WARSAW — Wilhelm Brasse, who as a prisoner at Auschwitz was forced to photograph the experiments of Doctor Josef Mengele, died on Tuesday aged 95.
Brasse’s work at the concentration camp also included taking photographs of his fellow inmates for identity cards, resulting in a collection of 39,000 images that survived the war.
He died in Zywiec, southern Poland, Auschwitz-Birkenau museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki told AFP.
With the Soviet Red Army approaching, on January 17, 1945, Brasse’s Nazi commander ordered him to burn all his negatives, but they turned out to be non-flammable and so were saved.
Born in 1917 into an ethnic Austrian family, Brasse worked as a photographer in southern Poland.
At the outbreak of World War II, he refused to sign the “Volksliste” pledging allegiance to Nazi Germany and joined the Polish army instead.
Captured by the Nazis during an attempt to cross the Hungarian border in 1940, he became prisoner 3,444 at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In January 1941, he was ordered to work in a unit producing identity documents for new prisoners.
“When they arrived at Auschwitz, people’s faces were full, they looked normal. Just weeks later, if they were still alive, they were unrecognisable,” Brasse told AFP in a 2009 interview.
Days before the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945 by the Soviet Red Army, Brasse was evacuated from the camp and found himself on the infamous Death March of 60,000 sick and dying prisoners over hundreds of kilometres (miles) west to the Gross-Rosen and Buchenwald camps.
He survived and was later held at the Mauthausen, Melk and Ebensee camps in Austria before being liberated by US troops on May 6, 1945.
Historians estimate 1.1 million people died at the hands of Poland’s German occupiers at the twin Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps between 1940 and 1945. Ninety percent of the victims were Jews.
Nazi Germany created six camps in occupied Poland to exterminate Jews gathered from across occupied Europe. Besides Auschwitz-Birkenau, there was also Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek and Belzec.
“After the war, I tried to work as a photographer, but I couldn’t. Those poor Jewish children were always before my eyes,” Brasse told AFP in 2009. “There are things you can never forget.”