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EUH 6939 Seminar in European History / Dr. Kollander

Nazi Germany's march towards the Holocaust through photographs

"The Nazi State Protects the German People from Vermin through its Criminal Code and through its Racial Legislation against the Reproduction of Inferiors" (Nazi Publication, 1937)

The Nazi regime sought total social and racial standardization. As this 1937 propaganda publication shows, the state discrimination against racially, socially, politically, and medically "inferior" individuals and groups was presented as necessary to protect the German people. The right side of the page features the dangerous "vermin": residents of a psychiatric facility; the left side of the page shows the solution: concentration camps.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

Viennese Jews are Forced to Scour the Streets (March/April 1938)

The annexation of Austria was accompanied by the rapid "coordination" [Gleichschaltung] of the government, economy, and society along National Socialist lines. For political and racial "enemies of the people," this meant subjection to brutal violence and a wave of discriminatory and repressive legislation. The cruelest repression was experienced by Austria's approximately 200,000 Jews, 170,000 of whom lived in Vienna and were now exposed to the Nazis' unlimited hatred. Street violence and arbitrary humiliations assumed proportions never before seen in the German Reich. Tens of thousands of Jews fled abroad. Others were deported to the borders and abandoned there. The Jews who remained in the new Eastern March [Ostmark] quickly fell victim to the anti-Semitic laws that had been in effect in the German Reich since 1933. They were deprived of their political and civil rights, forced out of their professions, and lost their firms and shops in the process of "Aryanization."

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

The Morning after the Night of Broken Glass [Kristallnacht] in Regensburg: Jews are Led to the Train Station (November 10, 1938)

In addition to Nazi party members, SA stormtroopers, the SS, and the Hitler Youth, the National Socialist Motor Corps [Nationalsozialistische Kraftfahrerkorps or NSKK] also participated in riots during the Night of Broken Glass [Kristallnacht]. On the night of November 9, Sebastian Platzer, head of the NSKK driver training school in Regensburg, was ordered by his superior, Wilhelm Müller-Seyfferth, to set fire to the local synagogue together with the NSKK men under his command. In characteristic fashion, the NSKK, the SA, and the SS fought over who would get to carry out the arson attack. Arrests of Jewish families began directly thereafter, and the next morning – under the supervision of Müller-Seyfferth – the SA and the NSKK forced the Jewish men to do degrading drills. Finally, all of the Jewish men in Regensburg were led to the train station on a “march of shame” [Schandmarsch] under a poster that read “Exodus of Jews” [Auszug der Juden]. Some were deported to the Dachau concentration camp; others were taken to the Regensburg prison. A total of 224 Jewish men from the entire administrative district of Lower Bavaria and Upper Palatinate were sent to Dachau. The Nazis’ use of the phrase “Exodus of Jews” was particularly cynical since it alluded to the exodus of Jews from Egypt, a central liberation theme in Jewish tradition. This phrase was used in later waves of persecution and killings.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

Table of Colored Classification Symbols for Prisoners in Concentration Camps (1939-1942)

In 1935-36, individual commanders of various concentration camps began forcing newly admitted groups of prisoners to wear badges indicating the alleged grounds for their incarceration. Starting in the winter of 1937-38, these classification symbols were standardized for all camps. Additionally, colors were introduced to differentiate different prisoner groups: red for political prisoners, green for criminals, blue for emigrants, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, pink for homosexuals, and black for “asocials” [Asoziale] or “work shirkers” [Arbeitsscheue]. Inmates wore triangles of fabric in the assigned color on their prison uniforms (left side of the shirt, right pant leg) along with their number and any required additional markings (e.g., potential escapee). Jewish prisoners also wore a yellow triangle that formed a Star of David when placed over the other badge (see below). The origin of non-German prisoners was indicated by the first letter of the German name of their native country (e.g., “P” for Polen [Poland] or “T” for Tschechoslowakei [Czechoslovakia], as shown in the photo,). The cynical social Darwinist classification and hierarchical ranking of the prisoners by the SS intensified the competition among prisoners in the daily struggle for survival.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

Inside of a Compulsory Identification Card for Jews, Issued in Berlin (1939)

