Buchenwald photographs assessed for donation

Mon, Jul 16, 2012, 01:00

PHOTOGRAPHS OF the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald which have unexpectedly come to light in a private Irish collection were among items of military memorabilia brought to be assessed at an antiques valuation day last month hosted by Sheppard’s auctioneers in Durrow, Co Laois.

Further research will be needed to establish whether the photographs are unique. Their owner is not seeking to sell them but to identify the appropriate institution in Ireland or overseas to which they could be donated.

The 10 photographs depict the emaciated corpses of adults and children – some of whom are clearly identifiable – as well as damaged buildings in Buchenwald following its liberation, in April 1945, by US troops.

The pictures, measuring three by two inches, have “Buchenwald” written in pencil on the reverse, but no other information.

Edward Heron, a Kilkenny businessman, explained that he acquired the photographs through a family connection with a Belgian man who, in turn, was given them by an unknown US soldier after the second World War.

He said his aunt Bridget Heron, a native of Callan, Co Kilkenny, left Ireland in the 1930s and went to England to train as a nurse. From there she went to Belgium and was employed as governess to the children of the Count and Countess de Pinto at their chateau in the French-speaking Wallonia region. She was forced to flee on foot after the Nazi invasion and, with other refugees, walked to safety in Spain – a distance of about 1,600km.

She returned to Belgium in 1944 and, after the war, married a local man, Antoine Bastin. He had been a Belgian combatant and later a prisoner of war in the Nazi labour camp in the city of Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland) near the Baltic coast. A professional masseur, he was forced to care for injured Luftwaffe pilots who were sent to Stettin to recuperate.

Mr Bastin received numerous honours and medals from the Belgian government after the war which he eventually gave to his Irish nephew-in-law, along with the Buchenwald photographs.

Mr Bastin died in 1984. His widow Bridget then returned to her family in Ireland, after 50 years in Belgium, and died in Co Kilkenny in 1993.

During the liberation of the concentration camp – which was located near the city of Weimar in Germany – US Signal Corps photographers took “official” photographs. However, some individual GIs had their own cameras.

Some press photographs were also taken – notably by Margaret Bourke-White, a photographer for Life magazine.

Images of Buchenwald are displayed in Holocaust memorial museums and on related websites. Government-imposed censorship restricted coverage of the camp liberation in Irish newspapers at the time.

Mr Heron hopes to identify an institution here or abroad to which to donate the images.