Despite being in color, the images of Dachau concentration camp, where tens of thousands were imprisoned and killed by the Nazis, appear bleak and foreboding
What is even more chilling than the sight of drainage ditches to catch the blood of victims, or the images of gas chambers, is that the man behind the camera in 1950 was Hugo Jaeger – one of Hitler’s personal photographers.
The events that unfolded in Dachau continue to haunt the world 81 years after it first opened its gates on March 22, 1933. But the series of images taken by Jaeger, who documented the rise of Nazi Germany, add a layer of horror to the pride Hitler and his followers took in their movement.
No one is quite sure why Jaeger, whose work was lauded by Hitler as the future of photography, decided to visit the camp five years after U.S. troops liberated the tortured souls interned there.
The photographer, described as an ardent Fascist even before Hitler came to power, had been on hand to capture rallies, glorify the Third Reich and take candid snapshots of Hitler at his birthday and on other occasions.
After Hitler’s suicide and the fall of Nazi Germany, he hid his images in metal jars that he buried in several locations around Munich. He returned periodically to check on them and dry them out, according to Time.
It was claimed that when American soldiers searched the home he was staying in, he distracted them with a bottle of brandy to prevent them searching the bag where he had the stored the images, before he went on to bury them.
He appeared desperate to preserve the images documenting the cause he had backed and eventually moved the archive from the buried jars to a Swiss bank vault.
Jaeger had documented key points in the rise of the Nazis, yet five years after the Second World War ended, he traveled to Dachau to photograph the deserted barracks, crumbling crematorium, and eerie gas chambers that had been made to look like showers.
He photographed the watch towers and barracks, and also took pictures of prayer scarves and wreaths laid at memorials to the prisoners who were cremated, and the 4,000 Soviet soldiers killed there by firing squads.
His vast archive, taken during and after the fall of Hitler, were eventually sold to Life magazine in 1965. The magazine published them, but with an editor’s note referring to the archive of roughly 2,000 images as ‘the work of a man we admire so little’.
At the time of his visit to Dachau – where sunlight could be seen shining weakly through the barracks’ windows and stark prison walls were lifted only by the tiny dots of yellow from the dandelions on overgrown verges – refugees and survivors of the Nazi onslaught had moved into the camp as they tried to reclaim their lives, Time reported.
More than 188,000 political prisoners, Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazis were kept in Dachau, which was used as a labor camp and place where medical experiments took place.
In a final act of cruelty, guards at the camp forced more than 7,000 prisoners, most of them Jewish, on a death march as American troops drew close in April 1945. Many of the starved and weak prisoners who struggled to keep up were shot dead. Those who survived were liberated by the Allies in May.
Chilling, creepy, bizarre.
May the world never forget.