Chilling never before seen photos show first transport of Poles to Auschwitz
An extraordinary collection of photographs capturing the deportation of the first Polish prisoners to the newly established German Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz has recently come to light.
The significant collection offers a glimpse into the events that unfolded 83 years ago on June 14, 1940, when the Germans sent a group of 728 Poles from a prison in Tarnow to Auschwitz.
The group included soldiers of the September campaign, members of underground independence organisations, high school and university students, as well as a small group of Polish Jews.
They were given numbers from 31 to 758. Of the 728 deported prisoners, 325 survived the war, 292 died, and for 111 their fate is unknown.
Digital reproductions of the photographs were donated to the Auschwitz Museum by Marek Tomaszewski, a collector and author from Tarnów who published them in his book "Tarnów – KL Auschwitz: The First Transport to Hell."
Writing in the book’s introduction, Tomaszewski said: "Imagine the reaction of an enthusiast, a collector of regional memorabilia, who, on a gloomy day, sitting in his room, receives a message from his colleague in Canada with an attachment.
“When opened, it reveals photographs of a very significant event in the history of the city and the country, of which the previously known photographic documentation is very scarce."
Comprising a total of 96 images, the album is believed to have belonged to a member of the German Order Police detachment stationed on Chyszowska Street (now Mościckiego) in Tarnów.
The unit was entrusted with the task of escorting the prisoners, guiding the column from the Tarnów bathhouse through Dębowa, Wałowa, and Krakowska streets to the railway ramp situated on present-day Bartla Street.
The photographs also offer glimpses into the lives of the Schutzpolizei officers stationed in Tarnów, which makes them an important historical source.
Dr. Piotr Cywiński, the director of the Auschwitz Museum, said: “Marek Tomaszewski has provided the Museum with high-quality scans of the entire collection, which will become visual documents illustrating the beginnings of Auschwitz and the history of the camp's prisoners and victims.”
In the six images from the collection released by the Auschwitz Museum we see the group of 728 Poles being marshalled by the German police unit next to the bathhouse in Tarnów.
Three helmeted Germans stare at the camera’s lens, possibly held by a friend.
We see the group being marched through Tarnów under escort and then again at the train station before being herded into wagons.
In the final photo, we see the German guards outside a building in Oświęcim, helmets off, seemingly being dismissed after carrying out their work for the day.
Dr. Wojciech Płosa, the head of the Archives of the Museum, emphasized that the photographs, particularly those showing the prisoners on their way to the camp, are of special significance.
"None of these men, who on the early morning of 14 June 1940, marched under a heavily armed German escort to the railway station in Tarnów, knew the purpose of their journey.
“Many of them would never return to their loved ones.”