Auschwitz trial documents and recordings awarded special UNESCO status

The 1963-5 trials in the city of Frankfurt confronted many Germans for the first time with their country's Nazi past. Over 400 documents and 100 recordings detail the proceedings.

The UN's culture agency, UNESCO, granted a special heritage status to the documents and recorded tapes from the first "Auschwitz" trials that took place in the early 1960s in the German city of Frankfurt on Monday.

The organization awarded the status as part of its "Memory of the World" initiative, an action that aims to secure documents of historical significance for future generations.

The documents and recordings detail the trials of 22 people accused of committing murder and complicity to murder at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during the Second World War.

Read more: Reconstructed Auschwitz prisoner text details 'unimaginable' suffering

The horrors of Auschwitz in art

Forgotten artists

While many of the so-called "degenerate artists" persecuted by the Nazis are now world-renowned, those who painted in concentration camps, such as Waldemar Nowakowski (pictured) are almost forgotten. The book and the exhibition "Der Tod hat nicht das letzte Wort" (Death does not have the last word), opening on January 27 in the German Parliament, the Bundestag, offer a tribute to these artists.

The horrors of Auschwitz in art

Etching the horrors of Theresienstadt

The writer, exhibition curator and art historian Jürgen Kaumkötter spent more than 15 years researching Holocaust art. His focus goes beyond the works which emerged during the war, including all forms of art dealing with the events in retrospect. Leo Haas created this etching about the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1947. Some inmates even managed to draw while they were in the camps.

The horrors of Auschwitz in art

Painting for the 'camp museum'

Artistic life in Theresienstadt has been better documented than that in Auschwitz, which nevertheless had its own "concentration camp museum." Artists were given pencils, brushes and paper to carry out assignments for the Nazis. Other works were created covertly. However, almost no art emerged from the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Pictured here: Marian Ruzamski, self-portrait, 1943-44.

The horrors of Auschwitz in art

Artist and witness of the crematories

Yehuda Bacon (pictured right) arrived in Theresienstadt in 1942, when he was 13 years old. He was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in December 1943, where he was employed as a messenger and was allowed to warm up by the ovens of the crematories in winter. Not only would he later testify during the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, he'd also show what he saw there through the drawings he made after the war.

The horrors of Auschwitz in art

A symbol of death

Later drawings by Yehuda Bacon do not show Auschwitz in detail, unlike those he made for the Frankfurt judges. Yet one can still recognize the square chimneys of the crematories, a shower head, and outlines of people. For art historian Kaumkötter these images are an allegory of death in the gas chambers and graves in the skies. Beyond their testimonial value, they are valuable works of art.

The horrors of Auschwitz in art

The second generation

Michel Kichka is an influential comic illustrator in Israel. The graphic novel "Zweite Generation. Was ich meinem Vater nie gesagt habe" ("Second generation: what I never told my father") deals with his relationship with his father, an Auschwitz survivor. As a child, Kichka was traumatized by his father's story. His dad's jokes about the concentration camp would help him overcome his nightmares.

The horrors of Auschwitz in art

Metaphors of the Holocaust

The parents of the Israeli artist Sigalit Landau were also Holocaust survivors, and her art teacher was the Auschwitz survivor Yehuda Bacon, who is still active as an artist and professor in Israel to this day. Her works integrate metaphorical allusions to the Shoah, such as these shoes, reminiscent of the mountains of footwear which can be seen in the permanent exhibition at Auschwitz.

The horrors of Auschwitz in art

Death does not have the final word

Sigalit Landau collected a hundred pairs of shoes in Israel and sank them in the Dead Sea. The sea covered the shoes with layers of its healing salt, an allegory for life beyond death. She wanted to show them in Berlin, as a symbol for hope overcoming despair. The exhibition "Der Tod hat nicht das letzte Wort" ("Death does not have the final word"), will stay in Berlin until February 27.

Confronting depravity for the first time

Over 1 million people, the vast majority of them Jews, were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945.

The trials, which took place between 1963 and 1965, were one of the first times many Germans in the postwar era were confronted with the horrendous extent of Nazi crimes during the war.

In total, German public prosecutors interrogated 360 men and women, including 221 victims and 85 members of the "SS," an elite Nazi force that committed multiple atrocities during the war.

The collection of 454 documents and 103 recordings has been preserved in the state archive in the German state of Hesse.

The documents and recordings detail trails against 22 defendants

Read more: Why one of the last remaining Auschwitz survivors wrote a memoir decades later

'Exhorts us to be vigilant'

Boris Rhein, Hesse's minister for science and the arts, welcomed UNESCO's announcement.

"The recognition underpins the unique historical and societal importance of the documents for postwar history and Germany's culture of remembrance," he said.

A spokeswoman from the Green Party group in the Hesse state parliament said the decision underlines "the importance of the documents for our history and exhorts us to be vigilant and confront those (people) who deny, downplay or try to draw a line under these crimes."

Read more: 'We are the last Auschwitz survivors'

amp/kl (dpa, epd, KNA, AFP)

World commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The world remembers the victims of the Holocaust

On January 27, 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. In 1996, then German President Roman Herzog marked it as a day to commemorate the victims of the Nazi Holocaust. In 2005, the United Nations named it a day of international day of remembrance. Since then, people gather across the world to remember those who lost their lives.

World commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Oswiecim, Poland

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Jerusalem, Israel

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Moscow, Russia

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York, United Kingdom

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World commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Rome, Italy

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Zagreb, Croatia

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World commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Vilnius, Lithuania

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Navahrudak, Belarus

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