• History of the Holocaust explained with facts

    What was the Holocaust or SHOAH?

    History of the Holocaust

    Insight on the genocide of European Jews during world war 2

In honor of the victims of WWII

This section contains images and videos of the Holocaust and concentration camps. These genuine images give an accurate report on the Holocaust. Some viewers may find the images or videos disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised when viewing these pages, specially if you are underage. Also visit the veteran stories pages.

Nazis implemented an obligatory Jewish badge (to identify Jews) between 1939 and 1945. Like this Star of David

Who operated the concentration camps?

During World War 2 from 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany operated more than a thousand concentration camps onGerman occupied Europe its own territory. The SS Totenkopfverbände was the organization responsible for operating the concentration camps and extermination camps or detahcamps. It was an independent branch within the SS with its own ranks and command structure. The SS Totenkopfverbände operated all the camps throughout Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe.

History of the Holocaust

The history and therefore the definition of the Holocaust also known as the Shoah (Hebrew), is complex but basically it can be stated that it was the murder or genocide of the European Jews during world war 2. The word Holocaust comes from the the Greek word 'Holokauston' which is a translation of the Hebrew word 'Olah'. In Biblical times, Olah was a burn sacrifice ritual for God. The Hebrew word Shoah (only used for the genocide of the Jews during WW2) literaly means: "catastrophe".

Why did the Holocaust happen?

The Nazis believed that the German people were racially superior to other races. The Nazi prosecuted and murdered various groups of people. For example political opponents, homosexuals, "criminals' and the Roma (Eastern Europe) and Sinti (Western Europe) population. But mainly the Jews, were deemed inferior and was demonized into a imminent 'threat' to the racial ideology of the pure 'Germanic' bloodlines. Therefore they had to find a way to dispose of this threat.

When was the Holocaust?

Roughly one can say that The Holocaust or Shoah took place between 1941 and 1945. Across German occupied Europe, the Nazis and their collaborators persecuted and murdered approximately six million Jews in a methodical, organised and state sponsored manner. Two third of Europe's Jewish population was murdered during the Holocaust.

When did the Holocaust begin?

The first murder of the Jewish population, also called Holocaust by bullets) was carried out by so called "Einsatzgruppen". Under the direction of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler (Head of the SS) and the supervision Reinhard Heydrich, the Einsatzgruppen operated in territories occupied by the Wehrmacht (German army) following the invasion of Poland and the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. These death squads, adding up to around 3.000 men, consisted of members of the Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), Ordnungspolizei (Orpo) and selected members of the Waffen SS. They carried out their mass killings mostly with the help of uniformed volunteers from the local police forces. The first Einsatzgruppen were formed  by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reichs Sicherheits Haupt Amt (RSHA), following the Anschluss of Austria on 12 March 1938. With the invasion of Poland on September 1 1939, the order for the Einsatzgruppen was to murder Polish leaders, scientists and scholars, members of the church, teachers and nobility. In 1941 the activities of the Einsatzgruppen reached a peak when they were sent to Russia to eliminate the 'undesirables' such as Jews, Roma (The Gypsies of Eastern Europe), communist leaders and Russian officers during Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union).

How were the Einsatzgruppen set up?

  • SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Franz W. Stahlecker

    Einsatzgruppe A was assigned to Army Group Nord from Von Leeb, operated in the Baltic states up to Leningrad. It was divided into Sonderkommandos 1a and 1b, after which Sonderkommando 1b was divided into Einsatzkommandos 2 and 3.

    Consisted of an estimated 1.000 men
  • SS-Brigadeführer Arthur Nebe

    Einsatzgruppe B was assigned to Von Bock's Army Group Mitte, had its headquarters in Smolensk and operated in Belarus, from Belarus to Moscow. It was divided into the Sonderkommandos 7a and 7b, and the Einsatzkommandos 8 and 9, and a special group of Sonderkommando 7c, which could advance to Moscow when in German hands.

    Consisted of an estimated 650 men
  • SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Rasch

    Einsatzgruppe C was assigned to Gerd von Rundstedt's Heeresgruppe Süd. It had its headquarters in Kiev and operated in the northern and central part of Ukraine. It was divided into Sonderkommandos 4a and 4b and the Einsatzkommandos 5 and 6.

