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Chilling photo album reveals how SS officer who helped run Auschwitz wanted to remember concentration camp

The photo shows a group of women enjoying blueberries next to a smiling man. Another man poses in the background, playing the accordion.

The image is one of 116 photos in an album that belonged to an SS officer who helped run the day-to-day operations of Auschwitz. The album shows no prisoners or gas chambers, but rather some of the camp’s most infamous officers appearing to be enjoying themselves: singing, socializing, and lighting a Christmas tree at a time when more Jews were being exterminated in the camp than any other period of the Holocaust.

Famed playwright and director Moises Kaufman spent 14 years creating a play on the album after seeing the footage. Many of Kaufman’s family members died at Auschwitz, and he was particularly struck by the complete lack of remorse shown by the Nazis in the album.

“To see this in a photograph so clearly articulated is terrifying,” he said. “It’s terrifying because they’re all so similar to us.”

How the Nazi Photo Album Was Found, Identified After World War II

A U.S. counterintelligence officer said he found the photo album in a trash can in an abandoned apartment in 1946 in war-torn Frankfurt, Germany, where he was tracking Nazi war criminals. Decades later, the man donated it to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., on one condition: that it remain anonymous.

Museum officials weren’t sure what to make of the album when they received it in 2007, but it turned out to be a rare personal album by a Nazi who helped lead Auschwitz, where an estimated 1.1 million people – most of them Jews – were murdered between 1940 and 1945. Historian Rebecca Erbelding and her colleagues at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum spent months analyze the album to determine who made it and what it showed.

“I didn’t see any trains. I didn’t see anything that I recognized. This was maybe the third time I’ve looked through it,” she said. “And that’s when I saw Josef Mengele.”

Rebecca Erbelding and Anderson Cooper
Rebecca Erbelding and Anderson Cooper

60 minutes


No photo of Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz had ever been found before, according to Erbelding. Mengele was known at the camp as the “Angel of Death” because he conducted horrific medical experiments on prisoners, mainly children, and selected those who were fit for work and those who would go to the gas chambers. .

Historians also found Richard Baer on the first page of the album. He was the last commander of Auschwitz, which led them to realize that the man next to him was his deputy, Karl. Höcker. It turned out that the album was Höcker’s personal album from the time he was involved in running the camp.

The original album pages are now stored in a high-security, climate-controlled facility in Maryland.

What the Auschwitz Photos Show

There are few photos of Auschwitz. The Nazis worked hard to cover up their crimes and no one has ever seen images like those in the Höcker album. Höcker arrived at Auschwitz in May 1944.

Before the war, he was a struggling bank teller. Becoming an SS officer at Auschwitz was therefore considered a big step forward. Höcker helped run the day-to-day operations of the camp and was, as Erbelding puts it, a “crucial cog in the Nazi killing machine.”

The 116 images in the album show Auschwitz as Höcker wanted to remember it. A photo shows Höcker with his dog Favorit. Others show Christmas 1944. Höcker, who probably knew that Soviet troops were marching toward Auschwitz to liberate him, can be seen lighting the camp tree.

The images revealed something else that museum officials had never seen before; the SS built a resort, called Solahütte, at Auschwitz. A series of photos shows a gathering of senior SS officers in July 1944. Erbelding believes it was a party at which the Nazis congratulated themselves on having succeeded in murdering more than 350,000 Hungarian Jews in just 55 days .

Auschwitz survivor and Nazi’s grandson react to photo album

While Höcker and other officers were enjoying their lives, the prisoners of Auschwitz were being massacred. Irene Weiss, now 93, was 13 when she arrived at Auschwitz, just one day after Höcker began working at the camp. Her parents and four of her siblings were killed, but she and her older sister survived. For eight months, they had to work outside a gas chamber sorting the belongings of the dead. They saw thousands of women and children entering the gas chambers.

Weiss said she couldn’t cry.

“Tears are for normal pain,” she said.

Weiss was not surprised by the photos in Höcker’s album. “They were taught that they were doing it for a higher purpose,” she said. “I knew they were animals.”

Irene Weiss
Irene Weiss

60 minutes


When the images were published in 2007, they made headlines around the world. In Germany, Tilman Taube saw an article about them during his lunch break and was surprised to see that his grandfather, Dr. Heinz Baumkötter, was featured in the album. Baumkötter was the chief doctor of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Taube had known for years that his grandfather was a murderer – sending thousands to be killed in other camps – and had performed medical experiments on prisoners, but he didn’t know exactly why his grandfather was at Auschwitz.

Taube contacted Erbelding and learned that he was part of a delegation of high-level camp doctors who had visited the extermination facilities. Taube realized how deeply his grandfather was involved in the Holocaust. He is now helping the museum search for more photos and documents by contacting other Nazi descendants.

“There are still many, many facts that have not been discovered,” Taube said. “You want to be part of some sort of movement that helps prevent things like this from happening again.”

How the Nazi Photo Album Became the Subject of a Play

Kaufman wanted to write his play, which opened last week on Broadway, because of several images in the album showing Karl Höcker giving blueberries to his secretaries. The caption read, “Here there are blueberries,” and that became the title of Kaufman’s play. One photo in particular showed a woman pretending to cry because she had finished her blueberries.

Anderson Cooper with Amanda Gronich and Moises Kaufman
Anderson Cooper with Amanda Gronich and Moises Kaufman

60 minutes


“So she’s so sad because she doesn’t have any blueberries anymore,” Kaufman said. “And outside of that, there are 1.1 million people being killed. So how do you go about your daily life while participating in one of the greatest killing machines in human history?”

Her Pulitzer-nominated play, co-created with longtime collaborator Amanda Gronich, is based on the true story of the photo album. He also spends time exploring the perspective of descendants of the Nazis and the motivations of the Nazis. They didn’t wake up every morning thinking, “I’m an evil monster.” I’m going to do evil and monstrous things,” Gronich said. “They woke up every day and lived their lives filled with justifications and beliefs for what they were doing.”

Kaufman said the play makes audience members ask themselves questions, including: What am I capable of doing?

“When the public comes in, they sit here and wonder, ‘Who would I have been in this picture?’” Kaufman said.

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