Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

The Sonderkommando Photos

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In the Nazi-occupied Europe, the Sonderkommando were special groups of Jews (and sometimes Russian prisoners of war) who were isolated from their fellows, and forced to carry out the atrocities: they emptied the gas chambers of bodies; they cremated, buried or ground the bodies. Since the Nazis did not wish the Sonderkommandos’ knowledge to reach the outside world, they regularly gassed the Sonderkommandos too and replacing them with new arrivals; the first task of the new Sonderkommandos would be to dispose of their predecessors’ corpses. Conscious of their fate, Sonderkommandos sometimes rebelled, but their most significant act of defiance came in the form of four photographs that came out of Auschwitz in August 1944.

In 1943, the commander at Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoss forbade the photography inside the camp; signs were posted outside warned ‘Fotografieren verboten! No Entry! You will be shot without prior warning!’ However, two photographic laboratories operated inside Auschwitz for archival reasons: photographs recorded torture, executions, and experiments, and Hoss was even able to present the minister of justice with an album of Auschwitz pictures. However, of one and a half million surviving photographs related to the concentration camps, only these four depicted the Nazis’ assembly line Holocaust in action. It was unclear how the Sonderkommandos smuggled a camera in (there were competing stories, but generally thought to be smuggled in with food);  the film was known to be smuggled out in a tube of toothpaste to the Polish Resistance. The pictures were sent to Krakow, but not to the Polish government-in-exile in London. They were, however, used in the Krakow trials for Nazi Crimes in Poland.

Frequently cropped and altered to highlight their content, it is possible to identify and precisely locate the scenes in the photos; the photographer apparently hid inside a crematorium doorway (Krema V) and took the photos secretly from the hip area. Only first two frames showed open-air incineration pits; the third is largely comprised of branches, except for group of women prisoners who appear in various states of undress at the bottom corner (zoom). The remaining image – also ill-composed – shows only sunlight and trees.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

September 2, 2010 at 3:09 am

Posted in Politics, Society, War

Tagged with ,

22 Responses

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  1. “(and sometimes Russian prisoners of war)”

    Source? Anywya, more like Soviet prisoners of war.


    September 2, 2010 at 5:58 am

    • Maybe its about soviet Jews. As far as i know, members of Sonderkommando were recruited from Jews only.


      September 2, 2010 at 7:56 pm

      • Yes.

        Btw, there were also non-Jewish Verbrennungskommando prisoners burning bodies sometimes, inclding non related to the camps:

        This one is posed after the liberation:


        September 3, 2010 at 5:56 am

  2. A powerful story


    September 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm

  3. Very powerful story

    Vicki Day

    September 2, 2010 at 3:25 pm

  4. […] und Dokufotos von den jüdischen Sonderkommandos in Konzentrations […]

  5. […] queda reflejado en la segunda parte de Imágenes pese a todo, el ensayo de Huberman dedicado a los cuatro únicos y disputados testimonios gráficos que existen de (y desde) las cámaras de gas realizados por los propios miembros de uno de los […]

  6. I think it should be pointed out that it has now been confirmed the pics are doctored shots from the 1912 Ohio train disaster. It´s all just a scam.

    Alfred de Kok.

    February 10, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    • And your link to this proof is where?


      February 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      • Watch @8:07


        February 21, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    • Why would train disaster victims be naked?


      December 1, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    • It’s not. What happened is that the Travel Channel program: Ghost Adventures used a modified version of the original Holocaust photograph for illustrating the train disaster. The very obvious repeating patterns on the “train disaster” picture prove that the original photo is the one with the dead bodies.


      December 10, 2012 at 10:46 am

  7. 50 passengers were injured in the Ohio Train wreck of 1912 and no one was killed. Clearly this is not what is depicted in these historic photographs. The courage shown by these death camp photographers is amazing. To try and belittle their brave efforts is a sad attempt to alter the truth. History cannot be changed. There is no “scam” here!


    February 24, 2011 at 2:54 am

    • Headline of the Potsdam Herald Recorder 1912-12-27

      Ashtabula, Ohio Train Wreck
      December 1912


      The scam here is quite simple for anyone to see. Take the shot with the ape-armed man – too bad the creators of a lot of these pics do not have the slightest knowledge about anything – zoom in on the things at his feet. As long as you do not subscribe to the notion that Pablo Picasso drew his cubistic portraits from reality, you might realize that somebody has been at work here with a pencil. Whatever it is the ”artist” tried to show, it’s ridiculous; four-elbow man wading through a field of Picasso aliens.

      In a court case, you need proof. With these ”photos”, you’d get thrown out of court in the first five minutes.


      June 5, 2012 at 11:25 am

  8. […] The Sonderkommando Photos omawia zdjęcia zrobione potajemnie w Auschwitz przez członków Sonderkommando. […]

    Iconic Photos | Fototekst

    December 21, 2012 at 10:29 pm

  9. […] pictures were sent to Krakow and used in the Krakow trials for Nazi Crimes in Poland.” (comp. here) Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz by Georges Didi-Huberman discusses the […]

  10. […] van doen met enige voorkennis. In die zin zou ik ze willen vergelijken met de foto’s van de Sonderkommando’s en de Chinese foltering van Battaile. Nu zijn dat beelden van een totaal andere orde maar […]

  11. nein!
    in der Sonderkommando ware NUR judisches orthodox leute!
    das ware ein befehl angekommen direkt der Lagerfuhrer und der Politische Abteilung in der Stammlager Auschwitz!!
    es war nur ein par mahl mit hilfbrigade andere judisches leute in!nur fur der leichen rausholen der gaskammern und der feuer schmeisen!!
    ich ware da wie eine haftlinge jude aus ungarn deportiert werden am mai 1944.
    unsere baracke war ungefähr 25 meters in der Krema n° 4.
    wir konnen alles sehen horen usw!

    asher alexander

    March 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm

  12. […] φούρνο ή για δουλειά. Στο τέλος δεν έφταναν οι φούρνοι, άνοιξαν ορύγματα και πετούσαν τα πτώματα μέσα. Όσοι δεν άντεχαν άλλο αυτό το μαρτύριο ακουμπούσαν το […]

  13. […] ή για δουλειά. Στο τέλος δεν έφταναν οι φούρνοι, άνοιξαν ορύγματα και πετούσαν τα πτώματα μέσα. Όσοι δεν άντεχαν άλλο αυτό το μαρτύριο ακουμπούσαν το […]

  14. […] relevance of beauty in Shields’ framework, also, betrays his argument. The clumsiness of four Sonderkommando photos does not take away from their spectral and accidental beauty, or the pathos. Should Gilles […]

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