How Hitler’s photographer returned to Dachau concentration camp to take series of chilling images five years after those who survived torture and death at the hands of the Nazis were set free
03:06 GMT, 22 March 2014
04:30 GMT, 22 March 2014
Even though they were taken in color, the images of Dachau concentration camp, where tens of thousands were imprisoned and killed by the Nazis, appear bleak and foreboding.
What is even more chilling than the sight of drainage ditches to catch the blood of victims, or the images of gas chambers, is that the man behind the camera in 1950 was Hugo Jaeger – one of Hitler’s personal photographers.
The events that unfolded in Dachau continue to haunt the world 81 years after it first opened its gates on March 22, 1933. But the series of images taken by Jaeger, who documented the rise of Nazi Germany, add a layer of horror to the pride Hitler and his followers took in their movement.
Shafts of light can be seen in one of the gas chambers at the concentration camp
One of the barracks in Dachau concentration camp, photographed by Hugo Jaeger in 1950
Bleak rows of rundown buildings in Dachau, where 32 barracks housed Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazis
No one is quite sure why Jaeger, whose work was lauded by Hitler as the future of photography, decided to visit the camp five years after U.S. troops liberated the tortured souls interned there.
The photographer, described as an ardent Fascist even before Hitler came to power, had been on hand to capture rallies, glorify the Third Reich and take candid snapshots of Hitler at his birthday and on other occasions.
After Hitler’s suicide and the fall of Nazi Germany, he hid his images in metal jars that he buried in several locations around Munich. He returned periodically to check on them and dry them out, according to Time.
It was claimed that when American soldiers searched the home he was staying in, he distracted them with a bottle of brandy to prevent them searching the bag where he had the stored the images, before he went on to bury them.
He appeared desperate to preserve the images documenting the cause he had backed and eventually moved the archive from the buried jars to a Swiss bank vault.
Jaeger had documented key points in the rise of the Nazis, yet five years after the Second World War ended, he traveled to Dachau to photograph the deserted barracks, crumbling crematorium, and eerie gas chambers that had been made to look like showers.
He photographed the watch towers and barracks, and also took pictures of prayer scarves and wreaths laid at memorials to the prisoners who were cremated, and the 4,000 Soviet soldiers killed there by firing squads.
Prayer scarves and wreathes surround one of the crematoriums in Dachau
Jaeger photographed the foliage and flowers left at a row of furnaces
The spot where about 4,000 Soviet soldiers were executed by firing range at the camp was also documented by Jaeger
Wooden slats cover a ditch, possible used as a blood drain at the firing squad range
Hugo Jaeger, pictured here for a 1970 article in Life magazine, documented the rise of Hitler
Jaeger captured this informal shot of Hitler with wife of Gauleiter Albert Forster at his Upper Bavaria estate in the late 30s
His vast archive, taken during and after the fall of Hitler, were eventually sold to Life magazine in 1965. The magazine published them, but with an editor’s note referring to the archive of roughly 2,000 images as ‘the work of a man we admire so little’.
At the time of his visit to Dachau – where sunlight could be seen shining weakly through the barracks’ windows and stark prison walls were lifted only by the tiny dots of yellow from the dandelions on overgrown verges – refugees and survivors of the Nazi onslaught had moved into the camp as they tried to reclaim their lives, Time reported.
More than 188,000 political prisoners, Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazis were kept in Dachau, which was used as a labor camp and place where medical experiments took place.
In a final act of cruelty, guards at the camp forced more than 7,000 prisoners, most of them Jewish, on a death march as American troops drew close in April 1945. Many of the starved and weak prisoners who struggled to keep up were shot dead. Those who survived were liberated by the Allies in May.
The Brausebad – shower – sign hangs over a door surrounded by graffiti. The doorway led to the gas chamber
The Grave of Thousands Unknown in Dachau was also photographed by Jaeger
A memorial to the tens of thousands of victims was also photographed
A picture taken by American troops in April 1945 shows emaciated men who were kept at Dachau
The site where ashes were stored appeared in the images taken by Hitler’s photographer
The long barracks can be stretching into the distance
A watchtower at the camp, which imprisoned more than 188,000 people between 1933 and 1945
Dandelions bring a small touch of color to the austere walls and razor wire that surrounded the camp