Lily Jacob, a Czechoslovakian concentration camp survivor, found the Auschwitz Album, currently exhibited at the Prague City Gallery’s House of Photography, after the liberation of the camp at Mittelbau-Dora. This album of over 200 photographs serves as a reminder that many Czechoslovakian citizens met their end at Auschwitz-Birkenau and that they must not be forgotten.
The gallery is split between two floors. There is a solemn atmosphere inside the gallery and the pictures are stark: black and white, regular sized, and on bare white walls. The only accompaniments are captions that tell personal stories, which are about as heart wrenching as one would imagine.
The pictures are from the spring of 1944 Auschwitz-Birkenau and the gallery walks you through the various stages of entering the camp, through different perspectives and viewpoints of those who lived through it. It starts out with a general introduction and explanation of the exhibit before beginning with the Resettlement of Jews from Hungary, and into the arrival of transports and what happened afterwards.
The personal are sad and difficult to read. They speak of the selections that tore families apart and sent an ungodly number of men, women, and children to their tragic fate. Juxtaposed with the photos, they create a powerful and emotional experience for viewers.
On both floors, at the end of each exhibit there is a backroom playing multimedia recordings. On the first floor, they play the audio from an interview with Lily Jacob in English, with the Czech subtitles. On the second floor – various taped interviews with the camp survivors, who recall the horrors they faced and the brutality of the selection process.
Aranka Siegel, one of the women who survived the camp speaks of how her mother was convinced that they would not be separated. As they reached the front of the line, Siegel was eventually separated from her mother, who futilely tried to convince the guards that daughter needed her. It was the last time that Aranka ever saw her mother.
Between the showings of the interviews from the various survivors, two projectors display pictures on both sides of the wall. Seeing the faces of these innocent children, men and women, young and old, being lead to their demise, is sobering for anyone living in the 21st century.
Sobering—a perfect word to describe an exhibit of this magnitude. Although this exhibit is directed at Czechs and Slovaks, everyone would find the gallery compelling. It’s a different experience: hearing about something and seeing it without being able to look away.
Housed at the Prague City Gallery’s House of Photography until September 27th, the Auschwitz Album is an exhibition not to be missed. It has a cultural and historical impact it has had not only on the Czech Republic but the world as a whole.
By Adam Poplawski