Tag Archives: World War II

The Holocaust- Genocide of six million Jews

The Holocaust

Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27 January each year. –

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The Holocaust (from the Greek ὁλόκαυστος holókaustos: hólos, “whole” and kaustós, “burnt”),[2] also known as the Shoah (Hebrew: השואה, HaShoah, “the catastrophe”), was a genocide in which approximately six million Jews were killed by Adolf Hitler‘s Nazi regime and its collaborators.[3] Some historians use a definition of the Holocaust that includes the additional five million non-Jewish victims of Nazi mass murders, bringing the total to approximately eleven million. Killings took place throughout Nazi Germany and German-occupied territories.[4]

From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in a genocide, one of the largest in history, and part of a broader aggregate of acts of oppression and killings of various ethnic and political groups in Europe by the Nazi regime.[5] Every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics and the carrying out of the genocide, turning the Third Reich into “a genocidal state”.[6] Other victims of Nazi crimes included Romanis, ethnic Poles and other Slavs, Soviet POWs, communists, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled.[7] In total, approximately 11 million people were killed, including approximately one million Jewish children.[8][9] Of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe before the Holocaust, approximately two-thirds were killed.[10] A network of about 42,500 facilities in Germany and German-occupied territories were used to concentrate victims for slave labor, mass murder, and other human rights abuses.[11] Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators.[12]


Footprints in the Snow – Holocaust Documentary


The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages, culminating in what was termed the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (die Endlösung der Judenfrage), the agenda to exterminate Jews in Europe. Initially the German government passed laws to exclude Jews from civil society, most prominently the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. A network of concentration camps was established starting in 1933 and ghettos were established following the outbreak of World War II in 1939. In 1941, as Germany conquered new territory in eastern Europe, specialized paramilitary units called Einsatzgruppen were used to murder around two million Jews and “partisans”, often in mass shootings. By the end of 1942, victims were being regularly transported by freight trains to specially built extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, most were systematically killed in gas chambers. The campaign of murder continued until the end of World War II in Europe in April–May 1945.


BBC’s World at War- The Final Solution


Overall, Jewish armed resistance was limited. The most notable exception was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, when thousands of poorly-armed Jewish fighters held the Waffen-SS at bay for four weeks. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jewish partisans actively fought against the Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern Europe.[13][14] French Jews were also highly active in the French Resistance, which conducted a guerilla campaign against the Nazis and Vichy French authorities. In total, over a hundred armed Jewish uprisings took place.

Etymology and use of the term

The term holocaust comes from the Greek word holókauston, referring to an animal sacrifice offered to a god in which the whole (olos) animal is completely burnt (kaustos).[16]

Writing in Latin, Richard of Devizes, a 12th-century monk, was the first recorded chronicler to use the term “holocaustum” in Britain.[17] Sir Thomas Browne employed the word “holocaust” in his philosophical Discourse Urn Burial in 1658[18] and for centuries, the word was used generally in English to denote great massacres. Since the 1960s, the term has come to be used by scholars and popular writers to refer specifically to the Nazi genocide of Jews.[19] The television mini-series Holocaust is credited with introducing the term into common parlance after 1978.[20]

The biblical word shoah (שואה; also transliterated sho’ah and shoa), meaning “calamity” became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the 1940s, especially in Europe and Israel.[21] Shoah is preferred by some Jews for several reasons including the theologically offensive nature of the word “holocaust” which they take to refer to the Greek pagan custom.[22]

The Nazis used a euphemistic phrase, the “‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question” and the formula “Final Solution” has been widely used as a term for the genocide of the Jews.

Distinctive features

Institutional collaboration

Ghettos were established in Europe in which Jews were confined before being shipped to extermination camps.

Every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics that led to the genocides, turning the Third Reich into what one Holocaust scholar, Michael Berenbaum, has called “a genocidal state”.[6]

Every arm of the country’s sophisticated bureaucracy was involved in the killing process. Parish churches and the Interior Ministry supplied birth records showing who was Jewish; the Post Office delivered the deportation and denaturalization orders; the Finance Ministry confiscated Jewish property; German firms fired Jewish workers and disenfranchised Jewish stockholders.

The universities refused to admit Jews, denied degrees to those already studying, and fired Jewish academics; government transport offices arranged the trains for deportation to the camps; German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners; companies bid for the contracts to build the crematoria; detailed lists of victims were drawn up using the Dehomag (IBM Germany) company’s punch card machines, producing meticulous records of the killings. As prisoners entered the death camps, they were made to surrender all personal property which was catalogued and tagged before being sent to Germany to be reused or recycled. Berenbaum writes that the Final Solution of the Jewish question was “in the eyes of the perpetrators … Germany’s greatest achievement.”[23] Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims.

Saul Friedländer writes that: “Not one social group, not one religious community, not one scholarly institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the Jews.”[24] He writes that some Christian churches declared that converted Jews should be regarded as part of the flock, but even then only up to a point. Friedländer argues that this makes the Holocaust distinctive because antisemitic policies were able to unfold without the interference of countervailing forces of the kind normally found in advanced societies such as industry, small businesses, churches, trade unions, and other vested interests and lobby groups.[24]

In many other genocides, pragmatic considerations such as control of territory and resources were central to the genocide policy. Israeli historian and scholar Yehuda Bauer argues that:

The basic motivation [of the Holocaust] was purely ideological, rooted in an illusionary world of Nazi imagination, where an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world was opposed to a parallel Aryan quest. No genocide to date had been based so completely on myths, on hallucinations, on abstract, nonpragmatic ideology—which was then executed by very rational, pragmatic means.[25]

German historian Eberhard Jäckel wrote in 1986 that one distinctive feature of the Holocaust was that:

Never before had a state with the authority of its responsible leader decided and announced that a specific human group, including its aged, its women and its children and infants, would be killed as quickly as possible, and then carried through this resolution using every possible means of state power.[26]

The killings were systematically conducted in virtually all areas of German-occupied territory in what are now 35 separate European countries.[27] It was at its most severe in Central and Eastern Europe, which had more than seven million Jews in 1939. About five million Jews were killed there, including three million in occupied Poland and over one million in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands also died in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece. The Wannsee Protocol makes it clear that the Nazis intended to carry their “final solution of the Jewish question” to Britain and all neutral states in Europe, such as Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, and Spain.[28]

Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was to be exterminated without exception. This has never happened before, anywhere. Also, the Nazi’s envisioned the extermination of the Jews – where possible – worldwide, not only in Germany proper.[29] Unless their grandparents had converted before 18 January 1871.[30]

Extermination camps


Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps (1945) Nuremberg Trials Documentary_WWII Footages_Full Length


Main article: Extermination camp

The use of extermination camps (also called “death camps”) equipped with gas chambers for the purpose of systematic mass extermination of peoples was a unique feature of the Holocaust and unprecedented in history. Never before had there existed places with the express purpose of killing people en masse. These were established at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chełmno, Jasenovac, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibór, and Treblinka. The death camps were built to systematically kill millions, primarily by gassing, but also by execution and extreme work under starvation conditions.[31] The idea of mass extermination with the use of stationary facilities built exclusively for that purpose was a result of earlier Nazi experimentation with chemically manufactured poison gas during the secretive Action T4 euthanasia programme against mental patients.[32]

Medical experiments

Further information: Nazi human experimentation

Romani children in Auschwitz, victims of medical experiments.

