome power one wields when using a camera. A camera can be used to capture mankind's brightest moments, but it can also be used to capture its darkest.
Willhelm Brasse was a former prisoner of Auschwitz concentration camp who was pulled from his work detail of hauling corpses from the gas chambers to the incinerator when his captors learned of his experience in the field of photography. After that, Brasse was forced to document the unimaginable horrors that occured within the walls of the camp, from taking pictures of all prisoners for Nazi internal files to the horrific medical experiments conducted by Eduard Wirns and Josef Mangele. It is estimated that, during his 5 years spent at the camp, he took somewhere in the region of 50,000 photographs, almost 40,000 of which survived. According to sources, on January 17 1945, with Soviet troops mere days away, Brasse was ordered to burn all the negatives. However, they turned out to be non-flammable and thus were saved. These images remain some of the only photographic proof of the atrocities commited in Auschwitz during WWII.
After the war, Brasse, who managed to surivive The March that followed the camp's liberation, was active in educating young people about The Holocaust and later instrumental in helping to set up the Auschwitz-Burkinau museum, of which his images were the centerpiece. He had wanted to return to photography, but he found he was unable to. In an interview with Agence France-Presse in 2009, he admitted, “After the war, I tried to work as a photographer, but I couldn’t. Those poor Jewish children were always before my eyes. There are things you can never forget.”
Brasse, who was of mixed Austrian-Polish decent, died on Tuesday, October 23rd, in the city of his birth: Zywiec, Poland. We can only hope this provided him with some comfort in his final days.
To learn more, read the Reuters article Auschwitz photographer Wilhelm Brasse dies at 95 or the Agence France-Presse article Photographer of Auschwitz experiments dies aged 95.
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