The ‘Sketchbook from Auschwitz’

Tomorrow marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Holocaust.

On 20 January 1942, senior Nazi officials met at the Wannsee Villa to plan the Final Solution to the “Jewish Question” – the extermination of the Jews of Europe. This event, presided over by Reinhard Heydrich and conducted by Adolf Eichmann, has since become known as the Wannsee Conference. Today, the building serves as a memorial and education centre.

The villa where the Wannsee Conference was held. Today it is a memorial and museum.

To mark the event this Friday in the German capital there are a number of cultural and memorial events including a gala concert and a moment of silence in the parliament.

 Based on the decisions made during the Wannsee Conference, Oświęcim residents were evicted, and construction of the Auschwitz concentration camp(s) began. 300 Jewish residents of Oświęcim were brought in to lay foundations. From 1940 to 1941, 17,000 Polish and Jewish residents of the western districts of Oświęcim, from places adjacent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, were expelled. Germans ordered also expulsions from the villages of Broszkowice, Babice, Brzezinka, Rajsko, Pławy, Harmęże, Bór, and Budy. The expulsion of Polish civilians was a step towards establishing the Camp Interest Zone, which was set up to isolate the camp from the outside world. Volksdeutsche settlers moved into some buildings whose Jewish population had been deported to the ghetto.

Last week a new display was added to the Auschwitz museum collection. The ‘Sketchbook from Auschwitz’ includes 22 pages of drawings from an unknown prisoner whose initials were apparently MM. They represent a rare first-hand historical account of the Holocaust. The second wing of the main gate was built between 1943 and 1944, but is absent from the sketches. Thus it has been concluded that the sketches were drawn in 1943 or before. The drawings were made in secret – their discovery at the time would have meant instant execution for the artist – and hidden in a bottle that was then stashed into the eaves of one of the inmates’ barracks. A former prisoner working as a watchman discovered the 32 sketches in a bottle near the death camp’s crematorium in 1947.

A German soldier smokes a cigarette in front of a gas chamber as bodies are loaded on to a truck nearby. Agnieszka Sieradzka, Auschwitz art historian, said: 'You can clearly see that the author was determined in presenting the largest number of details.

Tomorrow, in honor of the anniversary of the Wannsee Conference and the horrific events and actions that resulted during the years that followed, I will continue this post with my memories, thoughts and reactions from my visit to the Auschwitz museum in 2001…