The Auschwitz Album.
Lili Jacob was an 18 year old young Woman ripped from her home in Bilke, near Beregszasz, in the region of Transcarpathia. The Beregszasz District had been formerly Czechoslovakian in 1919 immediately after World War I had finished and then it was reclaimed as part of Hungary in 1939. Then almost immediately after Hitler Invaded Russian, in Operation Barbarossa, June 22nd. 1941, many of these same Jews from the Carpathian region were rounded up and taken to Kamanets-Podolski for execution. Eventually, and in late April 1944, the foreboding came closer to Bilke and the home of Lili and her Family. Lili was forcibly taken, with her entire Family to the town's synagogue, detained in the courtyard and then soon after, they were transferred to the Beregszasz Ghetto.
"..Everyone thought Hitler was some kind of maniac." Lili Jacob.
Here, in an area comprising of the Kont and Valy brick factory’s and the barns and outbuildings of the Weisz Farmland, the Jewish Population here in the Ghetto swelled to an astonishing level of some 10,000. All of these Jews, and from many outlying Districts, local Towns, Villages and Shtetl’s, were all crowded and compacted together, uncertain of their fate. Lili’s life up to that point had been somewhat idyllic, and no one should have denied her, her right to continue with the life she had been given. For Lili, if this is not to say she was relatively comfortable, it is also to admit that she had never been so ritually abused. The right to pursue ones life in peace and unhindered was to acquaint Lili with the many trials and privations, but luck which still managed to save her presented itself to her.
"..Something just pulled me toward it right away." Lili Jacob.
Lili’s unease with the World raging across the border was summed up as she listened to radio broadcasts of what Hitler was charging and what the World was seemingly then stepping forth to contain. As rumours always abounded that Hitler had in his feted mind an assault upon all Jewish integrity, this was fairly and constantly seen as merely an attempt to force them to work for the Reich. Between May 16th and May 29th. 1944, in 4 transports, the Jews of the Beregszasz Ghetto were cleared in many ways brutal and methodical, and toward Auschwitz. Lili was eventually deported with her family to Auschwitz on May 24th. 1944 and they arrived on May 26th. 1944.
"..I never look at it alone ..Never." Lili Jacob.
The German guards appear tense after the previous days attempt by 40 to 50 Hungarian Jews to make their escape from an arriving transport. So here we have Lili, finally arrived at the gates of a Hell she would not comprehend but what we know, in photo graphical and evidential terms, of the process and progress of an arriving transport here at Auschwitz toward destruction. In fact, this evidence is the only visible testimony for any of the x6 Death Camps established by Hitler in occupied Poland. What History now gains is Lili Jacob’s gift to us all, a reminder of a terrible place littered with terrifying details and posterity is obligated with its specific charge. The Downfall of the Jews from Hungary, Um Siedlung der Juden aus Ungarn, and this detail is 'The Auschwitz Album' and we cannot simply skim through its pages without acknowledging the terrible shame it accuses Humanity of.
"..These are two of my brothers. ..Zrilu is 8 1/2 and Selig is 10." Lili Jacob.
The Album itself was probably created by former Kommandant of Auschwitz, SS Sturmbannfuhrer Richard Baer for what he considered would be his memorial to a deed he willingly undertook. Baer probably left the Album at the Dora Concentration Camp, which he too had commanded, for safe keeping or for fear of been caught with it on his person. After her enforced evacuation, a forced march toward a forced labour detail in the midst of the Winter of December 1944 and toward Dora, where she was liberated by the Americans, Lili herself stumbled upon the Album here. Lili was not more than 600 kilometres from the place that ‘The Album’ itself depicted, she was severely debilitated, extremeyl sickly and starved of her health and weighing less than 36 kilos.
"..my mother marched away ..and my father ..and my 5 brothers. I never saw them again." Lili Jacob.
Here however, while becoming recuperated to what she was still unaware would be her total loss, what Lili not only found in reference to the destruction she had managed to escape was something quite emotionally draining but somehow spiritually enriching. These photographs of her Family, Neighbours, Friends, Religious leaders would become a memento to all that had transpired, all that had been taken from her and all that she had lost. Lili also found herself in an image looking back at her and presenting her with a view from the Hell that she has managed to Survive. She found her Paternal Grandparents too, Abraham and Sheindele no doubt weary and worn as they too were staring back at her. Then there was the vision of her Aunt with her x4 Children, Lili’s Cousin’s.
"..Every day I would go to ..train to see if somebody came back from my family. ..Nobody came back." Lili Jacob.
Lili was also confronted too with the image of x2 of her Younger Brothers, Zrilu (Israel) and Selig (Zebig), though there were x5 in total, but here were both Zrilu and Selig alone. Also presented to her was the image of her Cousin Mendel. Neither these Paternal Grandparents, Aunt, her x4 Children, x2 Brothers, that are pictured here, nor her Cousin Survived, along with all other Family Members. Lili is alone in her Survival of those days, not wanting to look on separately from them but compelled to do so, so that we now will know what she has lost. That we have such a document is also a chilling reminder of what life looked like for the Jewish People right up to their destruction in the Gas Chambers.
"..I was wide awake when they tatooed it. I want to be wide awake to see that it's out." Lili Jacob.
