Seeing Auschwitz

Seeing Auschwitz exhibition is reviewed by Dr Eileen Little

Seeing Auschwitz is an exhibition that incorporates 100 photographs, sketches and testimonies of the German Nazi camp Auschwitz and the Holocaust.

Seeing Auschwitz was conceived and produced by Musealia, in partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. USW's Dr Eileen Little reviews the experience

Seeing Auschwitz Exhibition, London 2023

Each person who 'managed' to enter Auschwitz as a prisoner was registered: after replacing their name with a number, they were photographed for 'identification'. It was other prisoners who, forced by the SS, took these thousands of portraits.

Unlike some other iterations of the rupture that divided the world, Seeing Auschwitz is reasonably spare, allowing us to focus on the question of what can be seen, by whom, and how, beneath the enormity of the wider context and history.

A wall-sized image of an arrival train to Auschwitz puts us in the position of the SS photographer standing atop the train to get the view through his lens of the undifferentiated mass of people disembarking.  But what is shown in the photographic detail are moments between people: a camp inmate talking to a woman, a boy looking straight up to the photographer (noticing him in a way he himself was not noticed), the large bag of belongings on the back of a guy who believed, and no doubt hoped, he was being ‘resettled’.

We notice these details because we are shown the ‘album page’ from which this image has been enlarged, as well as five photographs emphasizing these moments of humanity. The emphasis on those details gives pause to what we might have overlooked, skimmed past, in viewing the floor to ceiling image, and we are reminded that we might not see what’s right in front of our eyes.

The infamous Sonderkommando photographs are printed as transparencies on light boxes, four blurred images taken secretly, and the only ones known to exist of the gas chambers, drawing our attention to the great risk involved in capturing this fleeting documentary ‘evidence’.

Seeing Auschwitz exhibition is reviewed by Dr Eileen Little

A final room brings together family photographs found in the camps where the families themselves had been decimated, and an album of SS on holiday, their ‘reward’ for their ‘hard work’ in the camps.

The curation emphasizes the need for individual criticality in viewing the photographs that surround us—questioning them constantly in order to ‘see’ them. An audio accompaniment of a woman’s voice will gently ask you to think about what you might have thought at that time, in that context. This is the last thing you hear as you pass by four small video screens showing the continuation of genocide: Cambodia, Rwanda, Iraq, Myanmar…

Seeing Auschwitz exhibition is reviewed by Dr Eileen Little

Seeing Auschwitz is now open in London for a limited time. You can buy tickets here.

About the author

Dr Eileen Little, thumbnail photograph

Dr Eileen Little is a senior lecturer and researcher in photography. Her interest in the traumatic photographs of the Holocaust was part of her PhD; her current interests include the use of social media in mourning.