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

  • Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty

    Photos of the Week: Metal Bull, First Snow, Raging Wildfires

    A fireworks festival in Burma, political turmoil in Sri Lanka, starlings over Rome, an Allosaurus in Paris, wintry scenes in northern China, and much more

  • - / AFP / Getty

    Dizzying Heights: Vertical Tourism in China

    Chinese developers have opened a series of new tourist attractions in some very lofty places. Glass-bottomed bridges, cliffside walkways, observation decks, and more

  • Charles Platiau / Reuters

    The Ubiquity of Smartphones, as Captured by Photographers

    The total number of smartphone users worldwide will reach an estimated 3 billion this year—here’s a look at the visual landscape.

  • Todd Kennedy

    The 2018 National Geographic Photo Contest

    A selection of entries from this year’s competition, which is open for submissions until November 15