Czesława Kwoka was 14 years old. On the arrival, they tattooed number 26947 on her left forearm. Then they took her picture. Not before the guard beat her up with a club. The Germans had sent the girl and her mother to Auschwitz to be exterminated. Both came from the area of Poland designed by the Nazis as now exclusively German, and the Poles living there had to be relocated. For the new masters, Auschwitz seemed like a logical place.
Hitler decided the Polish language was a dead language at the moment they declared Poland to be a dead nation. The young girl didn’t speak German, and probably didn’t understand welcoming German commands. Why she qualified as a political prisoner, we don’t know. But we know that all political prisoners had their headshots taken in three different poses. The photographer, Wilhelm Brasse, himself a prisoner with the number 3444, was not much older than Czesława. Her story, compounded by the haunting images, stayed with Brasse long after the war was over. He, during the interview in 2005, still could recall the girl, wiping her bloody lip and looking straight into his camera, not realizing what kind of monstrosity she ended up in. Naive, as they often are at that age, thrown in the hell of ethnic massacres, she couldn’t cope with the bestiality of the German killing machine.
Nazi record keeping obsession was legendary, but many images, preserved by a group of dedicated people, survived, which cannot be said about their models. Hiding the negatives meant certain death when caught.
And the film library was rich.
There was a movie of a group of Soviet prisoners clubbed to death. There was a collection of the more interesting tattoos, carefully removed from the dead bodies, stretched between the pins and preserved in a liquid as the pathological exhibits. Brasse still remembers the moments he took a picture of the face of the woman at the exact moment of entering the gas chamber.
The Germans solved the task of killing quite well––their gas chambers did their jobs with a legendary efficiency. They had a problem with disposing of the bodies, as their crematoria were not so efficient.
Wilhelm Brasse, of an Austrian father and a Polish mother, had a story of his own. The occupiers gave him a chance to claim his German heritage and sign the Volksliste. This would give him a hope of a worry-free survival. He refused, as he felt to be a Pole. So they had sent him to Auschwitz, too. But there, his photography skills saved his life.
Czesława Kwoka died, probably after the phenol injection into her heart. For the guards, this method of killing was better than the one with a bullet. Cheaper, less noisy and much less messy––they spilled no blood. It took usually two guards to hold the prisoner while the third one injected the deadly solution. He inserted a long needle right below the breastbone and directed its tip up, to the head. Then he emptied a large syringe directly into the bloodstream. For the little girl, I’m certain, one holding guard sufficed.
And as for Wilhelm Brasse? After the liberation of his concentration camp, the photographer never picked up his camera again. Probably for the same reason as the Vietnam veterans try to hide their memories in the most remote places of their brains. After the participation, and even witnessing such atrocities, the mental damage was as long-lasting as was invisible.
During the war, Poland had most of her people killed as the percentage of her population. Then, we had lost at least two generations to WW2 carnage and the following regime change.
So, if someone wonders why the Poles have such strong feelings about fighting the wars, ask them to read this blog.
And study the history.