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

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World War II aerial photography, use of,
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The Holocaust Revisited

which were selected for their strategic or tactical importance. Thus, when the reconnaissance aircraft approached the target, the pilot or aerial photographer would switch on the cameras shortly before reaching the target and then turn them off again as soon as the target was imaged. There was nothing like the broad area coverage which modern photoreconnaissance makes available to the photo researcher. To find photos of a concentration camp, therefore, we would have to identify one which was located close to a target of strategic interest.
Since the Nazi concentration camp system was so widespread, we also had the immediate chore of narrowing the scope of the investigation to manageable proportions. Our research revealed that the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination complex was only 8 kilometers from a large I. G. Farben synthethic oil and rubber manufacturing facility. We knew that oil and rubber production plants were high on the Allied bombing list. Auschwitz, then, in addition to providing us with a high degree of name recognition, offered a strong probability of having been filmed as a by-product of tactical reconnaissance. Our research soon produced positive results.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, which is the custodian of World War II aerial reconnaissance records, was given the coordinates for Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland, through NPIC's film distribution and control center. DIA ran a computer search against the coordinates within the time frame we had selected and produced a printout of all the unclassified photographic references to film stored in the National Archives' records center at Suitland, Maryland. From this list we were able to order the photography we desired sent to NPIC for photographic analysis. On off-duty hours, we examined all the available unclassified aerial imagery for evidence of the Holocaust at Auschwitz.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Complex

The Auschwitz-Birkenau complex had its origins in spring 1940. A concentration camp was organized in a former military camp in the suburbs of Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland. When the first trainload of German criminal prisoners arrived in June 1940, it marked the beginning of a system which would eventually total some 39 subsidiary camps and make the name of Auschwitz synonymous with terror and death.2
In the fall of 1941, the Auschwitz concentration camp entered the most sinister phase of its expansion with the construction of a camp on the moors of Brzezinka (Birkenau). Under cover of a prisoner of war camp, it would become a center for Sonderbehandlung, i.e., "Special Treatment," the Nazi codeword for extermination. During the following three and one-half years, an estimated two to three and one-half million people would meet their deaths on this remote Polish moor.
Details of the horrors perpetrated at Auschwitz have been reported many times and at length. It is not our purpose to reiterate that type of detail but rather to see if any of that activity had been recorded by the World War II aerial reconnaissance cameras.
Auschwitz is located in a remote area southwest of Warsaw on the Krakow-toVienna rail line. We found no evidence of any Allied reconnaissance effort in the Auschwitz area prior to April 1944. On 4 April 1944, an American reconnaissance aircraft approached the huge I. G. Farben facility for the first time.
The format employed in the balance of this paper will present the background information for a particular topic and then a photographic analysis of the pertinent
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2 Kraus and Kulka, The Death Factory, p. 8.
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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:59 AM
Last Updated: Aug 03, 2011 03:10 PM