Buchenwald I: Segregation in Hell

Buchenwald 1

Image of the “little camp,” the barracks for Jews at Buchenwald. I have processed this image so you can make out the magen david on the barracks building.

I just returned from Brandeis where we discussed my Dad’s collection of WW II photographs.  He actually arrived in the camp as the commanding officer of a US Army medical group dispatched by Eisenhower to go wherever my father felt the need was greatest.  The Americans had come to the beech woods, “Buchenwald”, outside Berlin.. because there were factories making rocket parts.  The army did not know that the people in those factories were slaves from a Nazi extermination camp until our soldiers … including Captain Robert Schwartz … encountered fleeing, emaciated slaves in the beech forest.  Communist inmates had led a rebellion and “self liberated” the camp.

< Jewish barracks in Buchenwald.  Even in hell,
the Nazis segregated us into our own barracks.

RS with books

Robert Schwartz

Dad went into the camp and gave medical care three days before the official liberation by General Patton.  During that time he took about three hundred photographs … defying orders by Patton that only the US Signal Corps could photograph in the camps.   About a decade before he died, I was rummaging through his stuff and found a well used Argus C3.  I asked for it and he told me that this was his camera during WWII!  He also told stories of developing pictures using chemicals he obtained from German pharmacies and a home made device he described as a Rube Goldberg enlarger. The camera is now in my library.

At the time I did not know where the pictures were or even that they survived.  However. after Dad’s death I worked with a dear friend and found the collection in boxes stored in an old sun room.  I did my best to preserve these fragile items and have tried, so far unsuccessfully, to work with my siblings to see that the photos get preserved.

In addition to its importance in documenting my Dad’s role in the war, the collection includes negatives, a rare treasure from that period!  The sad thing is that there has been a family feud and my brother, as co executor of the estate, has obstructed efforts to get the materials properly preserved.

This is sad for two reasons.  First, the images are dying.   Drug store chemicals used in a makeshift darkroom do not lend themselves to survival of these materials.  Many show damage from “hypo,” the chemical used to remove the unexposed silver halide crystals.  If hypo itself is not removed, images fade. Other problems include solarization, storage in antique materials (esp bad for the negatives) and so on.  If something is not done soon, we will loose the images.

People are even more important.   Survivors, inmates and liberators .. maybe even camp guards .. are dying every day.  How sad that none of these people is able to see these images because my brother has them locked up in his lawyer’s safe!   His own daughter is about to be bat mitzvah.  A bat mitzvah is a huge deal for a y0ung Jewish woman.  For the first time, my niece will lead a congregation and read from the torah.   She may never get to see the images as they decay in that lawyer’s safe.

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Bob Raymond #

    Did your father take the picture that accompanies this blog?

  2. theaveeditor #

    Just discovered you are using RSS!