“Dear finder of these notes, I have one request of you… that my days of Hell will find a purpose in the future.”

Zalman Gradowski, a member of the Sonderkommando, who buried his written eyewitness account in Auschwitz-Birkenau. An estimated 1.1 million people, including at least 960,000 Jews, were murdered in Auschwitz.

Schutztruppe cleaning guns in Swakopmund, German Southwest Africa, 1910. Germany’s 21st Regiment of Dragoons, deployed against the Herero, would a few years later be embedded with Turkish forces annihilating Armenians by driving them into the Syrian desert. Surplus Schutztruppe desert uniforms would later be worn by the first Nazi ‘brownshirts’. “This World is being redistributed. With time we will inevitably need more space and only by the sword will we be able to get it.” The words of Franz von Epp, a company commander in the Schutztruppe, writing home from German Southwest Africa. By 1933, Epp (third from right) was head of the Nazi Party’s Military-Political Office. The son of Germany’s governor for Southwest Africa rose even higher in the Nazi ranks – becoming Hitler’s Vice-Chancellor. His name was Hermann Göring. Race theorist Eugen Fischer conducted tests on severed heads of hundreds of dead Herero to try to prove racial inferiority. He also did a study involving children of local women and German or Boer fathers, recommending a ban on ‘mixed marriage’ to prevent ‘mixed race’. By 1912, this was implemented throughout German colonies. Hitler drew inspiration from Fischer’s work while writing Mein Kampf. Fischer went on to help plan Nazi forced sterilization policies and even deportations of Jews in the Holocaust. His students included Hendrik Verwoerd, architect of Apartheid.

The Holocaust, the genocide of Jews in Europe, was carried out by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Official persecution of the Jews began Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, but hatred of Jews – antisemitism – went back much further. The Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus Christ. They were expelled from Britain in 1290 and Spain in 1492. In Portugal Jews were forced to convert to Christianity. During the 1600s, large numbers of Jews were massacred in Eastern Europe.

The Nazis came to power at a time of severe economic instability. Hitler promised jobs and a better economy, and many Germans welcomed his ideas. These included making Germany ‘racially pure’, removing the Jews from Germany and its territories. Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, lesbians and gays were identified as inferior and a threat.

Jews were isolated from society and stripped of their rights as German citizens. Later they were segregated into ghettos – often walled-off sections of towns and cities. In January 1942 the Nazis established the so-called ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’, a plan to murder all remaining Jews in Europe. The Jews would be deported to concentration camps and death camps, either being gassed on arrival or worked to death.

6,000,000 Jews were murdered, including 1,500,000 children. 10,000,000 people were forced into slave labour. 18,000,000 civilians – including Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, Slavs and the disabled – were victimised in Nazi territories. 11,000,000 of these were dead by the end of the Second World War.

“Try to look. Just try and see.”

Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz survivor

Find out more…

UK National Holocaust Centre

Birthplace of the Aegis Trust, the Centre houses two permanent exhibitions about the Holocaust set in landscaped memorial gardens. Survivors regularly speak there.


Wasted Lives exhibition

One of the three permanent exhibitions at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda, this includes a section on the Holocaust – which helps to set events of 1994 in historical context.


USC Shoah Foundation

Created by Steven Spielberg after ‘Schindler’s List’, the USC Shoah Foundation is the largest archive of its kind, having recorded over 52,000 Holocaust survivor testimonies on film.