The “Third Proclamation on Compulsory Identification Cards” [3. Bekanntmachung über den Kennkartenzwang] was issued on July 23, 1938. According to this new regulation, Jews were obliged to apply for an identification card before the end of the year. Starting on January 1, 1939, they were to present this card, without being asked, whenever they visited government offices or had dealings with authorities. In August 1938, the Reich Ministry of the Interior issued a list of officially approved "Jewish" forenames. According to the “Second Decree on the Execution of the Law regarding the Changing of Surnames and Forenames” [Zweite Verordnung zur Durchführung des Gesetzes über die Änderung von Familiennamen und Vornamen] of August 17, 1938, Jews whose names failed to appear on the government-approved list had to adopt either "Israel" or "Sara" as additional forenames. This decree also took effect on January 1, 1939. Below is a reproduction of the inside pages of a compulsory identification card for Jews.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

A Member of the SD Cuts the Beard of a Warsaw Jew (October 1939)

Most of the 1.5 million German soldiers who participated in the attack on Poland had been socialized in the Nazi state and had also undergone ideological indoctrination in the party’s mass organizations. In late 1939, 31 percent of the solders in an average German infantry division were members of a Nazi organization. One-fifth were former Hitler Youth members, between one-third and one-half had served in the Reich Labor Service [Reichsarbeitsdienst or RAD], and all had done at least one year of military training. Members of the SS and the police, most of whom had an affinity for Nazi doctrine anyway, underwent special ideological training. Propaganda and indoctrination were used to strengthen and radicalize the already widespread resentment of Poles and Jews in German society.

After the German invasion of Poland, aggressive anti-Semitism found release in “lightning pogroms” [Blitzpogrome], during which so-called Eastern Jews [Ostjuden], in particular, were humiliated, abused, and also murdered. In addition to subjecting these Jews to drills and forced labor, the regime’s henchmen often mocked them by cutting or burning off their beards – a practice that was later continued during the military campaign against the Soviet Union.

The photograph shows a member of the Security Service [Sicherheitsdienst or SD] cutting a Polish Jew’s beard. It comes from a series of photos of a staged raid by the Security Police in Warsaw. Photo: Arthur Grimm.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

A Jewish Man with the Obligatory Yellow Star on his Coat (November 1, 1941)

The "Police Order on the Identification of Jews" of September 1, 1941, required Jews in the German Reich and in the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to wear a yellow star on their clothing. The order took effect on September 19 of that year. The Nazi leadership had considered these measures for years, but Hitler had hesitated to introduce the so-called Jewish star out of concern for international criticism. On the other hand, Polish Jews in German-occupied areas had already been forced to wear such identifying insignia since 1939. The photograph below was taken in Munich. Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

Ukrainian Jews are Shot by Members of a Mobile Killing Squad [Einsatzgruppe] (1941)

As early as 1938/39, special police formations euphemistically referred to as Special Operations Units [Einsatzgruppen] followed invading German troops into Austria, the Sudetenland, and (rump) Czechoslovakia. The precise nature and mission of these units became clear during the invasion of Poland in 1939: they were mobile killing squads tasked with liquidating alleged political and “racial” opponents of the Nazi regime. Whereas the brutal actions of mobile killing squads in Poland provoked isolated protest from Wehrmacht officers, the Wehrmacht and the squads worked together during Operation Barbarossaa (i.e. the invasion of the Soviet Union) in 1941. This cooperation was regulated by directives made in consultation with SS leaders (Himmler and Heydrich) and orders issued by the High Commands of the Wehrmacht and the Army. The four mobile killing squads deployed by the Security Police [Sicherheitspolizei] and the Security Service [Sicherheitsdienst or SD] – Squads “A,” “B,” “C” and “D” – were supplemented by units from the Order Police [Ordnungspolizei] and the Waffen-SS. They were assigned not only to Germany’s three army groups, North (A), Center (B) and South (C), but also to the 11th Army (D). These mobile killing squads murdered Jews, Communists, prisoners of war (political commissars), Roma and Sinti, as well as the mentally ill, primarily in mass shootings, but later also in gas vans.

