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The prohibited photographs of Mauthausen

Inside an album that recently came into the Sydney Jewish Museum’s possession are photographs of the horrors of Nazi aggression that that took place at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria during World War II. The photographs in this album range from surveys of the camp’s landscape and location, to portraits of skeletal prisoners, labourers at work and, most distressingly, of murdered victims.

Photograph from Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria

At first, our curators wondered whether these photographs were taken to oil the Nazi propaganda machine, or to expose just what was being done in Mauthausen. The owner of this album, Ivanovic Bodgan, who was a Serbian political prisoner in Mauthausen from October 1942 to June 1943, is no longer alive, and his family had limited information to share on the story behind this album that survived the war and made its way across the seas to Australia.

With some deeper research, our curators uncovered that in fact the shocking photographs within this album were taken by the officer in charge of the SS Erkennungdienst: the photographic laboratory and identification service. These photographs were taken with the order to record all prisoners’ identities upon arrival and to note all visits to the camp by dignitaries. Five copies were made of each photograph and distributed to the high-ranking SS officer Karl Schutz, and to the SS headquarters in Berlin, Oranienburg, Vienna and Linz.

There was, however, a prohibited sixth copy of each photograph printed by prisoners working in the lab, two of whom are identified as Antonio García Alonso and Francesc Boix Campo. Toward the end of the war, these prohibited images were smuggled out of Mauthausen by a communist network of young Spaniards in the false bottom of a food hamper. These images were later used in the prosecution of war crimes trials in Nuremberg in 1946, in which Francesc Boix Campo gave evidence.

We still cannot be entirely sure of how Ivanovic Bogdan came to be in contact with the syndicate who smuggled out the photographs. Regardless, his collection of photographs, hidden for over 70 years and donated to the Sydney Jewish Museum by Bogdan’s family, will be preserved as photographic evidence of the Holocaust and as a legacy to those who risked everything to reveal Nazi atrocities.

Photograph from Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria

Images: SJM Collection.