    Consisted of an estimated 700 men
  • SS-Gruppenführer Dr. Otto Ohlendorf

    Einsatzgruppe D was assigned to the 11th Army, had its headquarters in Sevastopol (Simferopol) and operated in Moldavia, southern Ukraine (Bessarabia), the Crimea and (if it came to that) the Caucasus. It was divided into Sonderkommandos 10a and 10b and the Einsatzkommandos 11a, 11b and 12.

    Consisted of an estimated 650 men

Einsatzgruppen suffered from mental anguish and alcoholism

During on of his trips to Russia in 1941, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler learned about the psychological impact of the mass shootings on the Einsatzgruppen. The members of the Einsatzgruppen complained of battle fatigue and mental anguish and severe alcoholism caused by shooting large numbers of women and children. He commissioned Arthur Nebe (head of Einsatzgruppe B) to explore ways of killing that were less stressful. A plan had to be devised to come up with new ways of killing on an industrial scale with less impact on the soldiers. On October 13th 1941, Heinrich Himmler ordered SS and Police Leader Odilo Globočnik based in Lublin, to begin the construction of the first extermination camp at Bełżec in occupied Poland.

Aktion or Operation Reinhard

Under the codename: Aktion Reinhard the Nazis built several extermination camps such as: Bełżec, Treblinka and Sobibor. It is generally assumed (eventhough it is still debated by historians) that the operation was named after Reinhard Heydrich, the coordinator of the Final Solution, the answer to of the Jewish question outlined during the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. Aktion Reinhard was one of the largest non military operations of World War 2. In the death camps Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor, the victims were murdered immediately upon arrival by the exhaust fumes from gassing vans.

Murder by gassing in the Soviet Union

Exhaust fumes from gassing vans killed at least 1.75 million people, mostly Jews, Roma (Gypsies), enemies of the Reich and mentally ill people. Gassing also proved to be more economical and less aggravating for the SS. However the "gas van" was not a Nazi, but a Soviet invention. The use of the gas van was invented in the Soviet Union in 1936, by Isay Berg, head of the administrative and economic department of the NKVD (Later the KGB) of Moscow. The Soviets also used the vans to suffocate batches of prisoners. These vans were hermetically sealed trucks with engine exhaust diverted to the interior compartment. A method that the Nazis gratefully copied.

Aktion Reinhard was terminated in November 1943. The camps were disassembled and destroyed and the bodies of the victims excavated and burned. Wanting to cover up their crimes the SS planted trees on the locations the camps had been.

Concentration and deathcamps in Europe

In concentration- and death or extermination camps such as Auschwitz, Bełżec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór, and Treblinka which were located in occupied Poland, the Nazi murdered on an industrial scale. From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany operated more than one thousand concentration camps on its own territory and in parts of German occupied Europe all were run exclusively by the SS.

Movement of the Einsatzgruppen (1941-1942)

Movement of the Einsatzgruppen 1941-1942 during Operation Barbarossa

On the map you can see the movement of the Einsatzgruppen A, B, C and D. The period was from June 1941 to November 1942. These mobile killing units followed the advancing German Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa. The killing squads were supported by local civilians and police. During pogroms (a violent riot incited with the aim of massacring or expelling an ethnic or religious group, particularly Jews.) and mass shootings (also know as the Holocaust by bullets) tens of thousands of Jews and enemies of the Reich were murdered without any from of trial or charge throughout Eastern Europe.

The difference between the Holocaust and concentration camps

The following is something most people are not aware of. The Holocaust, the systematic murder of millions of  Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire" or "burnt offering".
The concentration camps can therefor not be equated with the Holocaust and were basically "just" a means of bringing about the Holocaust. This is because sometimes Jews were sent to concentration camps for work only.
There are strong interactions and overlaps between the Holocaust and concentration camps because they coexcisted. Concentration camps are in most peoples’ minds equal to the Holocaust, which is fully understandable but not historically correct.

