Holocaust

The Holocaust was the Nazi persecution and murder of "inferior" ethnic, religious, and political groups, with the elimination of Europe's Jews as the primary goal. Victims included Catholics, trade unionists, homosexuals, Roma, and the disabled. Nazi-organized mass murder eliminated between nine and eleven million people. About six million victims were Jewish, including one million children. Three million were Soviet prisoners of war.

Jewish civilians during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, German-occupied Poland, 1943.

Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 238-NT-282

"It was possible for this to happen, and it remains possible for it to happen again at any minute. Only in knowledge can it be prevented."
German philosopher Karl Jaspers, Origin and Goal of History (1949)

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night."
Elie Wiesel describes his arrival at Auschwitz in Night (1960).

Slave Labor
Many concentration camp prisoners were forced to work as slaves in support of the German war effort. Despite manpower shortages, the Nazis worked their laborers to death.

Death Marches
As Allied armies advanced, the Nazis forced prisoners to march away from the front lines. Walking for weeks without food, water, or adequate clothing, many died. Those who lagged were shot.

Prisoners construct the Krupp factory at Auschwitz, c. 1943.

USHMM, courtesy Instytut Pamieci Narodowej

Prisoners on a death march from Dachau, April 29, 1945.

Photographer Fritz Melbach. USHMM, courtesy KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau

Members of the SS speak among themselves during a prisoner roll call at Buchenwald, c. 1939.

USHMM, courtesy Robert A. Schmuhl

A U.S. solider inspects the door to a gas chamber at Dachau, April 30, 1945.

Photograph Sidney Blau, USHMM, courtesy National Archives, photo no. 61985

Death Camps
The Nazis began imprisoning political opponents in 1933. They subsequently altered the purpose of the camp system from incarceration to forced labor to genocide.

In concentration camps, prisoners were tortured and worked to death. U.S. forces liberated concentration camps, including Buchenwald, Dachau, and Orhdruf.

The purpose of the death camps was mass murder. The Nazis killed most prisoners upon arrival and disposed of their remains in ovens or mass graves. The Soviets liberated six Nazi death camps in Poland: Auschwitz, Birkenau, Belzec, Maidanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

Major German Concentration Camps, 1944

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Concentration camp prisoners walk through a village on a death march from Dachau, April 1945.

USHMM, courtesy KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau

Prisoners work in the Siemens factory at Bobrek, a subcamp of Auschwitz, c. 1944.

USHMM, courtesy Henry Schwarzbaum