Unique Photographs of the Deportation of the First Poles to the German Camp Auschwitz Discovered

Thursday, June 15, 2023
Unique Photographs of the Deportation of the First Poles to the German Camp Auschwitz Discovered

An exceptional collection of photographs depicting the deportation of the first Poles to the newly established German Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, which took place 83 years ago on June 14, 1940, has been discovered and published. Digital reproductions of these significant documents were given to the Museum by a Tarnów collector Marek Tomaszewski, the author of the publication "Tarnów – KL Auschwitz: The First Transport to Hell."

"Imagine the reaction of an enthusiast, a collector of regional memorabilia, who, on a gloomy day, sitting in his room, receives a message from his colleague in Canada with an attachment. When opened, it reveals photographs of a very significant event in the history of the city and the country, of which the previously known photographic documentation is very scarce," wrote Marek Tomaszewski in the book's introduction.

The discovered album contains 96 photographs. "It is a memento from the time of service, presumably belonging to one of the members of the German Order Police (Schutzpolizei) detachment stationed in 1940 in the lower barracks on Chyszowska Street (now Mościckiego) in Tarnów. His unit escorted a column of prisoners on 14 June of that year, who marched from the Tarnów bathhouse through Dębowa, Wałowa, and Krakowska streets to the railway ramp on today's Bartla Street," one reads in the introduction.

Marching through Krakowska street in Tarnów. Photo: courtesy of Marek Tomaszewski

The photos also depict Schutzpolizei officers from the lower barracks in Tarnów, the passage of the unit through Zakliczyn, and scenes related to the second transport from Wiśnicz to Auschwitz camp on 20 June 1940. Until now, historians knew only a few photographs from those tragic events. Now we can see an album that is a very significant historical source.

According to Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, the director of the Auschwitz Museum, the importance of this discovery goes far beyond the regional context. "This event is comparable in scale to the discovery of the so-called Lily Jacob album depicting the transports of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz II-Birkenau or the album by Karl Höcker with photographs of the SS garrison members from the Auschwitz camp. Marek Tomaszewski has provided the Museum with high-quality scans of the entire collection, which will become visual documents illustrating the beginnings of Auschwitz and the history of the camp's prisoners and victims," he stated.

The prisoners standing at Dożywocie square in Tarnów (today the square of KL Auschwitz prisoners). Photo: courtesy of Marek Tomaszewski

Dr. Wojciech Płosa, the head of the Archives of the Museum, emphasized that from a perspective of the history of the largest German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, these photographs, particularly those showing the prisoners on their way to the camp, are of special significance. "None of these men, who on the early morning of 14 June 1940, marched under a heavily armed German escort to the railway station in Tarnów, knew the purpose of their journey. Many of them would never return to their loved ones. Many of them miraculously survived the Second World War after enduring long sufferings in Auschwitz and other camps," he said.

"These photographs were not taken to pay tribute to the prisoners and victims of Auschwitz, but against the will of their author, they have become such a tribute, and that is the greatest value of these photos," emphasized Wojciech Płosa.

Image on top : Prisoners at the train station in Tarnów. Photo: courtesy of Marek Tomaszewski

Stephanie Cime

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