Paris, 7th July 1951. Francisco Boix was only 31 but he had seen enough horror to be done for his following 10 lives. At the age of 18 he fought in the Spanish civil war, where he had been imprisoned as a republican by the fascist regime of Francisco Franco, then he was taken to the Nazi camp of Mauthausen, where he remained for 4 years and where he watched the Hell built up by the Nazi Germans.
On that 7th July 1951 Francisco Boix , was only 31 years old but who knows how many he must have felt on his shoulders
Around the evening Francisco abandoned his existence on the earth due to kidney failure; in all likelihood a complication for the dramatic conditions of life at the Austrian camp. His 31 years of life were brief yet full of events, which are extremely important to know in order to remember how today we are able to recreate the happening in the Nazi concentration camps.
Francisco in Spain
Francisco Boix was born on the 31st of August 1920 in Barcelona, son of a left wing seamstress that, in his spare time liked to do photography. During the adolescence, the proletarian environment where he was inserted in plus the paternal political inclinations pushed him to join the Socialist Youth of Catalogna. During the Spanish civil war, from 1936 to 1939 he first worked as a photographer for a left wing magazine and then, when he turned 18, fought alongside the 30th division of the 2nd Spanish Republic army.
Below: picture taken by Francisco Boix to some prisoners in Mauthasen
After the defeat of the republicans and the victory of the franchists, Francisco was exiled in France in a camp where he was working for the French army. Shortly after, when the Nazi occupied France, exactly in 1941 Boix was transferred to Mauthausen, Nazi concentration camp where all the hopeless political prisoners were sent.
In the camp he was first of all sent to the “Granite Quarry”, slaughterhouse where people were killed without mercy, then later was employed as a photographer of the camp thanks to both his previous profession and his knowledge of all the prisoners kept in the most important departments of Mauthausen.
From 1941 to 1945 Francisco Boix took pictures of the prisoners in all the activities carried out in the camp
Below: map of Mauthausen and a series of satellite camps
The young Spanish republican understood very soon that the SS guards were staging the life in the camp: outside they were sending pictures of well fed and nicely treated prisoners, while inside it was more than clear what was going on. Every kind of barbarity was performed and there was no other objective but killing the highest number of “pieces”, technical term to define the the human beings inside Mauthausen.
Unlike the gas chambers of the more popular Auschwitz or Birkenau, in Mauthausen the extermination was occurring through exhaustion: who was in Mauthausen knew that they would have died for the coldness during the endless winters or beaten to death by their ruthless German oppressors. Or perhaps for some medical experiment, maybe while having some gas injected in their heart, because of starvation or drowned by their companions who were trying to earn some more extra days of life.
an environment which would scare the devil himself. An average of 25-30 people a day had the bravery to commit suicide by going towards the electrified fence of the camp, opting for a sweeter end
Francisco Boix did not kill himself though. He knew he had to testify all he had seen and was seeing, so he started committing a series of thefts of his negatives, in order to bring back the horror through his pictures, at risk of his very life.
Below: Franz Ziereis, commander in Mauthausen from 1939 to 1945. Some prisoners remembered how he was repeatedly saying that “he was interested only in death certificates”.
He asked for the approval to the communist party in the camp and started smuggling negatives to prevent them from being destroyed. Initially he was keeping them in the crematorium where the corpses of the workers were burnt; later he moved them to the joiner’s room, where the noisy space didn’t have the SS guards suspecting of anything secret. Francisco started bringing the pictures to external places by using the prisoners who were employed in activities outside the camp, in countries nearby.
The idea resulted in being winning and the thefts, approximately 30 within 4 years for a total of about 20,000 negatives, allowed the world to see the horrible conditions of the Mauthausen camp.
Liberation and trial
Below: liberation of the camp of Mauthausen
On the 5th of May 1945 the allies freed the camp of Mauthausen and Francisco Boix was amongst the Spanish survivors. Next to him about 122,000 people had lost their lives, people that he had personally took pictures of in life, and mostly, in death. The enormous amount of photographic documents produced and stolen by Boix were used as proof during the trials, the international one of Norimberga and the one guided by the American in Dachau. During them, the pictures allowed the court to nail Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Austrian general and criminal who obtained the coommand of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (General Direction for the Safety of the Reich, in which the Gestapo merged), taking over for Reinhard Heinrich after his murder in Prague.
In the postwar Francisco decided to come back in France in Paris, where he worked as a freelance for several magazines but especially for the Humanité. On the 7th July 1951, still not 31 died of a kidney failure. He was still very young but he had probably reported more death and destruction than any other photographer had ever done.
Thanks to Francisco we know the story of one of the worst hell ever to be created by the 3rd Reich. Even thanks to him we can avoid that such a scenario will ever be built anymore.
Below: plaque of the house where Francisco Boix was born, in Barcelona. Picture by Jaume Meneses – Barris – Poble Sec shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
Netflix developed a film about the life of Francisco Boix. Trailer below