These are photographs of a living and vibrant community of Jews, some scared, some uncertain but all told, together as a community and kept alive in an instant in time. We can look at the Children as they consider what was next in their latest adventure. I am certain too that the realists amongst the crowds knew specifically what awaited them. What not to do was apparent. No room for panic and so keep peace with themselves and not allow for the terror to rise above and beyond what the Germans were inflicting upon them. When Lili finally emerged from her recovery and her status as a refugee, she returned to Bilke to discover for herself what remnants of a Family still remained. She could not then transition back to a space in Bilke that was empty for her.
"..Without that Album ..you wouldn't have a visual sense of ..selection process ..of ..separation of families ..of ..way to ..gas chambers." Serge Klarsfeld.
Her wait for someone to return was constantly met with emptiness and a growing awareness, that she alone of her Family had Survived to be without those she had dearly loved all their lives. These images, which it must be stressed, are the only known photographs of the progressing transports toward the procession of annihilation. Heading toward a certain destruction has not been seen of any transport into Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor nor Treblinka so these images are beyond unique. They have become a symbol of what had been saved when so much life was lost. For Lili, who spent about 6 months in Auschwitz and had a number etched onto her skin, A10862 which was her tattoo’s number, never etched itself into her want to life. The number never quite defined her, as she found other tribulations would confront her memory’s of the past in her future.
"..You must understand ..miracle. ..One day a man took his photographs and he photographed ..woman who would one day find ..Album. It is very extraordinary. She understands that she had to give it to YadVashem. It's too important for a private person." Serge Klarsfeld.
She eventually met and married and brought the Album with her to America where she gave photo's to those who could lay claim to the evidence of their Family in them. Needless to say. There were none too many Survivors who had Survived to recognise their Family members. For that matter, there were none too many Survivors who could recognise anyone amidst these images. In 1958 Lili finally had the Tattoo surgically removed. As these photographs were also introduced into evidence, as Lili testified at the Auschwitz Trial in Frankfurt, between December 1963 and August 1965, newer emphasis as to the very Catastrophe could be delivered to the World by Lili. This trial, which was the second Auschwitz trial, as the first Auschwitz Trial had been conducted in 1947, in Cracow, Poland, never gave Justice to any Surviving Jew let alone 6,000,000 Murdered Jews.
"..I have lived with this for so many years. It's been weighing so heavily on my heart. Now I want Album to be shown to ..world. I don't want it hidden anymore." Lili Jacob.
Serge Klarsfeld believes the photographs to be the work of Ernest Hoffmann, a teacher and deputy to the chief of the camp's identification service and the spread of his effort was possibly over the transports of May 25th. and 26th. 1944. In 1980, convinced by Serge Klarsfeld, who had visited her in her home in Miami, Lili was convinced of the true worth of such a document to us all. So as to ensure for posterity its unique and visual tribute to an annihilated Hungarian Jewry, Lili eventually delivered ‘The Album’ to YadVashem in 1983. Lili Jacob donated the album of photographs of her transport's arrival in Auschwitz and we can now look at the massive loss of life, as Hungarian Jews are marking their final steps toward eternity.
"..Here is ..train ..watchtower ..and ..smoke ..constant. ..Right away we started inhaling it from ..crematoriums. Everybody got nauseous." Lili Jacob.
On December 17th 1999 Lilly Jacob Zelmanovic Meier passed away and if Lili didn't quite appreciate the Albums future Historical evidence, she certainly knew on a personal and social level, its immense worth to her, Hungarian and World Jewry. Her 2 daughters share conflicting views of ‘The Album’ which for me, as I look at the degrading of Humanity by those who stole the lives of these Jews we now encounter here, is a measure of such depravity, we cannot even imagine nor comprehend. These photographs, every time we view them it is in knowing that these images are of an innocent People struggling with what was brought upon them by sheer hatred. The world can call this what it wants but I would look to those in the images, and as they progress past Lili, and for me they will remain for us Always to Remember, Never to Forget them as they were, Human Beings standing before the inhuman detail of such despicably inhuman and indefensible crimes.
The atrocity will linger far into our future and constantly looking back at the loss to the whole of Humanity, Civilisation, Culture and to 6,000,000 individual People Murdered on the basis of their Jewish antecedence. I look at Lili at times as she was, stood there silent and alone, in the midst of so many other Jews and I feel her concerned and traumatised demeanour. Lili faced an ordeal, she was yet to grasp, that no one should have been presented with. Lili’s entire composure must have wondered where else her Family might be as she stood shorn before the world. I have no certainty in any of this, and this is purely conjecture, but a Sonderkommando might well have informed Lili of just what Auschwitz meant.
How then could the human consciousness accept that such atrocity was immediately ahead of her, and within earshot as the sight of billowing smoke wafted a confirming smell of what had been uncertain up until that point. Then when I look at Lili in her later life, a Wife, Mother, Mentor, I can fully sense the enormous victory, though at an immensely horrendous cost to 6,000,000 others of her People, that Lili was now enabled to Remember. I recognise too that Hitler nor hatred was the victor here with Lili and her Survival is the true victory of Hitler, naztism, bigotry and hatred. Lili Jacob marks the steps we take toward toleration and acceptance of all and she is the very reason to Remember The Holocaust. This Holocaust Memorial Day is Lili’s, as much as it belongs to the 6,000,000 other Jews like her, but who did not Survive. Our Memory should not Rest while Lili’s now should. Lili has saved more than a World Entire, she has saved the images of a Universe inflamed toward eternity. Respect Lili Jacob.