A distinctive feature of Nazi genocide was the extensive use of human subjects in “medical” experiments. According to Raul Hilberg, “German physicians were highly Nazified, compared to other professionals, in terms of party membership.”[33] Some carried out experiments at Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and Natzweiler concentration camps.[34]

The most notorious of these physicians was Dr. Josef Mengele, who worked in Auschwitz. His experiments included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children’s eyes, and various amputations and other surgeries.[34] The full extent of his work will never be known because the truckload of records he sent to Dr. Otmar von Verschuer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute was destroyed by von Verschuer.[35] Subjects who survived Mengele’s experiments were almost always killed and dissected shortly afterwards.

He worked extensively with Romani children. He would bring them sweets and toys and personally take them to the gas chamber. They would call him “Onkel (Uncle) Mengele”.[36] Vera Alexander was a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz who looked after 50 sets of Romani twins:

I remember one set of twins in particular: Guido and Ina, aged about four. One day, Mengele took them away. When they returned, they were in a terrible state: they had been sewn together, back to back, like Siamese twins. Their wounds were infected and oozing pus. They screamed day and night. Then their parents—I remember the mother’s name was Stella—managed to get some morphine and they killed the children in order to end their suffering.[36]

Development and execution


Science and the Swastika :The Deadly Experiment



“The whole problem of the Jews exists only in nation states, for here their energy and higher intelligence, their accumulated capital of spirit and will, gathered from generation to generation through a long schooling in suffering, must become so preponderant as to arouse mass envy and hatred. In almost all contemporary nations, therefore – in direct proportion to the degree to which they act up nationalistically – the literal obscenity of leading the Jews to slaughter as scapegoats for every conceivable public and internal misfortune is spreading.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, 1886, [MA 1 475][37]

Yehuda Bauer and Lucy Dawidowicz maintained that from the Middle Ages onward, German society and culture were suffused with antisemitism, and that there was a direct ideological link from medieval pogroms to the Nazi death camps.[38]

The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence in Germany and Austria-Hungary of the Völkisch movement developed by such thinkers as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde. The movement presented a pseudo-scientific, biologically based racism that viewed Jews as a race locked in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination.[39] Völkisch antisemitism drew upon stereotypes from Christian antisemitism but differed in that Jews were considered to be a race rather than a religion.[40]

In a speech before the Reichstag in 1895, völkisch leader Hermann Ahlwardt called Jews “predators” and “cholera bacilli” who should be “exterminated” for the good of the German people.[41] In his best-selling 1912 book Wenn ich der Kaiser wär (If I were the Kaiser), Heinrich Class, leader of the völkisch group Alldeutscher Verband, urged that all German Jews be stripped of their German citizenship and be reduced to Fremdenrecht (alien status).[42] Class also urged that Jews should be excluded from all aspects of German life, forbidden to own land, hold public office, or participate in journalism, banking, and the liberal professions.[42] Class defined a Jew as anyone who was a member of the Jewish religion on the day the German Empire was proclaimed in 1871 or anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent.[42]

The first medical experimentation on humans and ethnic cleansing by Germans took place in the death camps of German South-West Africa during the Herero and Namaqua Genocide. It has been suggested that this was an inspiration for the Holocaust.[43][44]

During the German Empire, völkisch notions and pseudo-scientific racism had become common and accepted throughout Germany,[45] with the educated professional classes of the country, in particular, adopting an ideology of human inequality.[46] Though the völkisch parties were defeated in the 1912 Reichstag elections, being all but wiped out, antisemitism was incorporated into the platforms of the mainstream political parties.[45] The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party; NSDAP) was founded in 1920 as an offshoot of the völkisch movement and adopted their antisemitism.[47] In a 1986 essay, German historian Hans Mommsen wrote about the situation in post–First World War Germany that:

If one emphasizes the indisputably important connection in isolation, one should not then force a connection with Hitler’s weltanschauung [worldview], which was in no ways original itself, in order to derive from it the existence of Auschwitz … Thoughts about the extermination of the Jews had long been current, and not only for Hitler and his satraps. Many of these found their way to the NSDAP from the Deutschvölkisch Schutz-und Trutzbund [German Racial Union for Protection and Defiance], which itself had been called into life by the Pan-German Union.[48]

Tremendous scientific and technological changes in Germany during the late 19th and early 20th centuries together with the growth of the welfare state created widespread hopes that utopia was at hand and that soon all social problems could be solved.[49] At the same time a racist, social Darwinist, and eugenicist world-view which declared some people to be more biologically valuable than others was common.[50] Historian Detlev Peukert states that the Shoah did not result solely from antisemitism, but was a product of the “cumulative radicalization” in which “numerous smaller currents” fed into the “broad current” that led to genocide.[51] After the First World War, the pre-war mood of optimism gave way to disillusionment as German bureaucrats found social problems to be more insoluble than previously thought, which in turn led them to place increasing emphasis on saving the biologically “fit” while the biologically “unfit” were to be written off.[52]

In Germany, Sturmabteilung stormtroopers urge a national boycott of all Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933. These SA stormtroopers are outside Israel’s Department Store in Berlin to deter customers. The signs read: “Germans! Defend yourselves! Don’t buy from Jews.” (“Deutsche! Wehrt Euch! Kauft nicht bei Juden!“)[53] The store was later ransacked during Kristallnacht in 1938, then handed over to a non-Jewish family.

