This photograph shows a German Einsatzgruppe firing squad shooting Jews in an open pit near Dubossary in present day Moldova. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, these killing squads rounded up and shot Jewish men, women and children, communist officials, and others considered racially and ideologically dangerous. Surviving Jews were then forced into ghettos.
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'The Holocaust' is the term used to describe the systematic and wholesale slaughter of the Jews of Europe by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Second World War. Two-thirds of European Jewry perished between 1939 and 1945.
On coming to power in 1933, the Nazis began to actively persecute the Jews of Germany with the introduction of discriminatory legislation which was accompanied by vicious antisemitic propaganda. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the process escalated. Nazi conquests meant that every Jew in occupied Europe was under the threat of death.
The turning point came in June 1941 when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. The invasion was accompanied by the mass shootings of tens of thousands of Jews by Einsatzgruppen, (mobile killing squads made up of Nazis and local collaborators). The following January, the Wannsee Conference of senior Nazi officials set the seal on the methodical deportation and extermination of Europe’s Jews. Trains transported them from ghettos and other holding centres to extermination or labour camps, where they were gassed, shot or worked to death.
Other groups besides the Jews fell victim to Nazi racial policies. Poles, Slavs, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma and Sinti (gypsies), were all murdered in vast numbers. And Hitler’s political opponents, communists and trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals were also brutally done to death in Nazi concentration camps.
Doll carried by Inga Jane Joseph when she was evacuated from Austria on one of the Kindertransports in 1939. In 1938 and 1939, nearly 10,000 children, fleeing the persecution of Jews in Greater Germany (Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia) were brought to Britain on the Kindertransporte (children’s transports). The doll, which Inga named Trixie, was given to her by her mother as a birthday present in 1938. Inga's mother and grandmother perished in, or en route to, Minsk from Vienna in 1941.
souvenirs and ephemera
At first the camps held the political opponents of the Nazis, including communists, social democrats and trade union officials. During the Second World War the concentration camp system saw a massive expansion. From the four original camps in Germany it grew to thousands of different camps and sub-camps organised into 23 major complexes, holding about two million prisoners throughout Nazi occupied Europe.
Human Wreckage at Belsen Concentration Camp, 1945, by Eric Wilfred Taylor. The artist and printmaker Eric Taylor served with the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers. In April 1945, he was among the first British troops to arrive at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Hanover. This is one of a series of drawings he made at the camp that depict the shocking scenes found by the liberators.
The crematorium at Majdanek concentration camp, Lublin in Nazi-occupied Poland, 1944. The liberation of Lublin in Poland by the Soviet Red Army in July 1944 also revealed a huge concentration camp and extermination camp, where the Nazis carried out mass murder on a vast scale. Victims of the camp included Poles, Jews of all nationalities, French, Greeks, Dutch, Italians, Belgians, Yugoslavians, Hungarians and anti-Nazi Republican Spaniards.
Sketch of a Survivor of Auschwitz, 1946, by Jan Hartman. Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi death camp, and an estimated 1.1 million men, women and children, mostly Jews, were murdered there. This drawing is one of a series produced by Jan Hartman reflecting his own experiences as an inmate of Auschwitz and the concentration camp system. Jan Hartman's parents perished in Auschwitz, but both he and his brother Jiri survived and were reunited when the camps were liberated in spring 1945.
Notes from Belsen Camp, 1945, by Mary Kessell. Mary Kessell visited Belsen in August 1945, four months after the liberation of the camp. By this time, the original camp buildings had been evacuated and burned down as a health precaution. The surviving inmates had been transferred to Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp in the barracks of a nearby former Wehrmacht training camp. This is one of a series of seven drawings that Mary Kessell produced in response to her time in Belsen.
Josef Kramer and Irma Grese under guard in Belsen, April 1945. This photograph shows former camp commandant of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp Josef Kramer, together with Irma Grese, a warden in the women's section of the camp. Both were tried and executed for war crimes in December 1945.