When one of them—perhaps the third in line—dared to sniff, the kapo exploded.
"Bastard! Disgusting animal! Jewish piece of shit!"
He began to punch and slap the man, first his body, then his face. His victim bent over, trying to shield his head with his arms and hands. He didn't dare react and only moaned quietly, almost in a whisper, but that was enough to send the kapo into a frenzy. The other prisoners moved away in terror. This had to be stopped, or the man would end up dead.
"I want him now!" Brasse pointed to the prisoner, who was now on the ground.
The kapo had to stop. He was panting, full of rage. "Why him? It's not his turn."
The photographer took the kapo's arm and drew him away from the group. He spoke to him politely, not wanting to make an enemy of him, but his tone was firm and carried the hint of a threat.
"Perhaps you didn't receive the order to bring the men from your kommando here to be photographed?"
"Of course I did."
"And who will be held responsible if we don't take the photographs?"
The kapo stared at him for a moment, his fists clenched. It was clear he would have gladly beaten up Brasse too. For all the photographer's airs, he was just another deportee, a louse. The kapo restrained himself, though.
"What do you mean?" he mumbled.
Brasse tried to speak even more politely. "My orders are to photograph only those prisoners who look presentable. The pictures must be decent. I don't want beaten-up faces, black eyes, broken bones. I don't want suffering prisoners. My boss doesn't like that sort of thing. Do you understand?"
The kapo's lips tightened. He understood. He tried to stretch his mouth into a smile. "You won't tell your boss about this little incident, will you now?"
Brasse shook his head reassuringly. "I won't say anything. But let's photograph this man before the bruises appear on his face. Which kommando are you from?"
"We're from the garages. They're mechanics, and they're all settling in, getting too comfortable..." He snorted, as though it had fallen to him to reestablish discipline at Auschwitz, then barked at the prisoner he'd just assaulted to come into the studio and get on the revolving chair.
First shot: three-quarter view with cap. Second shot: full face, without cap.
Third shot: in profile, again without cap.
After each portrait, while Brasse worked on the framing, Tadek Brodka took the heavy case containing the negative out of the Zeiss to change it. Meanwhile, Stanislaw Tralka composed written signs and placed them next to the prisoners so they would appear in the third picture. They detailed where each individual came from, their identity number, and why they were in Auschwitz. Brasse saw that the prisoner beaten up by the kapo was a "Pol S," a political prisoner from Slovenia, and that his identity number was 9835. Brasse calculated that this man must have arrived at the concentration camp a few months after him.
When Brasse had finished, he signaled to the prisoner that he could leave and caught a look of silent thanks in the man's eyes. The prisoner knew Brasse had saved him from a worse beating, but the photographer looked down and didn't respond. He had wanted to save this man from further punishment by intervening, knowing full well that if he had sent him away without taking his picture, there would have been a gap in the records. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the prisoners did not return for a second sitting. They were murdered before they had a chance.
Brasse had also been thinking of himself. Nobody knew what was going on in the Germans' minds, and he wouldn't have been surprised if he himself had been blamed for the missing photographs. He just wanted everything to run smoothly.