Auschwitz photographer Wilhelm Brasse dies at 95

WARSAW Wed Oct 24, 2012 8:37pm IST

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WARSAW (Reuters) - Wilhelm Brasse, a former Auschwitz prisoner whose photographs from inside the Nazi death camp provided a chilling historical chronicle of the horrors committed there, has died at the age of 95, an Auschwitz Museum historian said on Wednesday.

Brasse, who died on Tuesday, was sent to the camp after he was caught in 1940 trying to flee Nazi occupied Poland to join the Polish military in exile. He was put in a work detail which had to haul bodies from the gas chambers to be incinerated.

When his jailers at Auschwitz discovered he was an experienced photographer, they set him to work taking pictures of prisoners for the prison's internal files, and recording the visits of senior German officials for posterity.

He was also ordered to take photographs of the medical experiments conducted by camp doctors on inmates.

"He tried to come back to photography (after the war) but it was too difficult for him," Auschwitz museum historian Teresa Wontor-Cichy told Reuters. "The fact of having taken such pictures was disturbing for him."

The Nazis killed some 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, at Auschwitz, located near the Polish village of Oswiecim.

Brasse's pictures, among the few photographic records of the death camp, were recovered from Nazi files at the end of World War Two and they are now a centre-piece of the exhibits at the Auschwitz museum.

Over the five years he spent at the camp, Brasse shot some 50,000 pictures, of which nearly 40,000 survived.

Brasse, who was of mixed Austrian-Polish descent, was active in setting up the Auschwitz museum and spent years after the war helping educate young people, especially from Germany, about the holocaust.

In 2005, Polish director Irek Dobrowolski released a documentary film about Brasse's life, called "The Portraitist" ("Portrecista").

The photographer will be buried on Thursday in the city of Zywiec, southern Poland.

(Reporting by Dagmara Leszkowicz, editing by Paul Casciato)

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