There are nearly 40,000 registration photographs in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum's collection.
The preserved photos, which include primarily men and women, are only a tiny part of an extensive Nazi photo archive. Only those who made it through the first round of selection and integration into the Auschwitz inmate population used to have their photographs taken.
The Nazis intended to photograph each of the approximately 400,000 prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau at first. The goal was to create a visual aid that could be used to track down runaway detainees or those whose identities needed to be verified during their stay at the camp. The system, however, proved insufficient.
Prisoners were photographed shortly after their arrival by fellow inmates forced to work in Block 26's camp photo lab. As a standard, three separate pictures of each prisoner were usually taken. The majority of the people photographed were dressed in camp uniforms. Their uniforms were embroidered with camp numbers, triangles corresponding to various categories, and letters describing prisoners' countries of origin, and their faces and heads were shaved. The remnants of the Auschwitz-Birkenau photo archive were ordered to be burned in January 1945. Fortunately, some photographs were saved and are now part of the Museum's archival collection.