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Wilhelm Brasse was captured in the south of Poland whilst trying to escape the Nazis in order to join the Polish army. He was sent to Auschwitz in 1940 as a political prisoner and remained there until the end of the wat.
As a photographer, the SS ordered him to document the inmates and, the day before the camp was evacuated, he risked his life to save most of the 100,000 pictures he took. Among the images are some portraits of children experimented on by the notorious Dr Josef Mengele.
Brasse will relive the experience on Monday at a screening of The Portraitist being shown as part of the fifth Polish Film Festival. The event, which will also feature a Q and A with the 92-year-old photographer, has been jointly arranged by Spiro Ark and the Polish Cultural Institute, and is being held at West London Synagogue.
Brasse, who now lives in Zywiec, Poland, told the Jewish News he was treated surprising well.
He said: “I was often asked about Dr Mengele’s attitude towards me. I always highlighted how surprisingly kind and polite he was talking to me, as a prisoner. He was always explaining to me what his purpose was and what kind of pictures he wanted of the children.
“He never referred to me as ‘you’ but as Mr Brasse, which was very unusual attitude towards the prisoners. Also, when SS officers asked me to take their private pictures I was treated quite well.
“I would often get something to eat or trade like cigarettes.”
But Brasse, who stopped taking pictures, after he was released from Auschwitz, admits he finds it hard to look back at the images from the camp: “I try to look at them as little as possible.
“I spend a lot of time in the Auschwitz Museum so I see pictures there. Occasionally bad dreams come back, which is not very pleasant, so I try to forget.”
• The Portraitist is being screened at West London Synagogue, 33 Seymour Place, W1, on Monday 19 March. Tickets: £7. To book, call the Spiro Ark on 020 7723 9991.The Auschwitz photographer by Marc Shoffman