The political situation in Germany and elsewhere in Europe after World War I also contributed to virulent antisemitism. Many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated in battle, giving rise to the Stab-in-the-back myth. The myth insinuated that it was disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and Communists, who orchestrated Germany’s surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment espoused by the myth was the apparent overrepresentation of ethnic Jews in the leadership of Communist revolutionary governments in Europe, among them Russian Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, and in Germany itself Ernst Toller as head of a short lived revolutionary government in Bavaria, contributing to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism.[54]

The economic strains of the Great Depression led many in the German medical establishment to advocate the idea of euthanisation of the “incurable” mentally and physically disabled as a cost-saving measure to free up money to care for the curable.[55] By the time the Nazis came to power in 1933, a tendency already existed in the German social policy to save the racially “valuable” while seeking to rid society of the racially “undesirable”.[56]

Although Hitler never wrote that he would exterminate the Jews, he was open about his hatred of them. Although the origin and first expression of Hitler’s anti-Semitism remain a matter of debate.[57] Hitler states in Mein Kampf that he first became an anti-Semite in Vienna.[58] In Mein Kampf, he announced his intention of removing them from Germany’s political, intellectual, and cultural life. From the early 1920s Hitler linked the Jews with bacteria and that they should be dealt with in exactly the same way; in August 1920 he said that resolving “racial tuberculosis” would be solved by the removal of the “causal agent, the Jew”.[59] In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote: “The nationalization of our masses will succeed only when, aside from all the positive struggle for the soul of our people, their international poisoners are exterminated.”[59] Hitler with the idea of poisoning the poisoners suggested: “If at the beginning of the War and during the War twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers in the field, the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain”.[59] Hitler had by now viewed Marxism as a Jewish doctrine and proclaimed he was fighting against “Jewish Marxism“.[60]

During his time writing Mein Kampf, Hitler reflected on the Jewish Question and concluded that he had been too soft and that in the future only the most severe measures were to be taken if there was any chance of solving it. Hitler believed that the Jewish Question was not only a problem for the German people but for all peoples as “Juda is the world plague”.[61] Ian Kershaw writes that some passages in Mein Kampf are undeniably of an inherently genocidal nature.[59]

In 1922, he allegedly told Major Joseph Hell, at the time a journalist:

Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews. As soon as I have the power to do so, I will have gallows built in rows—at the Marienplatz in Munich, for example—as many as traffic allows. Then the Jews will be hanged indiscriminately, and they will remain hanging until they stink; they will hang there as long as the principles of hygiene permit. As soon as they have been untied, the next batch will be strung up, and so on down the line, until the last Jew in Munich has been exterminated. Other cities will follow suit, precisely in this fashion, until all Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews.[62]

As early as 1933, Julius Streicher was calling for the extermination of the Jews in the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer.[63] During the war, Streicher regularly authorized articles demanding the annihilation and extermination of the Jewish race.[64]

Mommsen suggested that there were three types of antisemitism in Germany: There was 1) the cultural antisemitism found among German conservatives, especially in the military officer corps as well as in the top members of the civil administration; 2) there was the “volkisch” antisemitism or racism which advocated using violence against the Jews; and 3) the religious anti-Judaism, particularly within the Catholic Church. The cultural antisemitism kept the ruling establishment from distancing itself or opposing the violent, racial antisemitism of the Nazis, and religious antisemitism meant that the religious establishment did not present opposition to racial persecution of the Jews.[65]

Legal repression and emigration

With the establishment of the Third Reich, Nazi leaders proclaimed the existence of a Volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”). Nazi policies divided the population into two categories, the Volksgenossen (“national comrades”), who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the Gemeinschaftsfremde (“community aliens”), who did not. Nazi policies about repression divided people into three types of enemies, the “racial” enemies such as the Jews and the Gypsies who were viewed as enemies because of their “blood”; political opponents such as Marxists, liberals, Christians and the “reactionaries” who were viewed as wayward “National Comrades”; and moral opponents such as homosexuals, the “work-shy” and habitual criminals, also seen as wayward “National Comrades”.[66] The last two groups were to be sent to concentration camps for “re-education”, with the aim of eventual absorption into the Volksgemeinschaft, though some of the moral opponents were to be sterilized, as they were regarded as “genetically inferior”.[66]

“Racial” enemies such as the Jews could, by definition, never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft; they were to be totally removed from society.[66] German historian Detlev Peukert wrote that the National Socialists’ “goal was an utopian Volksgemeinschaft, totally under police surveillance, in which any attempt at nonconformist behaviour, or even any hint or intention of such behaviour, would be visited with terror”.[67] Peukert quotes policy documents on the “Treatment of Community Aliens” from 1944, which (though never implemented) showed the full intentions of Nazi social policy: “persons who … show themselves [to be] unable to comply by their own efforts with the minimum requirements of the national community” were to be placed under police supervision, and if this did not reform them, they were to be taken to a concentration camp.[68]

Leading up to the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against the opposition. With the co-operation of local authorities, they set up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment of their opponents. One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 9 March 1933.[69] Initially the camp primarily contained Communists and Social Democrats.[70] Other early prisons—for example, in basements and storehouses run by the Sturmabteilung (SA) and less commonly by the Schutzstaffel (SS)—were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. The initial purpose of the camps was to serve as a deterrent by terrorizing those Germans who did not conform to the Volksgemeinschaft.[71] Those sent to the camps included the “educable”, whose wills could be broken into becoming “National Comrades”, and the “biologically depraved”, who were to be sterilized, were to be held permanently, and over time were increasingly subject to extermination through labor, i.e., being worked to death.[71]

Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted. The Israeli historian Saul Friedländer writes that, for the Nazis, Germany drew its strength “from the purity of its blood and from its rootedness in the sacred German earth.”[72] On 1 April 1933, there occurred a boycott of Jewish businesses, which was the first national antisemitic campaign, initially planned for a week, but called off after one day owing to lack of popular support. In 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed which excluded all Jews and other “non-Aryans” from the civil service. All persons in the civil service had to obtain an Ariernachweis (Aryan certificate) in order to prove their Aryan ancestry. The first antisemitic law passed in the Third Reich; the Physicians’ Law; and the Farm Law, forbidding Jews from owning farms or taking part in agriculture.

Jewish lawyers were disbarred, and in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of their offices and courtrooms and beaten.[73] At the insistence of President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler added an exemption allowing Jewish civil servants who were veterans of the First World War or whose fathers or sons had served, to remain in office, but he revoked this exemption in 1937, after Hindenburg’s death. Jews were excluded from schools and universities (the Law to Prevent Overcrowding in Schools), from belonging to the Journalists’ Association, and from being owners or editors of newspapers.[72] The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of 27 April 1933 wrote:

A self-respecting nation cannot, on a scale accepted up to now, leave its higher activities in the hands of people of racially foreign origin . . . Allowing the presence of too high a percentage of people of foreign origin in relation to their percentage in the general population could be interpreted as an acceptance of the superiority of other races, something decidedly to be rejected.[74]

In July 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring calling for compulsory sterilization of the “inferior” was passed. This major eugenic policy led to over 200 Hereditary Health Courts (Erbgesundheitsgerichte) being set up, under whose rulings over 400,000 people were sterilized against their will during the Nazi period.[75]

Racial classification chart based on the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.

