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January 30, 2017

Laughing at Auschwitz: Rare and Leisure Photographs of the Concentration Camp's SS Officers on Vacation That Shock Germans

In 2006, a photo album created by Karl-Friedrich Höcker came to the attention of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; the album contains rare images of the life of German functionaries at Auschwitz while the camp remained in operation, including some of the few photos of Josef Mengele at Auschwitz.

Höcker died in 2000, still claiming that he had nothing to do with the death camp at Birkenau. During his final statement at the Frankfurt Trial in 1965, he had claimed,
“I only learned about the events in Birkenau…in the course of time I was there… and I had nothing to do that. I had no ability to influence these events in any way…neither did I want them, nor carry them out. I didn’t hurt anybody…and neither did any one die at Auschwitz because of me.”
Höcker testified that he never set foot on the ramp during the selection process, despite one survivor recalling an officer with the surname Höcker being present on the ramp.

This first page shows Hoecker, right, with the commandant Richard Baer. 1944.

These unique photographs were taken between May and December 1944, and they show the officers and guards relaxing and enjoying themselves -- as countless people were being murdered and cremated at the nearby death camp. In some of the photos, SS officers can be seen singing. In others they are hunting and in another a man can be seen decorating a Christmas tree in what could only be described as a holiday in hell.

The images are significant because there are few photos available today of the "social life" of the SS officers who were responsible for the mass murder at Auschwitz, the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper writes. The paper claims that these are the first leisure time photos of the concentration camp's SS officers to be discovered, though similar images do exist for other camps, including Sachsenhausen, Dachau and Buchenwald.

Here's a few of the published photos of Karl Hoecker’s album known as “Laughing at Auschwitz”:

Helferinnen, in wool skirts and cotton blouses, listen to the accordion and eat blueberries, which Karl Hoecker had served to them.

Twelve SS auxiliaries sit happily on a fence railing eating blueberries given to them by an SS officer.

Karl Hoecker en route to or returning from Solahütte.

Laughter lines the faces of camp staff as they prepare for a sing-song.

Officers and Helferinnen at Solahütte.

Taking a break. The second person is the notorious concentration camp doctor Josef Mengele (The Angel of the Death).

SS officers relax on the grounds of the Solahütte retreat.

SS officers relax together with women and a baby on a deck at Solahütte.

Resting at the Solahütte retreat center.

The Solahütte retreat was used to provide a relaxing atmosphere for SS officers working at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

Singing to release the stress: an accordianist leads a sing-along for SS officers.

A group photo of the mass murderers of Auschwitz: Josef Kramer, Josef Mengele, Richard Baer, Karl Höcker (from left; man at right unidentified).

Finding comfort at Auschwitz: SS officers drink together.

Christmas 1944: Karl Höcker lights the candles of a Christmas tree.

SS officer Karl Höcker pets his dog “Favorit.”

A large group of SS officers visit a coal mine near Auschwitz.

Karl Hoecker (right) with Richard Baer and Rudolf Hoess.

The opening of a hospital at Auschwitz.

SS officers gather for the dedication ceremonies of the new SS hospital.

SS officers gathered at the same event.

Hoecker, lying on a wooden platform about the height of a table, shoots a rifle. Right: Hoecker in his summer uniform.



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