February 7, 2023

Photos of Nazis taken at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during its most lethal period, June 1944 to January 1945, in which 400,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered, show them sunbathing, eating blueberries and preparing Christmas trees.

The album was turned over to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington in 2007, having been compiled by Obersturmführer Karl Höcker, the military administrative assistant to Richard Baer, the last commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The photos also show other documented SS camp officers including Rudolf Höss, Josef Kramer, Franz Hössler and Dr. Josef Mengele – the photos are the only known images of some of those men. 

Auschwitz-Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II, was the biggest camp, established by the Germans in 1941 in the Polish village of Brzezinka. 

It held over 90,000 prisoners in 1944 and the greater part of the mass extermination chambers were built there, meaning the majority of Jews were murdered there.

A nazi can be seen lighting Yule Trees at the Auschwitz camp in the Christmas period of 1944 while Jews are killed

This photo was taken at the SS holiday resort called Solahütte about 30km away from Auschwitz where camp workers could enjoy time off

The women can be seen eating blueberries alongside a man playing the accordion right next to the Germans’s biggest extermination camp

Karl Höcker, who compiled the album, joined the SS in 1933 and the Nazi party in 1937 and began working at Auschwitz in May 1944 overseeing the murder of 430,000 Hungarian Jews.

The photos he collected show Nazi officers, their families and colleagues all laughing and dining together as well as relaxing in the sun and playing a concertina at the killing centre.

The images of the lighting of the Yule tree and the hunting trip were taken in January, only two weeks before the SS began evacuating the camp, with Soviet soldiers liberating the remaining prisoners on January 27, 1945.

A Nazi stood smiling with his dog, likely to patrol the isolated camps that were surrounded by barbed wire fencing – the writing in the album loosely translates to ‘my favourite dog’

Nazis can be seen sunbathing with their families while taking a rest from working at the extermination camp which held 90,000 prisoners at a time

A Nazi can be seen smiling while eating at a dinner party and drinking wine at the Auschwitz camp built in 1941

The guards at the extermination camp can be seen enjoying a break with food and wine as they gather around the table in 1944

Many of the photos are taken at an SS holiday resort called Solahütte about 30km away from Auschwitz, built for Nazi officers, guards and and administrative assistants on their days off from the killing camp.

Rebecca Erbelding the museum archivist who recognised the significance of the photos told the Washington Post: ‘They do not look evil (the Nazis); they’re smiling. They’re playing with their dogs. They look like they might resemble a neighbour that you have. And, yes, that is correct, that humans have this capacity.’ 

Höcker was captured by British troops after another camps surrender, Dora-Mittelbau, in April 1945, but was released in 1946 because it was not known he was an SS officer.

He was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison for aiding and abetting the murders of at least 1,000 people and to a further four years in prison in 1989 for aiding and abetting a triple murder of 20 people at a time.

Nazis can be seen in uniform at the camp with their rifles – this was one of the many photos that was handed to the museum in 2007

Two men can be seen conversing at a dinner party at the concentration camp – these are the only known pictures of some of these men

Nazis can be seen in uniform walking the camp which was responsible for the majority of the murders of Jews during this time

 Höcker died on January 30, 2000 after he had been released from prison in October 1992 and returned to his family in Lübbecke.

The photos also came to the attention of American stage director and son of Holocaust survivors, Moisés Kaufman, prompting him to write a play called Here There Are Blueberries.

The 90-minute play will premiere at La Jolla Playhouse in South California on August 21, 2022. 

The idea that the perpetrators of the Holocaust looked so regular and were partaking in holidays and dinners together was so disconcerting that Kaufman felt it had to be addressed. 

The holiday resort for the Nazis was so workers and the SS could enjoy a break from the horrors of the extermination camp next door

Nazis smile, smoke and drink at the Auschwitz camp which killed 430,000 Jews during the period this photo was taken

Nazis can be seen in the shoot stands practising their aim in case they need to shoot any prisoners of the concentration camp

Two Nazis can be seen sat in a car at the biggest and most deadly Auschwitz camp – responsibly for extermination hundreds of thousands of Jews

Among the photos released by the U.S. Memorial Museum Nazis can be seen at dinner after a hunting trip, smoking and eating

The album also includes documentation of official visits and ceremonies as well as showing the day to day activities of SS soldiers, like social gatherings.

The earliest photos are from June 1944 which show prominent Luftwaffe General Erich Quade, SS Obergruppenführers Oswald Pohl and Ernst-Heinrich Schmauser, arriving to visit the camp and inspect construction works.

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Late July images depict a gathering in honor of Rudolph Höss and a day trip for SS Helferinnen (young SS women who worked as communications specialists) on July 22, 1944.

There is also an image of the SS-Lazarette (troop hospital) at the entrance to Birkenau, taken in mid-September. 

The Lazarette was bombed by the Allies on December 26th, 1944, killing 5 members of the SS, whose funeral is also represented in the album. 

A married Nazi soldier can be smiling at a dinner with a glass of wine – the man who compiled the album was sentenced to seven years in prison

Guards can be seen standing outside the entrance, in a ceremony, to the SS-Lazarette troop hospital which stood at the entrance to Birkenau

Nazis can be seen walking with a child across a courtyard in 1944 during the most lethal period at the concentration camp

The donor of the album was a former member of the Counter-Intelligence Corps of the United States Army.

They discovered the album in an apartment in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1945 and donated it many years later on January 16, 2007. 

In its entirety the album was composed of 116 snapshots of commandants, secretaries, SS members and guards.

Nazis can be seen boarding a bus to travel to Solahütte for a break from the concentration and extermination camp

Four soldiers can be seen talking outside one of the buildings in the camp which was shut down in January 1945 by Soviet soldiers

Two older Nazis can be seen at the hunting dinner after enjoying some time away from the concentration camps and gas chambers

The donor of the album including this picture was a former member of the Counter-Intelligence Corps of the United States Army

This photo was discovered along with 115 others in an apartment in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1945 – four soldiers can be seen drinking and smoking