Between June 22, 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and late 1941, at least 500,000 Jews were killed by mobile killing squads.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

A Resident of the Lodz Ghetto is Abused and Humiliated (1942)

Abuse and humiliation was part of everyday life for the Jewish inhabitants of Lodz and other ghettos and camps. Tens of thousands of ghetto residents suffered violence, illness, and malnourishment. In the Lodz ghetto alone, an estimated 6,000 Jews died in 1940; 11,000 died in 1941, and 18,000 died in 1942.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

Mass Execution of Lithuanian Jews by Members of the Wehrmacht and the Lithuanian Self-Protection Unit [Selbstschutz] (1942)

The war of annihilation carried out in the conquered territories of the East by mobile killing squads euphemistically referred to as Special Operations Units [Einsatzgruppen], the Order Police [Ordnungspolizei], and the Wehrmacht received the support of some segments of the local population. Collaborators helped round up the Jews, revealed their hiding places, participated in mass executions, and guarded ghettos and camps. The photograph shows a mass shooting of Lithuanian Jews by members of the Wehrmacht and Lithuanian collaborators in 1942.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

Hungarian Jews Wait in a Clearing before being led to the Gas Chambers at Auschwitz II-Birkenau (May/June, 1944)

After the Germans occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944, the newly installed collaborationist regime demanded that the country's Jews be rounded up and handed over. In mid-May 1944, the Hungarian authorities, working in close collaboration with Adolf Eichmann and the German Security Police [Sicherheitspolizei] began systematic deportations. Over the next two months, approximately 440,000 Hungarian Jews were deported. Most were sent to Auschwitz, where the majority were killed shortly after their arrival.

This photograph shows a group of women and children from Subcarpathian Rus, which became part of Hungary after the signing of the Munich Agreement. Having been deemed “unfit for work,” they wait in a clearing near a grove of trees before being led to the gas chambers at Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

The photograph comes from the "Auschwitz Album," a collection of 193 photographs documenting the arrival and selection of one or more transports of Hungarian Jews in May/June 1944. The photographs were taken by SS Hauptscharführer Bernhardt Walter and his assistant, Unterscharführer Ernst Hofmann. (The two worked as photographers for the camp’s Identification Service [Erkennungsdienst] and were responsible for photographing and fingerprinting the prisoners who were selected for work.) Members of the SS put Walter and Hofmann's photos of the Hungarian Jews into an album that bore the innocuous sounding title "Resettlement of the Jews of Hungary."

Eighteen-year-old Lili Jacob (1926-1999) and her family were among those Hungarian Jews from Subcarpathian Rus who were deported to Auschwitz. From there, Jacob was sent to the Dora-Mittelbau camp, where she worked as a forced laborer until her liberation in April 1945. It was there that she found the album in an abandoned SS barracks. She recognized herself and various family members (e.g., two of her brothers and her grandparents) in certain photographs. She was eventually called as a witness in the First Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial (1963-65), where she presented the album to the court. In 1980, Lili Jacob donated the "Auschwitz Album" to Yad Vashem.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

Airtight Containers of Crystals for the Poison Gas Zyklon B, Intended for Use at Auschwitz (undated)

The poison gas Zyklon B, now the symbol of industrial mass murder, was used mainly in the gas chambers at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. It had been tested on Russian prisoners of war in the main camp as early as September 1941. In the Kulmhof, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Majdanek camps, victims were killed chiefly by motor exhaust fumes, but they also died in mass shootings and from carbon monoxide poisoning.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

Liberation from Auschwitz (January 27, 1945)

Following Himmler’s orders to obliterate all traces of mass killings, the SS began dismantling the gas chambers in Auschwitz and tearing down its crematoria in late October and early November 1944 (the last crematorium was detonated just before liberation). As the Red Army approached in mid-January 1945, the SS began evacuating the complex, sending around 58,000 prisoners on death marches to the west. Units of the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front liberated the concentration camp on January 27, 1945. When entering Auschwitz II (Birkenau), Soviet troops discovered the corpses of 600 prisoners who had been murdered just a few hours earlier. A total of 7,650 prisoners survived. In July 1947, the Polish parliament declared Auschwitz a national monument, and in 1996 Germany made January 27th (the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz) the country’s official Holocaust memorial day.