In 1935, Hitler introduced the Nuremberg Laws, which: prohibited “Aryans” from having sexual relations or marriages with Jews, although this was later extended to include “Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring” (the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor),[76] stripped German Jews of their citizenship and deprived them of all civil rights. At the same time the Nazis used propaganda to promulgate the concept of Rassenschande (race defilement) to justify the need for a restrictive law.[77] Hitler described the “Blood Law” in particular as “the attempt at a legal regulation of a problem, which in the event of further failure would then have through law to be transferred to the final solution of the National Socialist Party”. Hitler said that if the “Jewish problem” cannot be solved by these laws, it “must then be handed over by law to the National-Socialist Party for a final solution”.[78] The “final solution“, or “Endlösung“, became the standard Nazi euphemism for the extermination of the Jews. In January 1939, he said in a public speech: “If international-finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed once more in plunging the nations into yet another world war, the consequences will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation (vernichtung) of the Jewish race in Europe”.[79] Footage from this speech was used to conclude the 1940 Nazi propaganda movie The Eternal Jew (Der ewige Jude), whose purpose was to provide a rationale and blueprint for eliminating the Jews from Europe.[80]

Jewish intellectuals were among the first to leave. The philosopher Walter Benjamin left for Paris on 18 March 1933. Novelist Lion Feuchtwanger went to Switzerland. The conductor Bruno Walter fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there: the Frankfurter Zeitung explained on 6 April that Walter and fellow conductor Otto Klemperer had been forced to flee because the government was unable to protect them against the mood of the German public, which had been provoked by “Jewish artistic liquidators”.[81] Albert Einstein was visiting the US on 30 January 1933. He returned to Ostende in Belgium, never to set foot in Germany again, and calling events there a “psychic illness of the masses”; he was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and his citizenship was rescinded.[82] When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Sigmund Freud and his family fled from Vienna to England. Saul Friedländer writes that when Max Liebermann, honorary president of the Prussian Academy of Arts, resigned his position, not one of his colleagues expressed a word of sympathy, and he was still ostracized at his death two years later. When the police arrived in 1943 with a stretcher to deport his 85-year-old bedridden widow, she committed suicide with an overdose of barbiturates rather than be taken.[82]

Kristallnacht (1938)

Main article: Kristallnacht

A synagogue burns on 10 November 1938.

On 7 November 1938, Jewish minor Herschel Grünspan assassinated Nazi German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris.[83] This incident was used by the Nazis as a pretext to go beyond legal repression to large-scale physical violence against Jewish Germans. What the Nazis claimed to be spontaneous “public outrage” was in fact a wave of pogroms instigated by the Nazi Party, and carried out by SA members and affiliates throughout Nazi Germany, at the time consisting of Germany proper, Austria, and Sudetenland.[83] These pogroms became known as Reichskristallnacht (“the Night of Broken Glass”, literally “Crystal Night“), or November pogroms. Jews were attacked and Jewish property was vandalized, over 7,000 Jewish shops and more than 1,200 synagogues (roughly two-thirds of the synagogues in areas under German control) were damaged or destroyed.[84]

The death toll is assumed to be much higher than the official number of 91 dead.[83] 30,000 were sent to concentration camps, including Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Oranienburg,[85] where they were kept for several weeks, and released when they could either prove that they were about to emigrate in the near future, or transferred their property to the Nazis.[86] German Jewry was collectively made responsible for restitution of the material damage of the pogroms, amounting to several hundred thousand Reichsmarks, and furthermore had to pay an “atonement tax” of more than a billion Reichsmarks.[83] After these pogroms, Jewish emigration from Germany accelerated, while public Jewish life in Germany ceased to exist.[83]

Resettlement and deportation

Before the war, the Nazis considered mass deportation of German (and subsequently the European) Jewry from Europe. Hitler’s agreement to the 1938–9 Schacht Plan, and the continued flight of thousands of Jews from Hitler’s clutches for an extended period when the Schacht Plan came to nothing, indicate that the preference for a concerted genocide of the type that came later did not yet exist.[87]

Nazi bureaucrats also developed plans to deport Europe’s Jews to Siberia.[88] Palestine was the only location to which any Nazi relocation plan succeeded in producing significant results, via an agreement begun in 1933 between the Zionist Federation of Germany (die Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland) and the Nazi government, the Haavara Agreement. This agreement resulted in the transfer of about 60,000 German Jews and $100 million from Germany to Palestine, up until the outbreak of World War II.[89]

Plans to reclaim former German colonies such as Tanganyika and South West Africa for Jewish resettlement were halted by Hitler, who argued that no place where “so much blood of heroic Germans had been spilled” should be made available as a residence for the “worst enemies of the Germans”.[90] Diplomatic efforts were undertaken to convince the other colonial powers, primarily the United Kingdom and France, to accept expelled Jews in their colonies.[91] Areas considered for possible resettlement included British Palestine,[92] Italian Abyssinia,[92] British Rhodesia,[93] French Madagascar,[92] and Australia.[94]

Of these areas, Madagascar was the most seriously discussed. Heydrich called the Madagascar Plan a “territorial final solution”; it was a remote location, and the island’s unfavorable conditions would hasten deaths.[95] Approved by Hitler in 1938, the resettlement planning was carried out by Adolf Eichmann’s office, only being abandoned once the mass killing of Jews had begun in 1941. In retrospect, although futile, this plan did constitute an important psychological step on the path to the Holocaust.[96] The end of the Madagascar Plan was announced on 10 February 1942. The German Foreign Office was given the official explanation that due to the war with the Soviet Union, Jews were to be “sent to the east”.[97]

Nazi resettlement schemes entailed taking the necessary measures to prepare the way eastwards. Ethnic Germans required more Lebensraum (living space) according to Nazi doctrine so population displacement (which included murder) and colonial settlement were intrinsically linked.[98] Once the Nazis embarked on their push eastwards through Poland and later into Russia with Operation Barbarossa, there was a radicalization in the speed and brutality of their methods. Winning land from the Russian and Slavic peoples in the east was more than just territorial aggrandizement for Hitler; it was part of the final reckoning with Jewish Bolshevism.[99]

Early measures

In German-occupied Poland

Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 increased the urgency of the “Jewish Question”. Poland was home to approximately three million Jews (nearly nine percent of the population), in centuries-old communities, two-thirds of whom fell under Nazi control with Poland’s capitulation.

