Interpreting the Visual Evidence
The Architecture of Mass Murder
The camp at Auschwitz-
Birkenau was the largest
of the German concentration
central purpose was the
murder of Europe's Jews. Almost 1.1 million
people, of whom 1 million were
Jews, were murdered in Auschwitz.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was in fact a
complex of three camps: an extermination
center, a prisoner-of-war camp, and
a labor camp built with the cooperation
of German industrial firms such as IG Farben.
Forty other smaller installations and
work camps in the surrounding area were
also run by the camp's administration. The
construction of the Auschwitz-Birkenau
complex occupied thousands of workers
and continued throughout the war.
When the Soviet Army arrived in January
1945, they found that the Germans had
burned the camp archives before fleeing,
but they had not burned the construction
archive, which was kept separately. Hundreds of technical drawings were found
in this archive, and after the collapse of
the Soviet Union in 1991, these drawings
became accessible to historians. A further
cache of such documents was discovered
in an abandoned building in Berlin in
2008. They are now held by Yad Vashem,
the Holocaust archive in Jerusalem, Israel.
The discovery of these drawings did
not add substantially to what was already
known about the murder of Jews
and other prisoners at Auschwitz, but
they provide an arresting example of the
bureaucratic apparatusand the chilling
coldness of the planningthat went into
the Nazi extermination policy.
Questions for Analysis
|1. Who would have seen these plans and
been made aware of their purpose?
|2. What do these images tell us about
the nature of the effort that went into
the Nazi extermination policy?
|3. Is there a way to understand the relationship
between the careful renderings,
the precise measurements, the
rectilinear lines, and the ultimate purpose
of the buildings depicted?
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