Holocaust by Bullets
Judenfrei report of the Einsatzgruppen Stahlecker

The Einsatzgruppen A report by Dr. Franz W. Stahleceker stating that the areas were "Judenfrei"

Murder in gassing vans
Gassing vans used by the Nazi during Operation Barbarossa

Similar vans such as this one, were used to gas hundreds of thousands of people.

Result of the Einsatzgruppen
were mudered by the Einsatzgruppen

More than 1.5 million and possibly over 2 million poeple died due to mass shootings or gas vans in Soviet territory.

were annihilated

More than 600 villages were wiped off the map by the Einsatzgruppen.

Gütschein 1 Reichspfennig
Gütschein 50 Reichspfennig
50 Reichspfennig "vouchers" for concentration camps
Wertkmarke from Dora
Wertmarke or "vouchers" from concentration camp Mittelbau Dora near Nordhausen

Concentration camp "vouchers"

Wannsee Conference, 20 January 1942

The meeting was held in Villa Marlier in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942. Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Main Office or in German: Reichs Sicherheits Haupt Amt (RSHA), organizes the Wannsee Conference. The meeting, which lasted only 90 minutes, was attended by senior government officials of Nazi Germany and Schutzstaffel (SS) leaders.

Purpose of the Wannsee Conference

The purpose of the Wannsee conference, was to ensure the co-operation of administrative leaders of various government departments in the implementation of the Final solution to the Jewish question, whereby most of the Jews of German-occupied Europe would be deported to occupied Poland and murdered.

Who attended the Wannsee Conference

The following people participated in the meeting on the "Final Solution" of the Jewish question, held on 20 January 1942 at Am Grossen Wannsee 56-58 in Berlin.

Representing the SS at the Wannsee Conference

  • Reinhard Heydrich

    SS Obergruppenführer

    Chief of the Reich Security Main Office Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA)

  • Adolf Eichmann

    SS Obersturmbannführer

    Chief of the RSHA Department IV B 4 (Jewish Affairs)

  • Heinrich Müller

    SS Gruppenführer

    Chief of RSHA Department IV (Gestapo)

  • Eberhard Schöngarth

    SS Oberführer

    Commander of the RSHA field office for the Government General in Krakow, Poland

  • Rudolf Lange

    SS Sturmbannführer

    Commander of RSHA Einsatzkommando 2, deployed in Latvia in the autumn of 1941

  • Otto Hofmann

    SS Gruppenführer

    Chief of SS Race and Settlement Main Office

    Representing the agencies of the State at the Wannsee Conference

    • Roland Freisler


      Ministry of Justice

    • Friedrich Kritzinger


      Reich Cabinet

    • Alfred Meyer


      Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories German occupied Soviet Union.

    • Georg Leibbrandt


      Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories

    • Martin Luther


      Foreign Office

    • Wilhelm Stuckart


      Ministry of the Interior

    • Erich Neumann


      Office of Plenipotentiary for the Four-Year Plan

    • Josef Bühler


      Office of the Government of the Governor General German occupied Poland

    • Gerhard Klopfer

      SS Oberführer

      Nazi Party Chancellery

      In the course of the meeting, Heydrich outlined how European Jews would be rounded up and sent to extermination camps in the General Government (the occupied part of Poland), where they would be killed.

      • The Wannsee Conference was a meeting of senior government officials of Nazi Germany and Schutzstaffel (SS) leaders, held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942.
        Wannsee Conference
        The villa Am Großen Wannsee 56–58, is now a memorial and museum.
      • The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 employed a pseudo-scientific basis for racial discrimination against Jew
        Wannsee Conference
        Chart showing racial classifications under the Nuremberg Laws
      • Wannsee Conference
        Letter from Heydrich to Martin Luther, Undersecretary at the Foreign Office, notifying him that the conference would be delayed.
      • The Wannsee Conference was a meeting of senior government officials of Nazi Germany and Schutzstaffel (SS) leaders, held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942.
      • The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 employed a pseudo-scientific basis for racial discrimination against Jew

      Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the Nazi seizure of power on 30 January 1933. Violence and economic pressure were used by the Nazi regime to encourage Jews to voluntarily leave the country. After the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the extermination of European Jewry began, and the killings continued and accelerated after the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.

