The Photographer of Mauthausen / El fotógrafo de Mauthausen (dir. Mar Targarona, 2019) – Francesc Boix, a Spaniard inmate in the Austrian concentration camp, tries to save the photographic evidence of the horrors committed within.
Boix’s subtle rebellion against the Nazi death camps proves one of the most important events in history, and The Photographer of Mauthausen is necessary telling of these less known heroics.
The Mauthausen Concentration Camp was one of Nazi Germany’s most brutal concentration camps, meant mostly for the Reich’s political prisoners. Over 8,000 Spaniards were interned at the camp, of which more than half lost their lives to the Nazis’ atrocious abuse and murders. These war crimes might have gone unpunished, if not for the courage of Francesc Boix (played by Mario Casas).
The warden’s right-hand man and reluctant photographer gained privileges that few had. But even at Boix’s young age, none of that was important to him. Instead, he plotted a rebellion and risked his life, all to hide the evidence that the Nazis wished to destroy. The Photographer of Mauthausen is a long-due homage to the bravery of Boix and the other Spaniard heroes, who succeeded in saving over 3,000 photographs from destruction.
The negatives they rescued took sacrifices, as this film shows. They suffered physical and mental torture at the hands of Nazis as well as Kapos – prisoners whom the SS guards designated as wardens. Not even the youngest prisoner Anselmo was spared, taken away from his father and left to fend for himself.
One of the most horrifying scenes was the unsettling punishment of a prisoner, caught in his attempt to escape the camp with the negatives. Others were forced to put up a musical performance with feigned joy, marching him in for his public execution.
At the gallows, it took two attempts to take his life. His terrible death cut short the deeply uncomfortable play-act, only for another disturbing act to follow. The Nazis commanded the prisoners, some of whom colluded in his escape, to look up at his hanging body before leaving the grounds in a line.
It was thankfully for something, even if many did not live to see it. The salvaged photos proved integral in refuting the Nazis’ audacious claim that they knew nothing about the camp’s abhorrent conditions. Boix was also the only Spaniard to testify at the Nuremberg trials, his survival vital in making the Nazis pay for their war crimes.
Delving into his heroics and that of other brave souls, director Mar Tagarona has chosen an important story to tell. Showing the Holocaust from the rare Spaniards’ perspective, her powerful tribute comes especially precious, and shines a light on an incredible war story that may have otherwise remained untold.