Deciphering Aerial Images from Concentration Camps Deciphering Aerial Images from Concentration Camps Deciphering Aerial Images from Concentration Camps Deciphering Aerial Images from Concentration Camps Deciphering Aerial Images from Concentration Camps

20 years ago, the visual intelligence unit of the IAF received images from one unusual location, Auschwitz concentration camp, which was photographed by American planes during WWII. A special gallery presents the horrors as they appear from above

Michal Khayut

During World War II, an American plane took off for a photography session over the Polish village “Oświęcim”. Inadvertently, the American captured images of the largest concentration camp in the Nazi killing machine–Auschwitz. These aerial images were hidden in the basements of the Central Intelligence Agency for many years, only to be uncovered by chance in the 70’s and transferred to Israel.

20 years later, the rare images were handed to the visual intelligence unit of the IAF, which began the deciphering process. “We’ve done many things of importance”, says Chief Warrant Officer Ze’ev Mosk, crew head in the unit, “But although I have the utmost respect to operations we’ve taken part in the past, and even though this kind of deciphering is relatively simple, this is one thing that I carry on with me”. The photographs reveal that tremendous lengths were taken to disguise the occurring in the area. The crematoriums were placed on the sides of Birkenau camp, far away from the center, in order to minimize exposure to the happenings.

Crematoriums 2 and 3 were fenced in and green gardens sprawled at the entrance. It seemed that commanders of the camp had an interest in the aesthetic care of the areas in which the horrors took place.

“It’s Difficult to See Pictures of the Place that I Really Experienced”

The deciphered images are presented annually in a gallery, alongside explanations about the concentration camp. The presentation provides an extraordinary opportunity to observe photographs that have been preserved since the 1940’s, at the height of the war. Amongst the visitors was Yaakov Weinberger, a holocaust survivor who volunteers for the security company at the hospital. Yaakov, who initially refused to enter the gallery, stared intently at the images and described what he experienced when they were photographed. “It’s difficult to see images of that place, because I really was there”, he describes. “I was three when the war began. My father ran away, and later I was also separated from my mother. Only after the war, when I moved to Israel and enlisted, did I meet them again”.

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