      Hermann Göring's authorisation

      On 31 July 1941, Hermann Göring gave written authorization to Heydrich to prepare and submit a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organisations. At the conference, Heydrich emphasised that once the deportation process was complete, the fate of the deportees would become an internal matter under the purview of the SS. A secondary goal was to arrive at a definition of who was Jewish.

      In retrospect

      At the end of the meeting Heydrich gave Eichmann instructions about what was to appear in the notes. They were not to be verbatim: Eichmann ensured that nothing too explicit appeared in them. Eichmann condensed his records into a document outlining the purpose of the meeting and the intentions of the regime moving forward.


      In March 1947 Robert Kempner, the Chief Prosecutor in the Wilhelmstraßen Trial, received a collection of files from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the period of Joachim von Ribbentrop. These files were of course in German and had to be translated into English. Among the documents was Martin Luther's copy of the top secret notes of the Wannsee conference. These notes, and their translation, were the first reports of this meeting to be released. There had only been 30 copies of the notes. All other copies were destroyed before the end of the war.

      An original SS colar tab worn by the SS

      One of the most feared symbols of WW2 was the SS collar tabs.

      First page of the Wannsee protocol
      Protocol of the conference
      20 January 1942
      First page of the Wannsee Protocol marked “Secret Reich Matter.” Courtesy of the Museum and Educational Site-House of the Wannsee Conference
      Page 6 of the Wannsee protocol
      Page 6 of the protocol
      20 January 1942

      For unknown reasons, Adolf Eichmann included the number of all the registered Jews in the Netherlands, it clearly shows that registration and (possible) deportation went hand-in-hand.

      The Jewish badge

      After the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, German authorities imposed a mandatory marker or "Jewish badge" in certain Polish towns and villages. The first town to have such a decreed was Wloclawek on October 29, 1939. Governor General Hans Frank ordered on November 23, 1939, that all Jews over the age of ten wear a "Jewish Star" which was a white armband with a blue six-sided star, worn over the right upper sleeve on top of the garments. Heavy penalties were imposed for those caught not wearing it.

      A Wolrd War 2 Dutch Star of David which was fabricated in Enschede.

      The Star of David

      On September 1, 1941, Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Security Main Office Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), ordered all Jews in the Reich from the age of six to wear a yellow Star of David to be worn on the chest. The yellow star shaped badge with the word "Jew" printed on the inside. Spelling of the word Jew depended on the country where the Star was issued. For instance Holland had the word "Jood" and France the word "Juif".

      Mischlingen / Half breeds

      A difficult issue at the Wannsee Conference was the treatment of Jews born of mixed Jewish-non-Jewish marriages or those whose grandparents were Jewish. The Nazis called them "Mischlingen" (half-breeds in English) 1st and 2nd degree. No agreement was reached on that. Often people with this or similar backgrounds ended up in the concentration camps. There were some differences with regard to the Nuremberg Race Laws of September 15th, 1935. The most striking addition is the sterilization as an escape clause. There are also some minor adjustments:

      All half breeds of the 1st degree are Jews except those who:
      • Who were married before September 17, 1935 to someone of German blood. Their children (Mischlingen 2nd degree) are also equal to Germans.
      • Indispensable for the state. If their status changes in the future, they would become Jews again.
      • Mischlingen 1st degree of these two categories who did not allow themselves to be sterilized were considered Jews.
      All half breeds of the 2nd degree are Germans unless they:
      • Descended from two Mischlingen of the 2nd degree.
      • Have a distinctively Jewish appearance.
      • Acting and feeling like a Jew.

      Law for the Safeguard of German Blood and German Honor barred marriage between Jews and other Germans.

      "For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing."
      Simon Wiesenthal
      Marking the concentration camp prisoners

      Beginning in 1937, the SS created a system of marking prisoners in concentration camps. Sewn onto uniforms, the color-coded badges identified the reason for an individual’s incarceration, with some variation among camps. The Nazis used this chart (in the right bar) as prisoner markings in the Dachau concentration camp. Shape was chosen by analogy with the common triangular road hazard signs in Germany that denote warnings to motorists. Here, a triangle is called inverted because its base is up while one of its angles points down.

