36 Heartbreaking Historical Photos of Auschwitz: The Place That Erased Existence

Journey through the haunting photographic record showcasing the chilling reality of Auschwitz from 1939 to the 1960s, capturing its horrifying scenes, grim milestones, fleeting moments of resistance, and the liberation.

Auschwitz's grim shift: PoW to death camp.

Auschwitz Soup Line (1939)

In 1939, Polish prisoners at Auschwitz PoW camp, later known as Auschwitz I, endured harsh living conditions as they waited for meager rations like soup to sustain them, foreshadowing the camp’s transformation into a notorious concentration camp.

Brigitte Joseph, denied US entry in 1939, perished in Auschwitz.

St Louis Passenger (1939)

Brigitte Joseph, a Jewish refugee, was among over 900 passengers on the ill-fated St. Louis ship in 1939. Denied entry to the U.S. and forced to return to Europe, she tragically perished in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

Child Survivors: Glimpse of Hope amid Horror, 1940s.

Child Prisoners Auschwitz (1940s)

Despite the harsh reality of their situation, children still found ways to play and use their imagination. They created games that adapted to their surroundings, a testament to their resilience and the universal nature of play among children.

1st Auschwitz prisoners' march, June 1940

Auschwitz March (June 1940)

In June 1940, the first group of Auschwitz prisoners, mainly Polish political dissidents, were forcibly marched to Tarnow station for deportation. This marked the beginning of Auschwitz’s devastating role in the Holocaust’s systematic extermination of millions.

Kolbe, Auschwitz prisoner swaps death for man.

Kolbe’s Sacrifice (1941)

Maximilian Kolbe, a priest and Franciscan friar, was arrested in 1941 for aiding Jews and the Polish underground. In Auschwitz, he selflessly volunteered for starvation to save another man, enduring 14 days without sustenance before being murdered by SS guards.

IG Farben used concentration camp labor.

Auschwitz III (1941)

The IG Farben factory in Monowitz, near Auschwitz, was a forced labor site during WWII where prisoners produced synthetic rubber and fuel. Linked to Auschwitz III, it highlighted corporate complicity in Holocaust atrocities.

Auschwitz orchestra: Diverse musicians united amidst horror.

Auschwitz Men’s Orchestra (1941)

The Auschwitz Men’s Orchestra, comprised of captive musicians, played an ironic role in the camp. Music, usually a symbol of joy and freedom, was turned into a tool of control and manipulation by the Nazis (1941). Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz was founded later, in 1943.

14yo Auschwitz victim's poignant photo

Czeslawa Kwoka (1942)

Czeslawa Kwoka, a 14-year-old Polish girl, was forcibly deported to Auschwitz in 1942 due to her ethnic background. Photographer Wilhelm Brasse captured her haunting portrait, revealing her innocence amidst the horrors of the Holocaust.

Inmate 918 led daring Auschwitz escape.

Auschwitz Escape (1942)

Kazimierz Piechowski, inmate 918, masterminded the daring 1942 Auschwitz escape, driving out undetected with three inmates through the main gate disguised as SS officers in a stolen car, audaciously deceiving the Nazis and exposing the camp’s security flaws.

SS-guarded Jews marched to camps, 1943.

Krakow Jews March (1943)

In 1943, SS guards supervised a forced march of Jews in Krakow to Plaszow labor camp or Auschwitz. This horrific event symbolized the tragic fate of Polish Jews under Nazi occupation during the Holocaust.

Jewish persecution, Budapest 1944

Arrow Cross Roundup (1944)

In October 1944, Budapest’s Arrow Cross militia seized Jews for deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a harrowing event during the Holocaust where Hungary’s Jewish community faced devastating persecution and loss.

Ukrainian Jewish women, disinfected & bald, await fate.

Ukrainian Jews (1944)

Ukrainian Jewish women chosen for forced labor at Auschwitz-Birkenau underwent disinfection and head shaving, awaiting further procedures, captured on May 1st, 1944.

A chilling testament to Holocaust.

Auschwitz Shoe Horror (1944)

At Auschwitz, the largest Nazi death camp, shoes were systematically removed from Holocaust victims before execution. The vast number of seized shoes, piled in warehouses, symbolized the immense scale of the atrocity committed against millions.


Auschwitz Selection – “Crowning Achievement” (1944)

In 1944, SS officer Adolf Eichmann efficiently executed the deportation and gassing of 437,000 Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz. Over 70% met their end within eight weeks, making it a horrifying yet significant achievement in Holocaust history.

Newly-arrived siblings face fate at Auschwitz.

Hungarian Boys at Auschwitz (1944)

In the infamous Auschwitz Album, two young Hungarian Jewish brothers poignantly exemplify the human cost of the Holocaust as they unknowingly await their fate in the “Selection” process – a devastating testament to the horrors experienced by countless families.

Auschwitz staff relax amid horrors.

Auschwitz Guards’ Leisure (1944)

In 1944, Auschwitz officers and guards displayed shocking duality, as photos reveal them enjoying leisure time at Solahütte retreat, while simultaneously inflicting unimaginable horrors upon innocent prisoners mere miles away, evidencing a disturbing disconnect from humanity.

SS leaders' chilling leisure, 1944.

Auschwitz Officers Relax (1944)

A rare Höcker Album photo captures SS officers Mengele, Höss, Kramer, and Thumann casually socializing at Solahütte retreat in 1944, providing chilling insight into the lives of men responsible for unimaginable atrocities in Auschwitz and Birkenau.

SS women unwind near Auschwitz, 1944.

