Haunting images of prisoners taken as the entered Auschwitz have laid bare the horrifying reality of the Nazi’s ‘final solution’ on the 75th anniversary of the death camp’s liberation by Soviet troops.
Among those pictured are Vinzent Daniel, a Roma gypsy who was sent to the camp in April 1942 after being arrested in Prague, then escaped a month later by running through a drained pond and into nearby woods.
Other prisoners recalled how he stripped off his striped jacket and cap as he ran, and was last seen wearing nothing but his underwear as he vanished into the trees. His ultimate fate is still unknown.
Another image shows four-year-old Istvan Reiner smiling and clutching a hole-punch as his photograph is taken on the way to Auschwitz, where he was sent to the gas chambers and killed alongside his grandmother.
In total, 1.3million people – largely Polish Jews but also other minorities and political prisoners – were transported to Auschwitz between 1942 and late 1944, of which 1.1million died. The camp was liberated on January 27, 1945.
Artist Marina Amaral painstakingly colourised some of the portraits for her Faces of Auschwitz series, while fellow artist Tom Marshall also contributed to this collection.
Vinzent Daniel was born on August 15, 1919, in the village of Smrčná in Czechoslovakia. After being arrested in Prague by the criminal police he was deported to Auschwitz on April 29, 1942. In the camp, he received number 33804 and was registered as a Czech, even though in fact he was of Roma origin.
In 1940, shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, a conference was held in Berlin where it was decided that all Roma and Sinti gypsies were to be deported from Germany to occupied Poland where they were held in camps and ghettos intended for Jews.
The Nazis ruled that Roma were to be considered enemies of the Third Reich because they were ‘racially alien, inferior and asocial’.
In 1942, Heinrich Himmler issued an order that all Roma should be sent to the concentration camps, with most sent to a specially-designed Roma camp at Auschwitz. In total, 23,000 Roma were transported to Auschwitz – of which 2,000 were murdered without entering the camp, and 19,000 more died of disease or in the gas chambers.
Vinzent Daniel was assigned to a work crew at a chemical plant within the camp. Around a month after his arrival there – on May 27, 1942 – he attempted to escape by sprinting across a field, through a drained pond, and into a nearby forest.
Witnesses said Vinzent stripped off his striped prison suit as he ran, and was last seen in his underwear running into the forest. To this day his fate remains unknown.
Istvan Reiner was born in Hungary to a Jewish father – Bela Reiner – and his wife Livia in 1940. Hungary allied with Nazi Germany in the early stages of the Second World War, and in an attempt to avoid persecution Bela converted to Protestantism. Istvan was never circumcised and was not a practicing Jew.
Some time between 1943 and 1944, an Austrian officer with the German army was sent to live with the Reiner family in order to decide their fates. After his stay was over it was decided the family would be sent to the Miskolc ghetto.
Bela tried to have Istvan sent to Budapest to live with an aunt, but she refused – despite the boy technically being Christian, she did not want to risk being accused of hiding a Jewish child.
The family avoided the ghetto for a time by offering to work as labourers on a nearby farm, two weeks later they were moved to the ghetto.
From there, Bela and his step-son Janos – from Livia’s first marriage – were sent to the to the Jolsva labor camp on the Slovak border. Janos escaped during transport and survived the war by living with relatives. Bela also survived the camp.
Livia, Istvan and the boy’s grandmother were all deported to Auschwitz. At some point along his journey, Istvan was given a prison uniform and a hole punch to play with before being photographed.
At Auschwitz, he was separated from his mother who was sent to a forced labour camp. Istvan was placed into the care of his grandmother, and both were sent to the gas chambers.
Livia also survived the war, and was liberated at either Bergen-Belsen or Mannheim. She later emigrated to the US.
Czesława Kwoka, 14, was deported from her home in Zamość, southeastern Poland in December 1942, along with her mother, to make room for a German colony, and branded ‘political prisoners’ – seen on her prisoner’s uniform which has a red triangle with a ‘P’.
The photographs show her on the verge of tears, her bottom lip sporting a cut, as shortly before the photos were taken, she had been beaten up by a female prison guard for not understanding orders being barked at her in German.
Miss Kwoka died in March 1943, just three months after arriving at Auschwitz, weeks after her mother Katarzyna.
Katarzyna Kwoka, 43, is the mother of Czesława and was deported from Zamość, southeastern Poland, at the same time as her in December 1943 and sent to Auschwitz designated ‘political prisoners’ – as shown by the red triangle on their jackets.
The pair were Roman Catholics, who were persecuted by the Nazis because of the belief that they could not be loyal to both the Fatherland and the Roman Catholic Church.