The photograph, taken after Red Army units liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp, shows female inmates in their barracks.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

Buchenwald on the Day of its Liberation (April 11, 1945)

Starting on April 6-7, 1945, the SS sent approximately 28,000 prisoners from the Buchenwald concentration camp on death marches to the west. According to estimates, around 12,000 to 15,000 died. After SS guards abandoned the camp on April 11, fleeing from approaching U.S. forces, armed members of the prisoners’ resistance group took control. That same day, units of the U.S. Third Army under Lieutenant General George S. Patton reached the compound, where they found around 21,000 weakened and starving survivors, including 1,000 children and young adults. Deeply affected by his visit to the camp, Patton ordered, as a kind of “re-education” measure, 1,000 residents of the nearby city of Weimar to visit the camp and see for themselves the horrors that had taken place there. At a ceremony commemorating the dead on April 19, 1945, camp survivors took the “Buchenwald Oath,” pledging: “We will not stop fighting until the last perpetrator is brought before the judges of the people! Destroying Nazism and its roots is our slogan. Building a new world of peace and freedom is our goal.”

After the Soviet military authorities were handed control of the camp, they set up “Special Camp No. 2.” By their own account, the Soviets imprisoned more than 28,400 people in this facility between August 1945 and February 1950, including representatives of the Nazi state and the Nazi party, members of the Hitler Youth, the Waffen-SS, and the police, as well as Wehrmacht soldiers. Around 7,100 inmates died. In 1958, Buchenwald was declared the first anti-fascist national memorial site in the German Democratic Republic.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

A Mountain of Glasses from the Victims of Auschwitz (1945)

Prisoners’ possessions were confiscated immediately upon their arrival. Together with everything victims left behind, prisoners’ personal items were appropriated and used by the SS Economic and Administrative Main Office.

From German History in Documents, viewed on 9/27/17

The Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin 

Young Joseph Stalin age 23 1901.

On December 18, 1879, in the Russian peasant village of Gori, Georgia, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (later known as Joseph Stalin) was born. The son of Besarion Jughashvili, a cobbler, and Ketevan Geladze, a washerwoman, Joseph was a frail child. At age 7, he contracted smallpox, leaving his face scarred. A few years later he was injured in a carriage accident which left arm slightly deformed (some accounts state his arm trouble was a result of blood poisoning from the injury). Stalin always felt unfairly treated by life, and thus developed a strong, romanticized desire for greatness and respect, combined with a shrewd streak of calculating cold-heartedness towards those who had maligned him. He always felt a sense of inferiority before educated intellectuals, and particularly distrusted them.

From Rare Historical Photos, viewed on 1/7/19

Stalin with Vladimir Lenin and Mikhail Kalinin, 1919

In 1922, Stalin was appointed to another such post, as General Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Stalin understood that “cadres are everything”: if you control the personnel, you control the organization. He shrewdly used his new position to consolidate power in exactly this way–by controlling all appointments, setting agendas, and moving around Party staff in such a way that eventually everyone who counted for anything owed their position to him. By the time the Party’s intellectual core realized what had happened, it was too late–Stalin had his (mostly mediocre) people in place, while Lenin, the only person with the moral authority to challenge him, was on his deathbed and incapable of speech after a series of strokes, and besides, Stalin even controlled who had access to the leader.

From Rare Historical Photos, viewed on 1/7/2019

Stalin and Bukharian in 1928

Consolidating His Rule

By 1927, Stalin was the unquestioned ruler of the Soviet Union. His had filled the administration of the Party with people who were loyal to him. Increasingly, Stalin appointed his loyalists to the Politburo. Many of Lenin’s former lieutenants realized that Stalin was making himself a de-facto dictator. Bukharin was something of a darling in the Party. He was handsome, charismatic and a favorite of Lenin. He led the opposition to Stalin in the Politburo.[18] He opposed Stalin’s policy of the rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union and called for the gradual introduction of industrialization.

Stalin prevailed, and later he had Bukharin expelled. All those who had crossed Stalin in some way were to be murdered on his orders. Some years later, Stalin sent an assassin to murder Trotsky. He was later killed by a Soviet Agent with an ice pick. Kamenev, Bukharin, and Zinoviev were all later put on trial, in a show trial and executed, on the trumped charges of plotting against the state. Lenin’s widow also died in suspicious circumstance, and many believed that she was poisoned on Stalin’s orders.