In September 1939, Himmler appointed Reinhard Heydrich chief of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA). This organization was made up of seven departments, including the Security Service (SD), and the Gestapo.[100] They were to oversee the work of the SS in occupied Poland, and carry out the policy towards the Jews described in Heydrich’s report. The first organized murders of Jews by German forces occurred during Operation Tannenberg and through Selbstschutz units. Heydrich (later the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia) recommended concentrating all the Polish Jews in ghettos in major cities, where they would be put to work for the German war industry. The ghettos would be in cities located on railway junctions to furnish, in Heydrich’s words, “a better possibility of control and later deportation.”[101] During his interrogation in 1961, Adolf Eichmann recalled that this “later deportation” actually meant “physical extermination.”[102]

I ask nothing of the Jews except that they should disappear.
— Hans Frank, Nazi governor for occupied Poland.[103]

The Jews were later herded into ghettos, mostly in the General Government area of central Poland, where they were put to work under the Reich Labor Office headed by Fritz Sauckel. Here many thousands died from maltreatment, disease, starvation, and exhaustion, but there was still no program of systematic killing. There is little doubt, however, that the Nazis saw forced labor as a form of extermination. The expression Vernichtung durch Arbeit (“destruction through work”) was frequently used.

Although it was clear by late 1941 that the SS hierarchy was determined to embark on a policy of killing all the Jews under German control, there was still opposition to this policy within the Nazi regime, although the motive was economic, not humanitarian. Hermann Göring, who had overall control of the German war industry, and the German army’s Economics Department, argued that the enormous Jewish labor force assembled in the General Government area (more than a million able-bodied workers), was an asset too valuable to waste, particularly with Germany failing to secure rapid victory over the Soviet Union.

In other occupied countries

Jewish mass grave near Zolochiv, west Ukraine (Nazi occupied USSR). Photo was found by Soviets at former Gestapo headquarters in Zolochiv.

When Germany occupied Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France in 1940, and Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941, antisemitic measures were also introduced into these countries, although the pace and severity varied greatly from country to country according to local political circumstances. Jews were removed from economic and cultural life and were subject to various restrictive laws, but physical deportation did not occur in most places before 1942. The Vichy regime in occupied France actively collaborated in persecuting French Jews. Germany’s allies Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Finland were pressured to introduce antisemitic measures, but for the most part they did not comply until compelled to do so. During the course of the war some 900 Jews and 300 Roma passed through the Banjica concentration camp in Belgrade, intended primarily for Serbian communists, royalists and others who resisted occupation. The German puppet regime in Croatia, on the other hand, began actively persecuting Jews on its own initiative, so the Legal Decree on the Nationalization of the Property of Jews and Jewish Companies was declared on 10 October 1941 in the Independent State of Croatia.

In North Africa

Though the vast majority of the Jews affected and killed during Holocaust were of Ashkenazi descent, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews suffered greatly as well.

In the 1930s, the Fascist Italian regime passed anti-Semitic laws barring Jews from government jobs and government schools, and required them to stamp “Jewish race” into their passports.[104] But this was not enough to deter Jews from Libya, as 25% of Tripoli‘s population was Jewish, and it had over 44 synagogues.[105] In 1942, the Nazis occupied Benghazi‘s Jewish Quarter and deported more than 2,000 Jews to Nazi labor camps. By the end of WWII, about one-fifth of those who were sent away had perished.[106] Several forced labor camps for Jews were established in Libya, the largest of which, the Giado camp, held almost 2,600 inmates, of whom 562 died of weakness, hunger, and disease. Smaller labor camps were established in Gharyan, Jeren, and Tigrinna.[106][107]

Tunisia, the only North African country to come under direct Nazi occupation, had 100,000 Jews when the Nazis arrived in November 1942. During their six months of occupation, the Nazis imposed anti-Semitic policies in Tunisia, including forcing Jews to wear the Yellow Star, fines, and property confiscation. Some 5,000 Tunisian Jews were subjected to forced labor, and some were deported to European death camps.[108] More than 2,500 Tunisian Jews died in slave labor camps during the German occupation.[109]

General Government and Lublin reservation (Nisko plan)

Main articles: Nisko Plan and General Government

On 28 September 1939, Germany gained control over the Lublin area through the German-Soviet agreement in exchange for Lithuania.[110] According to the Nisko Plan, they set up the Lublin-Lipowa Reservation in the area. The reservation was designated by Adolf Eichmann, who was assigned the task of removing all Jews from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.[111] They shipped the first Jews to Lublin on 18 October 1939. The first train loads consisted of Jews deported from Austria and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.[112] By 30 January 1940, a total of 78,000 Jews had been deported to Lublin from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia.[113] On 12 and 13 February 1940, the Pomeranian Jews were deported to the Lublin reservation, resulting in Pomeranian Gauleiter Franz Schwede-Coburg to be the first to declare his Gau (country subdivision) judenrein (“free of Jews”).[114] On 24 March 1940 Göring put the Nisko Plan on hold, and abandoned it entirely by the end of April.[115] By the time the Nisko Plan was stopped, the total number of Jews who had been transported to Nisko had reached 95,000, many of whom had died from starvation.[116]

In July 1940, due to the difficulties of supporting the increased population in the General Government, Hitler had the deportations temporarily halted.[117]

In October 1940, Gauleiters Josef Bürckel and Robert Heinrich Wagner oversaw Operation Bürckel, the expulsion of the Jews into unoccupied France from their Gaues and the parts of Alsace-Lorraine that had been annexed that summer to the Reich.[118] Only those Jews in mixed marriages were not expelled.[118] The 6,500 Jews affected by Operation Bürckel were given at most two hours warning on the night of 22–23 October 1940, before being rounded up. The nine trains carrying the deported Jews crossed over into France “without any warning to the French authorities”, who were not happy with receiving them.[118] The deportees had not been allowed to take any of their possessions with them, these being confiscated by the German authorities.[118] The German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop treated the ensuing complaints by the Vichy government over the expulsions in a “most dilatory fashion”.[118] As a result, the Jews expelled in Operation Bürckel were interned in harsh conditions by the Vichy authorities at the camps in Gurs, Rivesaltes and Les Milles while awaiting a chance to return them to Germany.[118]

During 1940 and 1941, the murder of large numbers of Jews in German-occupied Poland continued, and the deportation of Jews to the General Government was undertaken. The deportation of Jews from Germany, particularly Berlin, was not officially completed until 1943. (Many Berlin Jews were able to survive in hiding.) By December 1939, 3.5 million Jews were crowded into the General Government area.

Concentration and labor camps (1933–1945)


Horrifying pictures from the German death camps of the Nazi holocaust


12 April 1945: Lager Nordhausen, where 20,000 inmates are believed to have died.

The Third Reich first used concentration camps as places of incarceration. And though death rates were high—with a mortality rate of 50%—they were not designed to be killing centers. After 1939, the camps increasingly became places where Jews and POWs were either killed or made to work as slave laborers, undernourished and tortured.[119] By 1942, six large camps were built in Poland solely for mass killing. It is estimated that the Germans established 15,000 camps and subcamps in the occupied countries, mostly in eastern Europe.[120][121] New camps were founded in areas with large Jewish, Polish intelligentsia, communist, or Roma and Sinti populations, including inside Germany. Prisoner transportation was often carried out under horrifying conditions in rail freight cars; many died before reaching their destination.

