The Auschwitz Albumwas found as a result of a astounding coincidence. Discovered by Auschwitz survivor Lili Jacob Meier the Album showed the arrival and the selection of her family and friends. This Album is the only photographic documentation of the extermination process at Auschwitz-Birkenau except for 3 photographs secretly taken by the Sonderkommando.
On May 24, 1944 Lili was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau with her family and friends from the little town of Bilke located near the Carpathian mountains. On May 26 her train rolled onto the spur track that led under the main watchtower of Birkenau. Lili and the other dazed people were ordered to get out of the boxcars. There was a selection and most were sent to be gassed.
There was something unprecedented happening. The Nazis took great pains to keep the Final Solution a secret. Yet, for the only time that we know of a photographer was present documenting the entire extermination process.
He photographed the boxcars before the doors were opened with the strutting SS with their canes. He showed the Jews exiting the boxcars with their yellow stars and their pitiful bundles and the attendant camp inmates with their bizarre striped uniforms hurrying them along.
The photographer then climbed the train to show the selection process. He photographed those sent through the gate into the camp proper and those sent down the Lagerstrasse, the main camp street, which led to the crematoria. From his vantage point the chimneys of Crematoria II and III can be seen in the distance.
He followed the people to where they waited in the small grove of birch trees just outside the crematoria that gave the Birkenau camp its name-the old men together, the women and children together. The calm faces of most belie their knowledge of impending death. Yet, one old woman looks distraught; she is being restrained by 3 men.
He followed the belongings of the doomed to Canada where they being sorted by inmates for shipment to Germany. The women in "civilian" clothes, white blouses and dark pants, look well nourished-Canada was a coveted assignment with ample opportunity to smuggle food. He followed those chosen to live (for the present) into the main camp. He showed them being herded with their camp uniforms and their shaved heads.
Lili was young; she could work and survive the harsh regime; she was sent to the right. Torn away from her mother and the rest of her family Lili tried to re-join them. An SS stabbed her on the arm (leaving a permanent scar) and sent her back to join the people on the right. She was processed into the main camp and sent to compound B IIc, known as the Hungarian women's camp. She was tattooed with number A-10862.
When the Russian Army approached and Auschwitz was evacuated she was sent to the west through various camps finally being liberated at Dora, a sub-camp of Nordhausen; Dora was over 400 miles from Auschwitz. Lili was ill and weighed only 80 pounds.
Fellow prisoners carried her into newly vacated SS barracks and put her on a bed. She awoke and out of curiosity looked into a cupboard beside the bed. Inside was a frayed photographic album. It is estimated 1,600,000 people were killed at Auschwitz. Thousands of transport trains arrived there. Yet when Lili opened the album she saw a photograph of Naftali Svi Weiss, her own rabbi from Bilke. As she turned the pages she saw the faces of other members of her community and her own family.
The Auschwitz Album was eventually donated by Lili to the Holocaust Museum in Israel, Yad Vashem. No other copy of the photographs was ever discovered. The photographer remains unknown. The purpose or the use to which the photographs were to be put remains a mystery.
Source: Meier, The Auschwitz Album.