A look back at an uncomfortable photo: Birkenau

In March, I licensed a photo to the University of Texas at Dallas that I took in July 2000 of Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp that is known to most people as Auschwitz. The image will be used by the university’s Holocaust studies center, which is a good thing. I don’t enjoy looking at these photos, but I do think this is one of the better ones I took from my documentary project I did throughout Europe of Nazi camps and places linked to that regime’s terrible crimes.

I remember the day I took this photo well too. It was pouring rain, in late July. I awoke at 5 a.m. to catch the train from Krakow to Auschwitz. I was the first one at the gate that morning. I met a death camp survivor right by that entranceway. He was at one of the subcamps, Gurtz. He was an elderly Israeli man, but fit and vital. We exchanged some words. He was tough and he hated being there, but he was there all the same. I then toured the whole camp. During the tour, I met a survivor and his colleagues and heard personal stories. I took a lot of pictures that day and learned a great deal about things that still disturb me. I remember the survivor shaking my hand as I left saying he was glad I had come. As I look back, I am glad I came, but some days I am not.

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2 thoughts on “A look back at an uncomfortable photo: Birkenau

  1. m5son March 30, 2012 / 10:38 pm

    I can’t like the photo, although it was well done. I do, however, like your sentiment and understand on a very visceral level why you are bothered by your research.

  2. rsdowens March 31, 2012 / 8:39 am

    My small online photo series on the entranceways to this and other camps is called “Gates of Hell.” Sums it up entirely for me.

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