Marcin Lachowicz‘s photographs from ‘KL Birkenau’ take us on a journey into one of the most infamous buildings in the world, Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, accompanied by Jacek Zieliniewicz who was 17 when he was arrested and deported to the camp in 1941.
Having survived the brutal camp regime, a death march in the Spring of 1945 and the eventual defeat of the Nazis he moved to the French Occupation Zone before returning to his hometown, Janowiec, in Poland. Now in his 80s Zieliniewicz broke his silence about his traumatic experiences at the hands of the Nazis and got involved in the various international educational programmes that keep the memories of the holocaust and the death camps alive today. Programmes that remind us of who we can become and what can happen if enough people do nothing.
Birkenau was constructed on the same site as Auschwitz in October 1941 in order to ease inmate congestion. It’s extension was originally to house 150,000 forced labourers however that soon rose to over 200,000. When Hitler invaded Russia in the Summer of 1941 Soviet prisoners began arriving by the trainload. By the winter of that year over 10,000 POWs were housed on the site. By March 1942 there were only 945 left. Three months later most were dead from starvation or disease.
1942 also saw the escalation of the genocidal mania of the Nazis. At the Wannsee conference in January of that year the ‘Final Solution’ was decided upon and the ever efficient Nazi bureaucratic machine began work on implementing the largest mass extermination in human history. In the three years that followed between 2 – 4 million people were murdered at Auschwitz – Birkenau alone. And Zieliniewicz was one of the few survivors.
With funding from an organisation called Maximilian Kolbe Werk – which supports former concentration camp and ghetto prisoners in Poland and other countries – Lachowicz created this beautiful, poignant and ultimately lonely document of a man travelling back into his own personal hell in order to educate us in evil. To remind us that this can never happen again.