SS Women at Solahuette (1944)

In 1944, SS Helferinnen, German female auxiliaries, arrived at Solahuette near Auschwitz, a relaxation retreat for SS officers, showcasing how they enjoyed leisure time amidst orchestrating the Holocaust’s brutal concentration and extermination camps.

Mengele experiments on disabled Jews.

Dwarf at Auschwitz (1944)

A young Hungarian Jewish man born with dwarfism sits during selections at Auschwitz-Birkenau to decide which arrivals would be gassed immediately. Although most disabled Jews were put to death, some were selected for experiments by camp physician Dr. Josef Mengele (May 1944).

Horrors Captured: Walk to Auschwitz Gas Chambers

Auschwitz Victims (1944)

This haunting image captures the somber fate of Jewish women and children in 1944, as they were forcibly marched towards Auschwitz-Birkenau’s gas chambers by Nazis, captured through the lenses of German photographers Ernst Hofmann or Bernhard Walter.

Traumatic Journey: Vulnerable Jews to Auschwitz.

Auschwitz Victims – Gas Chambers (1944)

In May 1944, Hungarian Jewish children and an elderly woman were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were tragically led to gas chambers as part of the Holocaust’s brutal genocide, emphasizing the brutality inflicted upon all age groups.

1944 RAF photo of Auschwitz, a chilling view.

Auschwitz From Sky (1944)

In 1944, Royal Air Force (RAF) reconnaissance planes captured aerial views of Auschwitz, inadvertently documenting the horrors of the Holocaust. These images, initially not fully understood, now provide crucial evidence of Nazi atrocities.

Secret Auschwitz photos, brave inmate.

Auschwitz Secrets (1944)

Alberto Errera, a Greek-Jewish Auschwitz inmate, courageously captured clandestine photographs of the Holocaust’s horrors. As a Sonderkommando, he revealed the grim reality even as he faced his own death by torture and eventual suicide in 1944.

Soviet liberation ends Auschwitz horrors, 1945.

Auschwitz Liberated – Soviet Red Army (1945)

On 27th January 1945, Soviet Red Army liberated Auschwitz, revealing Nazi atrocities to the world. The largest extermination camp of the Holocaust, it claimed 1.1 million lives, mostly Jews, forever marking a pivotal moment in global history.

Soviet soldier liberates Auschwitz, 1945.

Auschwitz Liberation – Escorting Prisoners (1945)

Soviet soldier liberates Auschwitz, freeing thousands of suffering prisoners from one of the most horrific Nazi concentration camps, a powerful symbol of hope and human redemption.

Child survivors' first steps to freedom.

Auschwitz Kids Freed (1945)

In 1945, children liberated from Auschwitz courageously emerged from the wartime darkness, representing hope and resilience as they stepped into a new life, carrying the heavy weight of their tragic, shared experiences.

Auschwitz Eyeglasses (1945)

In 1945, Allied forces discovered thousands of eyeglasses belonging to victims of Auschwitz. A haunting reminder of the Holocaust, these once-personal items symbolize the horrors endured, and stand as testimony to the lives lost.

First Auschwitz photo, 1945 liberation.

Auschwitz Photo (1945)

This 1945 photograph, taken by a US soldier, is among the first publicly shared images of Auschwitz post-liberation, offering a haunting visual record of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and forever shaping collective memory.

Child survivors of Auschwitz display tattoos.

Child Survivors’ Tattoos (1945)

Over 600 child survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau bore tattooed identification numbers, a haunting symbol of Nazi dehumanization and the resilience of these young individuals who endured unimaginable horrors.

Child Auschwitz survivors in oversized garb.

Auschwitz Children (1945)

Child survivors of Auschwitz, liberated by Russian forces in January 1945, displayed incredible resilience. Clad in oversized prisoner jackets, they represented hope amid the Holocaust’s devastation, personifying both the trauma and enduring spirit of those who survived.

Irma Grese, known as

Grese & Kramer (1945-46)

Irma Grese, deemed “The Beautiful Beast,” served as a ruthless SS guard at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. At just 22 years old, she was executed in 1945 for war crimes, alongside her superior, Joseph Kramer, who met a similar fate in 1946.

Auschwitz commandant extradited, 1946

Auschwitz Chief Extradition (1946)

Rudolf Hoss, Auschwitz’s longest-serving commandant, was extradited to Poland on June 5, 1946, along with other war criminals. As an architect of horrors, Hoess was responsible for over a million deaths at the infamous concentration camp.

Auschwitz Trials - A Justice Quest, from Kraków to Frankfurt.

Auschwitz Trials (1947 – 1965)

“First Auschwitz Trial” was held in Poland in Kraków from November 24, 1947 to December 22, 1947. “Second Auschwitz Trial” took place in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, from December 20, 1963, to August 19, 1965. In total, around 60 people were sentenced.

Hoss evading death at his own death camp.

Hoss Hanged (April 1947)

Rudolph Höss, notorious Auschwitz commandant, attempted to avoid execution by hiding as a gardener, but was captured due to his distinctive scar. Defiant to the end, he proclaimed the Holocaust a necessary measure before being hanged at Auschwitz.

Seized prayer shawls reflect Jewish resilience.

Tallit Room Auschwitz (1950s)

The Tallit room at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1950s, showcased numerous Jewish prayer shawls (tallitot) confiscated by Nazis, symbolizing both the immense loss of Jewish lives and resilience of their religious and cultural identity.

Boger Swing presented by a former Auschwitz inmate in 1964.

Boger Swing Display (1964)

Wilhelm Boger, an SS officer at Auschwitz, invented the “Boger Swing,” a brutal torture device. Paul Leo Seidel, a survivor, presented a model of the contraption during the 1964 Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, leading to Boger’s conviction for his heinous crimes.

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