René Sommer Documentary Photography

They expected the worst – Not the unthinkable




Charlotte Delbo (10 August 1913 – 1 March 1985): French writer, former prisoner of Auschwitz and Ravensbrück. During the war she was an active member of the French Resistance, working, amongst other tasks, as an editor of underground newspapers. In March 1942 she was arrested by the Germans. After an investigation which lasted a few months, in January 1943 she was deported to Auschwitz together with 229 other women engaged in resistance activities. Delbo received camp number 31,661. Author of many books, for example, “Aucun de nous ne reviendra” (“None of Us Will Return”). Quote from the book “Auschwitz and After”.


“They expected the worst – not the unthinkable.”

Can the pain of a victim from seventy years ago become our heritage today? I do not know. But we don’t have another choice.It was on this very pain that we had to build the post war era. 
We therefore have to listen closely and feel what has already not happened to us. Our imaginations are still unable to fathom this,
 Just as the imagination of the people of those times did not fathom this.


Auschwitz Camps


The first and oldest was the so-called “main camp,” later also known as “Auschwitz I” (the number of prisoners fluctuated around 15,000, sometimes rising above 20,000), which was established on the grounds and in the buildings of prewar Polish barracks;


The second part was the Birkenau camp (which held over 90,000 prisoners in 1944), also known as “Auschwitz II” This was the largest part of the Auschwitz complex. The Nazis began building it in 1941 on the site of the village of Brzezinka, three kilometers from Oswiecim. The Polish civilian population was evicted and their houses confiscated and demolished. The greater part of the apparatus of mass extermination was built in Birkenau and the majority of the victims were murdered here;


More than 40 sub-camps, exploiting the prisoners as slave laborers, were founded, mainly at various sorts of German industrial plants and farms, between 1942 and 1944. The largest of them was called Buna (Monowitz, with ten thousand prisoners) and was opened by the camp administration in 1942 on the grounds of the Buna-Werke synthetic rubber and fuel plant six kilometers from the Auschwitz camp. On November 1943, the Buna sub-camp became the seat of the commandant of the third part of the camp, Auschwitz III, to which some other Auschwitz sub-camps were subordinated


Auschwitz, October 2013.