A collection of newly available photographs is shedding fresh light on those who carried out the Nazi holocaust. The public now has the chance to see the contents of an album, thought to have belonged to an SS officer at the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, where more than a million people are estimated to have died. The pictures are now in the possession of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., from where Malcolm Brown reports.
Found in an abandoned German apartment building just after World War Two, the photographs are now in the care of conservators.
The museum received the album early this year from an elderly American war veteran approaching the end of his life.
The 116 pictures, taken in 1944, show SS guards and Nazi officials relaxing, even as the extermination of Jews was in its closing phase.
Rebecca Erbelding is the archivist who received the album. "It's so easy to group Nazis as red-eyed, pointy-toothed, evil monsters. The point isn't that these were evil people doing normal things. In the album, it shows that they were normal people, who developed the capacity to perpetrate enormous evil."
The museum says the photos provide a unique insight into those who ran the Nazis's deadliest killing center. There are no images of the Holocaust's victims. Instead, in chilling contrast, the perpetrators are shown -- often appearing all too ordinary.
There are pictures of particularly infamous figures, including camp doctor Josef Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death.
The album's presumed owner -- SS officer Karl Hoecker -- is in many of the pictures. Some show him with his dog, joking with female SS auxiliaries and even decorating a Christmas tree.
The important find has prompted researchers here to make a public appeal for similar materials, before they are lost forever. Mmuseum archivist Rebecca Erbelding says, "Museums, especially ours, are still collecting. We're still learning. We're still finding new things. We're still adding to the history that we know of. We're really encouraging people to think about what they may have in their attic and to contact us, or to contact another museum."
The man who donated this album -- a former U.S. military intelligence officer -- died earlier this year, after requesting that the museum not reveal his identity.