From, "How Joseph Stalin became leader of the Soviet Union, reviewed on 1/7/2019

Stalin's Victims from the Great Purge

The Great Purge or the Great Terror was a campaign of political repression in the Soviet Union which occurred from 1936 to 1938.[5] It involved a large-scale purge of the Communist Party and government officials, repression of wealthy landlordsand the Red Army leadership, widespread police surveillance, suspicion of saboteurs, counter-revolutionaries, imprisonment, and arbitrary executions.[6] In Russian historiography, the period of the most intense purge, 1937–1938, is called Yezhovshchina (literally, "Yezhov phenomenon",[note 1] commonly translated as "times of Yezhov" or "doings of Yezhov"), after Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, who was executed a year after the purge. Modern historical studies estimate the total number of deaths due to Stalinist repression in 1937–38 to be between 950,000 and 1,200,000.[2] (Wikipedia)

Image from Stalin's Victims from the Great Purge, authored by Justin Ramos-Flynn, last viewed on 1/7/2019.


Resolution of Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. January of 1938.

Resolution of Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. January of 1938. Approving signatures: Joseph StalinVyacheslav MolotovLazar KaganovichKliment VoroshilovAnastas MikoyanVlas Chubar. List with the sanction for the prolongation of national operations of the NKVD. Stored in the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation.  This document helped begin the Great Purge.


The following events are used for the demarcation of the period.

  • The first Moscow Trial, 1936.
  • 1937, introduction of NKVD troikas for implementation of "revolutionary justice".
  • 1937, passage of Article 58-14 about "counter-revolutionary sabotage".

Image from Wikipedia, "Great Purge," last reviewed on 1/7/2019

Nikolai Bukharin, Russian Bolshevik Revolutionary executed in 1938

On the first day of trial, Krestinsky caused a sensation when he repudiated his written confession and pleaded not guilty to all the charges. However, he changed his plea the next day after "special measures", which dislocated his left shoulder among other things.[28]

Anastas Mikoyan and Vyacheslav Molotov later claimed that Bukharin was never tortured, but it is now known that his interrogators were given the order, "beating permitted," and were under great pressure to extract confession out of the "star" defendant. Bukharin initially held out for three months, but threats to his young wife and infant son, combined with "methods of physical influence" wore him down. But when he read his confession amended and corrected personally by Stalin, he withdrew his whole confession. The examination started all over again, with a double team of interrogators.[29]

Image taken from Wikiwand, "Great Purge," last viewed on 1/7/2019

Purge of the Army

The purge of the Red Army and Military Maritime Fleet removed three of five marshals (then equivalent to four-star generals), 13 of 15 army commanders (then equivalent to three-star generals),[32] eight of nine admirals (the purge fell heavily on the Navy, who were suspected of exploiting their opportunities for foreign contacts),[33] 50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders, 16 of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars.[34]

At first it was thought 25–50% of Red Army officers had been purged; the true figure is now known to be in the area of 3.7–7.7%. This discrepancy was the result of a systematic underestimation of the true size of the Red Army officer corps, and it was overlooked that most of those purged were merely expelled from the Party. Thirty percent of officers purged in 1937–39 were allowed to return to service.[35]

The purge of the army was claimed to be supported by German-forged documents (said to have been correspondence between Marshal Tukhachevsky and members of the German high command).[36] The claim is unsupported by facts, as by the time the documents were supposedly created, two people from the eight in the Tukhachevsky group were already imprisoned, and by the time the document was said to reach Stalin the purging process was already underway. However the actual evidence introduced at trial was obtained from forced confessions.[37]

Image is from Wikiwand, Great Purge, last viewed on 1/7/2019

The Wider Purge: Intelligentsia

In the 1920s and 1930s, 2,000 writers, intellectuals, and artists were imprisoned and 1,500 died in prisons and concentration camps. After sunspot development research was judged un-Marxist, twenty-seven astronomers disappeared between 1936 and 1938. The Meteorological Office was violently purged as early as 1933 for failing to predict weather harmful to the crops.[39] But the toll was especially high among writers. Those who perished during the Great Purge include:

Khadija Osman bey qizi Gayibova (AzerbaijaniXədicə Qayıbova) (24 May 1893 – 27 October 1938) was a female Azerbaijanipianist.[citation needed] From Georgia in the then USSR, Gayibova died in Stalin's Great Purge of the 1930s.

On 19 October 1938, after a 15-minute final court hearing, Gayibova was sentenced to execution by firing squad.[3]The sentence was carried out at Baku.

Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, circa 1930s (Handout)

The image was taken from a Daily News on March 6, 1953, written by Henry Shapiro.

Image taken from Daily News, last viewed on 1/7/2019