[rewrite, original lost to unfortunate back-key]
As part of the 70th commemoration of the end of WWII, went to an exhibit of the Auschwitz Album. While movie directors have done an amazing job re-creating these awful scenes throughout the years, the actual photos of unphotogenic, unmadeup distressed masses being herded around as they struggle to manage their few belongings along with their friends & relatives is heartbreaking.
What's more astounding is this seminal horrific event came this close to having 0 photographic evidence even at this late date in the history of photography - only by accident did one of the inmates stumble across this unauthorized photo album a few hundred miles away. Otherwise, poof, gone, vanished - only to be debated as a less certain he-said-she-said occurrence to be misused by the weak-memoried and the sinister propagandist - in some ways as distant as Waterloo. We live in a spoiled time with our smartphones to document altercations and large events, and the idea that there was no camera around will come to seem stranger and stranger.
Additionally, the tales by survivors from the photos that accompany the exhibit are also mind-bending - holding hands at the triage point was a sure path to death for both hand-holders (e.g. mother and child); a father they catch glimpse of to great relief being saved from the death line to work as a nurse the rest of the war, only to be executed as the Nazis pulled out a year later; a boy who has a dream they're all on their way to their deaths and breaks the silence, leaving his train in implacable panic. This is the oral tradition that can't be replaced by film or image.
Besides a memory of the outrages of Auschwitz and other camps, the Auschwitz album is a testament to all the other atrocities that were never documented, that passed with hardly a trace, much less a vivid memorial. We know these have occurred from Cambodia to Rwanda to Guatemala to countless other locations and times, but without the benefit of seeing-is-believing, blindness is all too easy a respite.