      Nazi concentration camp badges, primarily triangles, were part of the system of identification in German camps. They were used in the concentration camps in the German-occupied countries to identify the reason the prisoners had been placed there. The triangles were made of fabric and were sewn on jackets and trousers of the prisoners.

      Colors of the badges for concentration camp prisoners
      • Political

        Social democrats, Liberals, Socialists, Communists.

      • Criminal

        Convicts and criminals (mostly working as Kapos).

      • Emigrant

        Foreign forced laborers and emigrants

      • Religious

        Jehovah's Witnesses and religious groups.

      • Homosexuals

        Homosexuals, bisexuals, Paedophiles and Zoophiles.

      • Anti Socials

        Asocials, Work-shy, Roma, Sinti and mentally disabled.

      Variations on the badges used by the Nazis

      These mandatory badges had specific meanings indicated by their colour and shape. The emblems helped SS guards assign tasks to the prisoners. For example, if someone wore a convicted criminal (green patch) and therefor have a more violent nature, they would be more suitable for kapo duty.

      Double-triangle badges also excisted. They resembled two superimposed triangles forming a Star of David, a Jewish symbol. The color yellow was always one of the colors.

      In addition to color coding, non German prisoners were marked by the first letter of their home country or ethnic group (in German).

























      And for enemy Prisoner Of War or German deserters the red triangle was worn upside down.

      Red triangle used for political prisoners in concentration camps

      Red triangle was for "political" prisoners.
      From my personal collection

      Color badges for prisoners in concentration camps

      The system of badges varied between the camps and in the later stages of World War II the use of badges dwindled in some camps and became increasingly accidental in others. The following description is based on the badge coding system used before and during the early stages of the war in the Dachau concentration camp, which had one of the more elaborate coding systems.

      A German yellow Star of David used in WW2
      Remember the people behind the words
      Miss Jirina Heringova, a letter from Ravensbrück
      A letter from Ravensbrück from Miss Jirina Heringova
      Westerbork (NL) passageway to the concentration camps

      Transit camp Westerbork was established by the Dutch government in the summer of 1939. It was meant to serve as a refugee camp for Jews who had illegally entered the Netherlands. Camp Westerbork was utilized as a staging ground for the deportation of Jews. Only one-half square kilometer (119 acres) in area, the camp was not built for the purpose of industrial murder as were Nazi extermination camps. Westerbork was considered by Nazi standards as “humane”. Jewish inmates with families were housed in 200 interconnected cottages that contained two rooms, a toilet, a hot plate for cooking, and a small yard. Single inmates were placed in oblong barracks which contained a bathroom for each sex.

      Transport trains arrived at Westerbork every Tuesday from July 1942 to September 1944, and deported an estimated 97.776 Jews during the period. Jewish inmates were deported in waves to Auschwitz concentration camp (65 train-loads totaling 60.330 people), Sobibor (19 train-loads; 34.313 people), Theresienstadt ghetto, and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (9 train-loads; 4.894 people). Almost all of the 94.643 persons deported to Auschwitz and Sobibor in German-occupied Poland were killed upon arrival.

      Camp Westerbork also had a school, orchestra, hairdresser, and even restaurants designed by SS officials to give inmates a false sense of hope for survival and to aid in avoiding problems during transportation. Cultural activities provided by the Nazis for designated deportees included metalwork, jobs in health services, and other cultural activities. A special, separate work cadre of 2.000 “permanent” Jewish inmates was used as a camp labor force. Within this group was a sub-group constituting a camp police force which was required to assist with transports and keep order. The SS actually had very little to do with selecting transferees; this job fell to another class of inmates that made up a sort of security service. Most of these 2.000 "permanent" inmates were eventually sent to concentration or death camps themselves.

      Transit Camp Westerbork camp money 10 cents
      Transit Camp Westerbork camp money 25 cents
      Transit Camp Westerbork camp money 100 cents
      Westerbork camp "vouchers"

      Transit Camp Westerbork

      One the plaques of the transport trains to Auschwitz

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