World War II: The Holocaust


One of the most horrific terms in history was used by Nazi Germany to designate human beings whose lives were unimportant, or those who should be killed outright: Lebensunwertes Leben, or "life unworthy of life". The phrase was applied to the mentally impaired and later to the "racially inferior," or "sexually deviant," as well as to "enemies of the state" both internal and external. From very early in the war, part of Nazi policy was to murder civilians en masse, especially targeting Jews. Later in the war, this policy grew into Hitler's "final solution", the complete extermination of the Jews. It began with Einsatzgruppen death squads in the East, which killed some 1,000,000 people in numerous massacres, and continued in concentration camps where prisoners were actively denied proper food and health care. It culminated in the construction of extermination camps -- government facilities whose entire purpose was the systematic murder and disposal of massive numbers of people. In 1945, as advancing Allied troops began discovering these camps, they found the results of these policies: hundreds of thousands of starving and sick prisoners locked in with thousands of dead bodies. They encountered evidence of gas chambers and high-volume crematoriums, as well as thousands of mass graves, documentation of awful medical experimentation, and much more. The Nazis killed more than 10 million people in this manner, including 6 million Jews. (This entry is Part 18 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)

Warning: All images in this entry are shown in full, not screened out for graphic content. There are many dead bodies. The photographs are graphic and stark. This is the reality of genocide, and of an important part of World War II and human history.
Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Thierry Bornier / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

    2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

    The Travel Photographer of the Year Contest is now underway at National Geographic, and entries will be accepted until the end of the month, May 27, 2016.

  • Kirill Kudryavtsev / Reuters

    Russia's New Spaceport: The Vostochny Cosmodrome

    For the past five years, Russia has been building a new spaceport in its Far East, about 3,500 miles (5,500 kilometers) away from Moscow, called the Vostochny Cosmodrome.

  • Renaud Philippe

    Rebuilding Nepal by Hand

    The photographer Renaud Philippe returned to the epicenter of last year’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake to document what progress has been made in some of the hardest-to-reach villages.

  • Christian Charisius / AFP / Getty

    Photos of the Week: 4/23-4/29

    A shepherd pulls a lamb into the sea in Gaza City, President Obama meets Prince George in London, the aftermath of Ecuador’s earthquake, and much more.

Join the Discussion