The both arrived at Auschwitz on December 13, around the time this photograph was taken. Katarzyna died three months later, followed by her daughter who died three weeks after that.
Iwan Rebałka was just 17 years old when he was sent to Auschwitz from his home in Syrowatka, in what was then known as Russland and is modern-day Ukraine.
He was a member of the Greek Orthodox Church and was designated a Russian political prisoner by his Nazi captors – one of an estimated 1,500 such prisoners sent to the camp.
Iwan was working as a milkman when he was arrested, and died at Auschwitz five months later on March 1, 1943.
His cause of death was listed as perinephric abscess – an abscess near the kidney – though this information was false. In fact he was killed via a phenol injection to the heart by SS-Unterscharführer Scherpe, one of 82 boys aged between 13 and 17 who were executed this way at the same time.
Aron Lowi was a Polish Jew born in Dulowa in 1879 who was working as a merchant in the town of Zator alongside his wife as the war broke out. He was arrested on an unknown date and locked up in Tarnow jail.
He arrived in Auschwitz on March 5, 1942. By the time he got to the camp, where these photos were taken, he was emaciated, had a split lip and large facial bruise – likely got during mistreatment by guards at Tarnow.
Records show his prisoner number – 26406 – listed among the dead on March 10, just five days after his arrival. No cause of death was given.
Janina Nowak, from Będów near Łódź, was 24 years old when she arrived at the German Nazi camp on June 12, 1942. Twelve days later, she became the first female prisoner to escape Auschwitz, running away from a work party sent outside the camp, and the guards failed to catch her. She was able to make it all the way to her home town of Łódz where she successfully hid from the Nazis until March, 1943.
She was captured and brought back to Auschwitz, before being transferred to Ravensbrück, and all-female concentration camp in northern Germany, 56 miles north of Berlin, where she stayed until liberation at the end of April 1945 by the Soviet Red Army.
Jehovah’s Witness Deliana Rademakers from the Netherlands, was 21 when she was deported to Auschwitz in November, 1942, having been arrested going door to door to preach her faith.
In a final letter to her family and congregation she wrote; ‘go bravely onwards without fear, Jehovah is with us, what can (mere) people do to us?’ According to her death certificate, Ms Rademakers died in Auschwitz on 10 December, 1942 – less than three weeks after her arrival.
Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses died in Auschwitz as their faith prevented them from serving in the army, carrying out work supporting the war effort, or praising the Nazi leader with ‘Heil Hitler’ – crimes punishable by imprisonment or death.
Salomon Honig, a Jewish man from Jasło, southeastern Poland was deported to Auschwitz on March 5, 1942 along with a group of 27 Polish Jews some time before the mass exterminations in gas chambers began.
Less than two weeks later, on March 18, he died, aged 52, with the Nazis claiming his cause of death was a stroke. However, as Ms Amaral notes, this was likely a lie as the SS camp chiefs would usually try to hide the true reasons for the deaths in the concentration camp.
Nobert ‘Israel’ Gluszecki, was born on November 27, 1886 in Podwolocyzka, near Tarnopol, a pre-war Polish city that is today part of Ukraine. He was one of those with a ‘non-Jewish’ name, who under the Nuremberg Laws, anti-semitic and racial laws in Nazi Germany was required to add Israel (or Sara if a woman) to their given names.
He was taken to Auschwitz, along with his sons in April 1941. There he was given his new identity, number 29801. While he was born Jewish, Gluszecki had converted to Catholicism at some point before he was taken into the concentration camp with his sons.
Unfortunately this did nothing to protect them from being taken to the camp where they later died.
In 1941 a number of Roman Catholic communities were willing to convert Jews as a way of helping them escape victimisation. But, Germans still viewed Jews who coverted as Jewish. For the Nazis being Jewish was not about religion or self-identity, but about race – which a person could not change.
Gluszecki’s death certificate listed his cause of death as ileus, a painful obstruction of the ileum in May 1942 – just weeks after he was captured. The Nazis frequently falsified causes of death – so it is unlikely the officially recorded cause of death was actually the truth.
August Kowalczyk was a theater, film and television actor born in Southern Poland in 1921 – one of few prisoners who escaped from Auschwitz.
When World War II started, Kowalczyk wanted to join The Polish Army in France formed under the command of General Władysław Sikorski. However, he was arrested while traveling West through Slovakia and deported to Auschwitz- Birkenau in December 1940.
His inmate number was 6804. While there he was forced to work alongside other prisoners, unloading construction materials, building plants, dismantling the local synagogue and houses of expelled Poles.
