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Auschwitz Photographer, Wilhelm Brasse, Still Sees Images
Associated Press Writer



For years afterward, photographer Wilhelm Brasse saw them in his dreams - emaciated Jewish girls, herded naked in front of his camera at Auschwitz.

Eventually, his dreams stopped. But he never took pictures again.

"I didn't return to my profession, because those Jewish kids, and the naked Jewish girls, constantly flashed before my eyes," he said.

"Even more so because I knew that later, after taking their pictures, they would just go to the gas."

Even today, more than 60 years after it ended, there are still stories to be told about the Holocaust, and the grisly nuts and bolts of running a concentration camp. Brasse recently told his on Polish television. Now he is talking to The Associated Press over coffee and pork cutlets at a friend's restaurant in Zywiec, his hometown in southern Poland. He is cheerful, friendly and sharp-witted at 89.

But his voice occasionally wavers as he remembers.

Brasse, who isn't Jewish, survived because of his photography job, which enabled him to get better conditions and to swap food for pictures with the guards. Some 1.5 million people, most of them Jewish, died at Auschwitz from gassing, shooting, disease, hunger or beatings.

Brasse was sent to Auschwitz at 22 as a political prisoner for trying to sneak out of German-occupied Poland in the spring of 1940. Because he had worked before World War II in a photography studio in Katowice, in southern Poland, he was put to work in the camp's photography and identification department.

"I was given a bath, a new prisoner uniform in decent shape, and moved to another block," said Brasse. Because he was working with the SS, the Nazi's fanatical elite force, he was kept cleaner, "so as not to offend the SS men."

As the only professional photographer in the office, he took the prisoners' pictures for camp files - part of the Nazis' obsession with documenting what they were doing.

"I must have taken 40,000 to 50,000 of those identity pictures," he says.

Sometimes the prisoners had been beaten too badly to get a clear photograph of their faces.

"The picture wasn't taken and the prisoner was sent away and called back later, but sometimes it happened that there wasn't anybody to call back because they'd been able to murder him in the meantime," he said.

Other prisoners eventually took over the ID photos and Brasse was given new tasks, including pictures of prisoner tattoos. As he remembered a prisoner from Gdansk named Zylinski, he fidgeted with his car keys on the table.

"He had a gorgeous tattoo on his back; some artist must have done it for him, because paradise was done so beautifully. Adam and Eve, a tree of paradise, and Eve handing Adam an apple. It was really beautiful, and done in two colors, blue and red."

"Some time later, maybe a month, word came from the crematorium, from a friend who worked at the crematorium, that he had something interesting to show. I saw it," he said, his voice catching.

"The skin was cut out from the back of the prisoner. They cut out the whole piece, and kept the piece of skin, and tanned it."

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