Introduction to the Auschwitz Prisoner Photos

Stephen P. Morse and Peter Landé

Beginning in 1941 and continuing into 1942 prisoners (Jews and non-Jews) “admitted” into the Auschwitz concentration camp were photographed. Each photograph included three views (straight on, right and left) with the person’s camp number, the type of prisoner, e.g. Jew, Political Prisoner or Roma/Sinti, but not the name of the prisoner. No pictures were taken of persons sent direct to the gas chambers. By 1943, due to a shortage of photographic paper and the increasing number of arriving prisoners, photo procedures were used only rarely.

While the number of such photos must have been much larger, only slightly more than 30,000 of these photos remain and these are held at the Auschwitz Museum. Unfortunately, there is no public list of the entire holdings of these photos, but some have been shared with the International Tracing Service (ITS), Yad Vashem and the USHMM (just over 2,000). In addition, the Auschwitz Museum permitted Giuseppe Zambon to publish over 600 photos in his book, Abel’s Gesichter Auschwitz.

Virtually all of the names included also appear in the International Tracing Service’s Central Names Index (CNI), but only in a few cases does the CNI indicate that photographs were made. While the International Tracing Service has a index to many numbers, it is far from complete and the information in each case is often fragmentary. Prisoner numbers were sometimes reused, making a definitive determination of the identity of the person shown difficult, though, luckily, where a number appears twice, they often refer to one man and one woman. The photos clearly indicate whether a subject was male or female by the nature of their headgear—caps for men and scarves for women. Even where no name or more than one name could be linked to a specific prisoner name, the number has been included in the slight hope that researchers may know of a number. When you do not see a number in column K this means that the photo came from Abel’s Gesichter.

This database with 2,255 names combines all persons identified in Abel’s Gesichter Auschwitz and those in the holdings of the Photo Archives. While most of these persons perished in Auschwitz, the fate of some could not be determined and there were a number of persons transferred from Auschwitz to other camps near the end of the war, some of whom survived. Now that all the photos in the above sources have been included, it is hoped that the project can be extended to the photos held by ITS.

The amount of information available on each person varies from nothing to a little more than a name, to date and place of birth, profession and date of death. In a number of cases International Tracing Service files include death certificates and information on former residences and family members and you may request such material. In general, when you see information in column F (profession) this usually means that further documents such as death certificates are available.

Where no name appears, this means that, while the USHMM has a photo of that individual, it has proved impossible to identify the person. The listing has been retained in the hope that the number may be recognized by someone or that at some time in the future additional information may become available.

Requests for copies of individual photos held at the USHMM must be sent with the relevant reference number (Museum ID) to the Photo Archives at the Museum ( or by letter along with the name of the requestor and the statement that the photo will not be used for any commercial purpose. Persons seeking copies of the photos which appear in the Zambon book will need to consult the book, which is held at a number of libraries in the United States and elsewhere.

The column headings are as follow:
Family name
ven name
Date of birth
Place of birth
Nationality (Jews were usually listed without nationality)
Category (Jehovah's Witness, Jew, asocial, habitual criminal, police prisoner, political)
Date of entry into Auschwitz
Date of death
Prisoner ID number
Comment (e.g. transfer)
Internal USHMM Photo Archive reference number (museum ID)
© Stephen P. Morse and Peter Landé, 2012