It was only decades after the end of World War II, it was discovered a South African was the first to photograph the Auschwitz concentration camp, responsible for the death of more than a million people from 1940 to 1945.
Those photographs were taken by Lieutenants Charles Barry (pilot) and Ian McIntyre (navigator) during a “photo reconnaissance mission over the giant IG Farben Synthetic Oil and Rubber Plant at Monowitz, Poland, five kilometres east of Auschwitz, on 4 April, 1944”, according to The South African Military History Society (SAMHS).
In its Military History Journal, Vol 8, No 1 – June, 1989, SAMHS recorded the two were part of the 60 (photo reconnaissance) Squadron of the South African Air Force, operating from San Severo, Italy.
They had “made the long trip in an unarmed De Havilland Mosquito IX aircraft and were over the target at an altitude of 7 925 metres for a period of four minutes in the early afternoon”.
Quoting Barry, SAMHS reported: “Ian and I began our first photographic run from west to east, if memory serves correctly.
“He immediately advised me that the port camera was not working [the two long focal length cameras were mounted in tandem to give overlapping lateral coverage]. This gave us a total lateral coverage of about eight kilometres on the 50 centimetre cameras.
“It was unhealthy to hang around with a second run in an unarmed aircraft because of possible enemy interception. Nevertheless, we decided to do two runs instead of one to ensure positive coverage.
“Ian left the cameras running longer than usual and I believe the over-run on the east to west run pulled in something of the death camp later known as Auschwitz.”
In a paper, The Holocaust Revisited: A Retrospective Analysis of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Complex, authors Dino A Brugioni and Robert G Poirier note the “reconnaissance pilots … had no idea their efforts would one day be remembered, not for that particular target, but for the grim evidence subsequently revealed on the fringes of their photographs”.
Barry and McIntyre’s pictures are on display at the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, in Israel.