Extermination through labor was a policy of systematic extermination – camp inmates would literally be worked to death, or worked to physical exhaustion, when they would be gassed or shot.[122] Slave labour was used in war production, for example producing V-2 rockets at Mittelbau-Dora, and various armaments around the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex.

Some camps tattooed prisoners with an identification number on arrival.[123] Those fit for work were dispatched for 12 to 14-hour shifts. Roll calls before and after could sometimes last for hours; prisoners regularly died of exposure.[124]

Ghettos (1939–1945)

Main ghettos: Białystok, Budapest, Kraków, Kovno, Łódź, Lvov, Riga, Vilna, Warsaw

A starving child lying in the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto.

After invading Poland, the Nazis established ghettos in the incorporated territories and General Government to confine Jews. The ghettos were formed and closed off from the outside world at different times and for different reasons.[125] Ghettos were intended to be temporary until the Jews were deported. But deportation never occurred. Instead, the ghettos’ inhabitants were sent to extermination camps.

Germany required each ghetto to be run by a Judenrat (Jewish council). The first order establishing a council is contained in a 29 September 1939 letter from Heydrich to the heads of the Einsatzgruppen.[126] Councils were responsible for a ghetto’s day-to-day operations, including distributing food, water, heat, medical care, and shelter. The Germans also required councils to confiscate property, organize forced labor, and, finally, facilitate deportations to extermination camps.[127] The councils’ basic strategy was one of trying to minimise losses, largely by cooperating with Nazi authorities (or their surrogates), accepting the increasingly terrible treatment, bribery, petitioning for better conditions, and clemency.[128] Overall, to try and mitigate still worse cruelty and death, “the councils offered words, money, labor, and finally lives.”[129]

The ultimate test of each Judenrat was the demand to compile lists of names of deportees to be murdered. Though the predominant pattern was compliance with even this final task,[130] some council leaders insisted that not a single individual should be handed over who had not committed a capital crime. Leaders who refused to compile a list, such as Joseph Parnas in Lviv, were shot. On 14 October 1942, the entire council of Byaroza committed suicide rather than cooperate with the deportations.[131] Adam Czerniaków in Warsaw killed himself on 23 July 1942 when he could take no more as the final liquidation of the ghetto got under way.[132] Others, like Chaim Rumkowski, who became the “dedicated autocrat” of Łódź,[133] argued that their responsibility was to save the Jews who could be saved, and that therefore others had to be sacrificed.

The councils’ importance in facilitating Germany’s persecution and murder of ghetto inhabitants was not lost on the Nazis: one official was emphatic that “the authority of the Jewish council be upheld and strengthened under all circumstances”,[134] another that “Jews who disobey instructions of the Jewish council are to be treated as saboteurs.”[135] When cooperation crumbled, as happened in the Warsaw ghetto after the Jewish Combat Organisation displaced the council’s authority, the Germans lost control.[136]

The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest, with 380,000 people; the Łódź Ghetto was second, holding 160,000. They were, in effect, immensely crowded prisons serving as instruments of “slow, passive murder.”[137] Though the Warsaw Ghetto contained 30% of Warsaw’s population, it occupied only 2.4% of the city’s area, averaging 9.2 people per room.[138]

Between 1940 and 1942, starvation and disease, especially typhoid, killed hundreds of thousands. Over 43,000 Warsaw ghetto residents, or one in ten of the total population, died in 1941;[138] in Theresienstadt, more than half the residents died in 1942.[137]

The Germans came, the police, and they started banging houses: “Raus, raus, raus, Juden raus.” … [O]ne baby started to cry … The other baby started crying. So the mother urinated in her hand and gave the baby a drink to keep quiet … [When the police had gone], I told the mothers to come out. And one baby was dead … from fear, the mother [had] choked her own baby.

— Abraham Malik, describing his experience in the Kovno Ghetto[139]

Himmler ordered the start of the deportations on 19 July 1942, and three days later, on 22 July, the deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto began; over the next 52 days, until 12 September 300,000 people from Warsaw alone were transported in freight trains to the Treblinka extermination camp. Many other ghettos were completely depopulated.

Further information: Timeline of Treblinka

The first ghetto uprising occurred in September 1942 in the small town of Łachwa in southeast Poland. Although there were armed resistance attempts in the larger ghettos in 1943, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Białystok Ghetto Uprising, in every case they failed against the overwhelming Nazi military force, and the remaining Jews were either killed or deported to the death camps.[140]

Pogroms (1939–1942)


Emaciated prisoners of a Nazi concentration camp in Ebensee


A number of deadly pogroms occurred during the Second World War. The Nazis encouraged some and others were spontaneous. Notable are the Iaşi pogrom in Romania on 30 June 1941, in which as many as 14,000 Jews were killed by Romanian residents and police. In the infamous series of Lviv pogroms committed in occupied Poland by nationalists from the Ukrainian People’s Militia in Lwów (now, Ukraine), some 6,000 Polish Jews were murdered in the streets between June 30 and July 29, 1941, on top of 3,000 arrests and mass shootings by Einsatzgruppe C.[141][142] Other pogroms perpetrated by the Ukrainian militia in Polish provincial capitals included Łuck and Tarnopol. During the Jedwabne pogrom of July 1941, in the presence of the Nazi Ordnungspolizei 300 Jews were burned to death in a locked barn by local Poles, which was preceded by German execution of 40 Jewish men at the same location.[a]

Death squads (1941–1943)


einsatzgruppen actual footage


Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 opened a new phase in the Holocaust. Even before the invasion of the Soviet Union, German troops had been indoctrinated with anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic and anti-Slavic ideology via movies, radio, lectures, books and leaflets.[147] Following the invasion, Wehrmacht officers told their soldiers to target people who were described as “Jewish Bolshevik subhumans”, the “Mongol hordes”, the “Asiatic flood” and the “red beast”.[148] Nazi propaganda portrayed the war against the Soviet Union as both an ideological war between German National Socialism and Jewish Bolshevism and a racial war between the Germans and the Bolsheviks, Jews, Gypsies and Slavic Untermenschen (“sub-humans”).[149] Hitler on 30 March 1941 described the war with the Soviet Union as a “war of annihilation”.[150] The pace of extermination intensified after the Nazis occupied Lithuania, where close to 80% of the country’s 220,000 Jews were exterminated before year’s end.[151] The Soviet territories occupied by early 1942, including all of Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Moldova and most Russian territory west of the line Leningrad-Moscow-Rostov, contained about three million Jews at the start of the war.