In June 1942, he managed to flee captivity into a nearby forest where he was helped by local Polish women. They dressed him in women’s clothing, and took him to a nearby attic where he hid until he managed to get hold of some false identification papers.
He made his theater debut in November 1945 and worked as an actor until 1962 when he became the director of the Adam Mickiewicz Theater in Częstochowa (1962-1966) and the director of the Polish Theater in Warsaw (1968-1981). He retired in 1981.
After retiring he devoted the rest of his life to educating youth about the Holocaust and the concentration camp. He died in July 2012.
Walter Degen, a locksmith by trade was transported to Auschwitz with a group of 20 others from various towns around Europe. Walter Degen was registered both as a homosexual and a German political prisoner on August 29, 1941.
In Auschwitz, prisoners of German nationality designated by a pink triangle were arrested under Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code as “asocial parasites” for “endangering the morality and purity of the German race”.
The Nazis arrested an estimated 100,000 homosexual men, 50,000 of whom were imprisoned in concentration camps. At least 77 prisoners of Auschwitz were said to have been persecuted for their homosexuality, of which at least 43 died.
Homosexuals were among the most abused groups in the camps.
It is unclear if Degen survived.
Seweryna Szmaglewska was born on 11 February 1916 in Przygłów near Piotrków Trybunalski in central Poland. Before the war she studied psychology and literature and became a teacher. After the German occupation of Poland she worked in a local hospital as a volunteer nurse, and was engaged in illegal education. In 1940 she joined a student resistence organisation running an underground library of Polish literature.
Her involvement in the resistance movement saw her arrested by the Gestapo and taken to a prison in Radom, before being transported with a group of 46 other women to Auschwitz in 1942.
She escaped from an evacuation transport near Wodzisław Śląski on January 18, 1945, and after finding freedom began to write her memoirs – one of the first personal books detailing what went on in Auschwitz.
The book exposes not just her personal story, but also the reality of life under the cruelty of the SS, torture of slave labour, constant humiliation, death and how the human spirit rallied even in the face of what appeared to be a very bleak future.
Gersz Zysking was born November 17, 1913, in Łódź, Poland and registered as a prisoner in Auschwitz on June 9, 1942.
He was given number 39178.
His time inside was brief – official records showed he died on August 4, 1942—a little over a month from the time that he was incarcerated and a few months short of his 29th birthday.
Maria Schenker was born in Cracow, Poland, on March 20, 1913. Very little else is known about her beyond the fact that she was Jewish and had made her living as an office clerk before the war. She was, records showed, a pianist as well.
The Jewish woman, of Polish descent, was sent to Auschwitz in April 1942, only to die four months later after being subjected to constant fear, forced labour, and living on the brink of starvation in August 1942.
Jews, like Ms Schenker, had lived in Poland for 800 years before the Nazi occupation. On the eve of Germany’s conquest of Poland they numbered 3.3 million – 10 per cent of the total population.
Seweryn Głuszecki was a student whow born on 19 June 1925. His records do not indicate where, or to whom. He received number 29803 at Auschwitz, and later died, a day after his 17th birthday on June 20, 1942.
Jozefa Glazowka was born on March 19, 1930 in the village of Sitaniec, near Zamość. Along with her parents and a group of around 370 others she was expelled and deported to Auschwitz – one of the hundreds of victims of Aktion Zamosc.
The term referred to what was being carried out as part of a greater plan under the Nazi regime – the forcible removal of the entire Polish populations to make way for the state-sponsored settlement of the ethnic German Volksdeutsche.
Both her parents were killed in the camp – rendering her one of the many war orphans during this period. While in the cam Jozefa herself was experimented on by Nazi scientists and doctors.
Such experimentation was said to have been done by numerous German physicians, in an effort to improve the health of soldiers, postwar populations and to reinforce the bases of racial ideology.
Witold Pilecki was a reserve officer in the Polish Army born 13 May 1901 in Olonets, Russia. he intentionally got captured to infiltrate Auschwitz and establish a resistance movement.
As early as 1941, Pilecki’s reports informed the Western Allies of the atrocities being committed at the death camp, from where he organised a resistance movement. After almost three years inside, the soldier escaped, eventually making it to Warsaw where he presented an extensively detailed report concerning resistance activities and the disposition of prisoners in Auschwitz.
In August 1944, Pilecki was captured in the wake of the Warsaw Uprising’s collapse and was charged in 1948 for a number of espionage charges; and the attempted assassination of Polish officials. he was sentenced to death in May 1948.
It was not till years after his death that the Polish soldier’s heroics became more widely known.
Faces of Auschwitz is a collaboration between Marina Amaral and the Auschwitz Museum