The Holocaust Revisited: A Retrospective Analysis of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Complex


World War II aerial photography, use of,

New photointerpretation illuminates a grim chapter of history.
Dino A. Brugioni and Robert G. Poirier
The authors have been strong advocates of the application of aerial photography to historical research and analysis.* Our convictions about the utility of this medium to the professional historian have been strengthened as we became increasingly aware of the many historical problems to which the exploitation of aerial photography can contribute an added dimension. In this paper, we attempt to demonstrate the application of aerial photography to a historiographical problem.
Our interest in the subject of Nazi concentration camps was rekindled by the television presentation "Holocaust." In the more than thirty years since VE Day, 8 May 1945, much has happened to these camps. Some, like Treblinka, have been completely obliterated; others, such as Dachau and Auschwitz, have been partially preserved as memorials.
Aerial reconnaissance was an important intelligence tool and played a significant role in World War II. We wondered whether any aerial photography of these camps had been acquired and preserved in government records. If imagery was available, we thought it likely that the many sophisticated advances in optical viewing, and the equipment and techniques of photographic interpretation developed at the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) in recent years would enable us to extract more information than could have been derived during World War II.
We had a number of advantages not available to the World War II photographic interpreters. Instead of 7X tube magnifiers, we had micro-stereoscopes. Our modern laboratory photo-enlargers were vastly superior to those available to earlier interpreters. While the World War II photointerpreter performed his analysis by examining paper prints, we would use duplicate film positives allowing detailed examination of any activity recorded on the film. The present day imagery analyst also has the advantage of years of training and experience, while the World War II photointerpreter was extremely limited in both. Most importantly, for this project, we have the advantage of hindsight and abundant eyewitness accounts and investigative reports on these camps.1 We therefore had the opportunity to study the subject from a unique perspective.
We faced two immediate problems as we began our investigation. We knew that the cameras carried by World War II reconnaissance aircraft were limited to about 150 exposures of Super-XX Aerocon film per camera and that this film resolved about 35 lines per millimeter. The film was exposed at "point" rather than "area" targets
* Rome East of the Jordan: Archaeological Use of Satellite Photography, Studies XXI/1. p. 13; "Satellite View of a   Historic Battlefield," Studies XXII/1,   p. 39.
1 The "intelligence collateral" for this paper was drawn mainly from O. Kraus and E. Kulka, The Death Factory, New York, 1966; N. Levin, The Holocaust, New York, 1973; and the official Polish government investigations, German Crimes in Poland, 2 Vols., Warsaw, 1946-47, which draw on primary sources.




Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 03:09 PM