I’ve been colourising photos professionally since 2015.
From Lenin to Winston Churchill; from the Titanic leaving port in 1912 to the Battle of Verdun. I have covered hundreds of years and added colour to iconic photos and to those in which the subjects will forever remain anonymous.
But it was colourising the photo of Czeslawa Kwoka in 2016 that had the biggest impact.
Czeslawa, pictured above, was a 14-year-old girl who was killed in Auschwitz. She was a Polish Roman Catholic and was murdered one month after the death of her mother.
The photo went viral in a matter of minutes. The reaction was absolutely incredible and shocking. I was contacted by TV channels, newspapers and magazines from all over the world wanting to know more about the photo and about Czeslawa.
More importantly though, I received messages from teachers asking if they could use the photo in their classes and a 12-year-old girl wrote a poem inspired by the photograph and sent it to me.
That’s when I realised how much people still had to learn about the Holocaust and the potential of something so simple as a colourised photo in helping to educate.
It’s important to share individuals’ stories and photos because it’s very easy to get lost at the sheer scale of the Holocaust.
Six million is a huge number, but when we break down this number and transform it into 6million individual and different lives, pairing a picture of their face when we can, people can begin to understand the impact that the Holocaust had, and still has, on lives.
Six million human beings had everything taken away from them due to pure bigotry and hate.
In the same week as the photo went viral I asked the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum permission to colourise more photographs. They gave me access to their archives, where almost 40,000 concentration camp registration photos are stored.
The photographs were taken between February 1941 and January 1945. The preserved photos, 31,969 of men and 6,947 of women, constitute only a fraction of a vast Nazi archive destroyed during the camp evacuation in January 1945.
The ones that remain were safe thanks to the heroic efforts of Wilhelm Brasse, the photographer, who was also a prisoner, and his colleagues.
They were ordered to burn the entire photo collection during the evacuation of Auschwitz, but instead they covered the furnace with wet photographic paper before adding a great number of photos and negatives.
This prevented the smoke from escaping and made the fire go out quickly. When the SS guard who was supervising left the laboratory, Brasse and his colleagues retrieved the undestroyed photographs from the furnace.
After getting permission from the museum to colourise the photos that Brasse saved I put together a team of volunteers who helped me create Faces of Auschwitz, a platform where we not only colourise these photos, but tell the stories of those in them.
I know that when I am colourising them that this is probably the last photograph ever taken of this person.
Staring at each face for two to three hours is hard, especially since I need to read their death certificates before I start to colourise. I spend the process wondering what was going through their minds while they were being photographed.
It is emotionally draining work but it is important because I cannot forget what they represent and what happened to them, something that really sunk in after I visited Auschwitz and the room in which the photos were taken.
When families of those we have colourised approach us to share the stories and photos of their relatives, it adds to the huge responsibility of our undertaking, but also proves that we are on the right path.
By the end of this year I would like to have colourised at least 200 of the photographs. Ultimately, I hope that our project, and upcoming documentary, reaches a broader audience and we can continue to share the stories and faces of those who so tragically had their lives taken away by hatred.
You can find out more about Faces of Auschwitz here, and Marina’s work here.