Executions of Jews by German army mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) near Ivanhorod, now Ukraine. The photo was mailed from the Eastern Front to Germany and intercepted by a member of the Polish resistance.

Local populations in some occupied Soviet territories actively participated in the killings of Jews and others.[152] But it was ultimately the Germans who organized and channelled these local efforts.[152] Due to shortage of manpower, an order of February 1943 forbid anyone to characterize the peoples of Eastern Europe as “beasts,” “subhumans” or other derogatory descriptions in order to gain their support in “the struggle against Bolshevism.”[153][154] Many of the collaborators enlisted in the Waffen-SS participated in the killings of Jews.[155] In Lithuania, Latvia, and western Ukraine locals were deeply involved in the murder of Jews from the very beginning of the German occupation.[152] The Latvian Arajs Kommando are an example of an auxiliary unit involved in these killings.[152] And Latvian and Lithuanian units left their own countries to murder Jews in Belarus. To the south, Ukrainians killed approximately 24,000 Jews.[152] Some Ukrainians went to Poland where they served as concentration and death-camp guards.[152] Ustaše militia in Croatian areas also carried out acts of persecution and murder.

Einsatzgruppe A; members execute Jews on the outskirts of Kovno, 1941-1942.

Many of the mass killings were carried out in public, a change from previous practice.[152] German witnesses to these killings emphasized the locals’ participation.[152]

The large-scale killings of Jews in the occupied Soviet territories was assigned to SS formations called Einsatzgruppen (“task groups”), which were under Heydrich’s overall command. These had been used to a limited extent in Poland in 1939, but were organized in the Soviet territories on a much larger scale. Einsatzgruppe A was assigned to the Baltic area, Einsatzgruppe B to Belarus, Einsatzgruppe C to north and central Ukraine, and Einsatzgruppe D to Moldova, south Ukraine, Crimea, and, during 1942, the north Caucasus.[156] The Einsatzgruppen’s commanders were ordinary citizens: the great majority were professionals, most were intellectuals, and they brought to bear all their skills and training in becoming efficient killers.[157]

According to Otto Ohlendorf at his trial, “the Einsatzgruppen had the mission to protect the rear of the troops by killing the Jews, Gypsies, Communist functionaries, active Communists, and all persons who would endanger the security.” In practice, their victims were nearly all defenseless Jewish civilians (not a single Einsatzgruppe member was killed in action during these operations). By December 1941, the four Einsatzgruppen had killed, respectively, 125,000, 45,000, 75,000, and 55,000 people—a total of 300,000 people—mainly by shooting or with hand grenades at mass-killing sites outside the major towns.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides the account of one survivor of the Einsatzgruppen in Piryatin, Ukraine, when the Germans killed 1,600 Jews on 6 April 1942, the second day of Passover:

I saw them do the killing. At 5:00 pm they gave the command, “Fill in the pits.” Screams and groans were coming from the pits. Suddenly I saw my neighbor Ruderman rise from under the soil … His eyes were bloody and he was screaming: “Finish me off!” … A murdered woman lay at my feet. A boy of five years crawled out from under her body and began to scream desperately. “Mommy!” That was all I saw, since I fell unconscious.[158]

Men forced to dig their own graves by Einsatzgruppe troops, Šiauliai, July 1941.

The most notorious massacre of Jews in the Soviet Union was at a ravine called Babi Yar outside Kiev, where 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation on 29–30 September 1941.[159] The decision to kill all the Jews in Kiev was made by the military governor Major-General Friedrich Eberhardt, the Police Commander for Army Group South SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, and the Einsatzgruppe C Commander Otto Rasch. A mixture of SS, SD, and Security Police, assisted by Ukrainian police, carried out the killings. Although they did not participate in the killings, men of the 6th Army played a key role in rounding up the Jews of Kiev and transporting them to be shot at Babi Yar.[160]

On 29 September Kiev’s Jews gathered by the cemetery as ordered, expecting to be loaded onto trains. The crowd was large enough that most of the men, women, and children could not have known what was happening until it was too late; by the time they heard the machine gun fire, there was no chance to escape. All were driven down a corridor of soldiers, in groups of ten, and shot. A truck driver described the scene:

one after the other, they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, and outer garments and also underwear … Once undressed, they were led into the ravine which was about 150 meters long and 30 meters wide and a good 15 meters deep … When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot … The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun … I saw these marksmen stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other … The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew, who had meanwhile lain down, and shoot him.[161]

From left to right; Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, and Karl Wolff (second from the right) at the Obersalzberg, May 1939. Wolff wrote in his diary that Himmler had vomited after witnessing the mass shooting of 100 Jews.[162]

In August 1941 Himmler travelled to Minsk, where he personally witnessed 100 Jews being shot in a ditch outside the town. Karl Wolff described the event in his diary: “Himmler’s face was green. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his cheek where a piece of brain had squirted up onto it. Then he vomited. After recovering his composure, Himmler lectured the SS men on the need to follow the “highest moral law of the Party” in carrying out their tasks.[163]

Germany usually justified the Einsatzgruppen’s massacres on the grounds of anti-Bolshevik, anti-partisan or anti-bandit operations, but the German historian Andreas Hillgruber wrote that this was merely an excuse for the German Army’s considerable involvement in the Holocaust in Russia. He wrote in 1989 that the terms “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” were indeed correct labels for what happened.[164] Hillgruber maintained that the slaughter of about 2.2 million defenseless men, women, and children based on a racist ideology cannot possibly be justified for any reason, and that those German generals who claimed that the Einsatzgruppen were a necessary anti-partisan response were lying.[165]

Army co-operation with the SS in anti-Bolshevik, anti-partisan and anti-Jewish operations was close and intensive.[166] In mid-1941, the SS Cavalry Brigade, commanded by Hermann Fegelein, killed 699 Red Army soldiers, 1,100 partisans, and 14,178 Jews during the course of “anti-partisan” operations in the Pripyat Marshes.[166] Before the operation, Fegelein had been ordered to shoot all adult Jews and herd the women and children into the marshes. After the operation, General Max von Schenckendorff, who commanded the rear areas of Army Group Center, ordered that all Wehrmacht security divisions should emulate Fegelein’s example when on anti-partisan duty, and organized a joint SS-Wehrmacht seminar on how best to kill Jews.[166] The seminar ended with the 7th Company of Police Battalion 322 shooting 32 Jews before the assembled officers at a village called Knjashizy as an example of how to “screen” the population for partisans.[167]

As the war diary of the Battalion 322 read:

The action, first scheduled as a training exercise, was carried out under real-life conditions (ernstfallmässig) in the village itself. Strangers, especially partisans could not be found. The screening of the population, however resulted in 13 Jews, 27 Jewish women and 11 Jewish children, of which 13 Jews and 19 Jewish women were shot in co-operation with the Security Service[167]

Based on what they had learned during the Mogilev seminar, one Wehrmacht officer told his men: “Where the partisan is, there is the Jew and where the Jew is, there is the partisan”.[167]

Head of the OKW, Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, in an order on 12 September 1941, declared:

The struggle against Bolshevism demands ruthless and energetic, rigorous action above all against the Jews, the main carriers of Bolshevism.[168]

In Order No. 24 24 November 1941, the commander of the 707th division declared:

Jews and Gypsies:…As already has been ordered, the Jews have to vanish from the flat country and the Gypsies have to be annihilated too. The carrying out of larger Jewish actions is not the task of the divisional units. They are carried out by civilian or police authorities, if necessary ordered by the commandant of White Ruthenia, if he has special units at his disposal, or for security reasons and in the case of collective punishments. When smaller or larger groups of Jews are met in the flat country, they can be liquidated by divisional units or be massed in the ghettos near bigger villages designated for that purpose, where they can be handed over to the civilian authority or the SD.[169]

Jürgen Förster, a leading expert on the Wehrmacht’s war crimes, argued that the Wehrmacht played a key role in the Holocaust. He said it is wrong to describe the Shoah as solely the work of the SS with the Wehrmacht as a passive and disapproving bystander.[170]

New methods of mass murder

Starting in December 1939, the Nazis introduced new methods of mass murder by using gas.[171] First, experimental gas vans equipped with gas cylinders and a sealed trunk compartment, were used to kill mental-care clients of sanatoria in Pomerania, East Prussia, and occupied Poland, as part of an operation termed Action T4.[171] In the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, larger vans holding up to 100 people were used from November 1941, using the engine’s exhaust rather than a cylinder.[171] These vans were introduced to the Chełmno extermination camp in December 1941, and another 15 of them were used by the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied Soviet Union.[171] These gas vans were developed and run under supervision of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office) and were used to kill about 500,000 people, primarily Jews but also Romani and others.[171] The vans were carefully monitored and after a month of observation a report stated that “ninety seven thousand have been processed using three vans, without any defects showing up in the machines”.[172]

A need for new mass murder techniques was also expressed by Hans Frank, governor of the General Government, who noted that this many people could not be simply shot. “We shall have to take steps, however, designed in some way to eliminate them.” It was this problem which led the SS to experiment with large-scale killings using poison gas. Christian Wirth seems to have been the inventor of the gas chamber.

Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution (1942–1945)

The dining room of the Wannsee villa, where the Wannsee conference took place. The 15 men seated at the table on 20 January 1942 to discuss the “final solution of the Jewish question[173] were considered the best and the brightest in the Reich.[174]

Facsimiles of the minutes of the Wannsee Conference. This page lists the number of Jews in every European country.

The railway line leading to the death camp at Auschwitz II (Birkenau).

Empty poison gas canisters used to kill inmates, along with piles of hair shaven from their heads, are stored in the museum at Auschwitz II.

The ruins of the Crematorium II gas chamber at Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Holocaust scholar Robert Jan van Pelt comments that more people lost their lives in this room than in any other room on Earth: 500,000 people.[175]

The Nazis methodically tracked the progress of the Holocaust in thousands of reports and documents. Pictured is the Höfle Telegram sent to Adolf Eichmann in January 1943, that reported that 1,274,166 Jews had been killed in the four Aktion Reinhard camps during 1942.

Reinhard Heydrich convened the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942 in Berlin’s Wannsee suburb. It brought together 15 Nazi leaders, including a number of state secretaries, senior officials, party leaders, SS officers, and other leaders of government departments responsible for policies linked to Jewish issues. The conference’s initial purpose was to discuss plans for a comprehensive solution to the “Jewish question in Europe.” Heydrich intended to “outline the mass murders in the various occupied territories . . . as part of a solution to the European Jewish question ordered by Hitler . . . to ensure that they, and especially the ministerial bureaucracy, would share both knowledge and responsibility for this policy.”[176]

List of Jewish populations by country used at the Wannsee Conference in 1942.

A copy of the minutes drawn up by Eichmann has survived, but on Heydrich’s instructions, they were written in “euphemistic language” so the exact words used at the meeting are not known.[177] But Heydrich announced that the emigration policy was superseded by a policy of evacuating Jews to the east. This was seen to be only a temporary solution leading up to a final solution that would involve some 11 million Jews living not only in territories then controlled by Germany, but in major countries in the rest of the world including the UK and the US.[178] There was little doubt what the solution was: “Heydrich also made it clear what was understood by the phrase ‘Final Solution’: the Jews were to be annihilated by a combination of forced labour and mass murder.”[179]

The officials were told there were 2.3 million Jews in the General Government, 850,000 in Hungary, 1.1 million in the other occupied countries, and up to five million in the USSR, although two million of these were in areas still under Soviet control – a total of about 6.5 million. These would all be transported by train to extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) in Poland, where almost all of them would be gassed at once. In some camps, such as Auschwitz, those fit for work would be kept alive for a while, but eventually all would be killed. Göring’s representative, Dr. Erich Neumann, gained a limited exemption for some classes of industrial workers.[180]


German public

In his 1983 book, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw examined the Alltagsgeschichte (history of everyday life) in Bavaria during the Nazi period.[181] Describing the attitudes of most Bavarians, Kershaw argued that the most common viewpoint was indifference towards what was happening to the Jews.[182] Kershaw argued that most Bavarians were vaguely aware of the Shoah, but were vastly more concerned about the war than about the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.[182] Kershaw made the analogy that “the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference”.[183]

Kershaw’s assessment that most Bavarians, and by implication most Germans, were indifferent to the Shoah faced criticism from the Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka, an expert on public opinion in Nazi Germany, and the Canadian historian Michael Kater. Kater maintained that Kershaw downplayed the extent of popular antisemitism, and that though admitting that most of the “spontaneous” antisemitic actions of Nazi Germany were staged, argued that because these actions involved substantial numbers of Germans, it is wrong to see the extreme antisemitism of the Nazis as coming solely from above.[184] Kulka argued that most Germans were more antisemitic than Kershaw portrayed them in Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, and that rather than “indifference”, “passive complicity” would be a better term to describe the reaction of the German people.[185]

In a study focusing only on the views about Jews or Germans opposed to the Nazi regime, the German historian Christof Dipper in his 1983 essay “Der Deutsche Widerstand und die Juden” (translated into English as “The German Resistance and the Jews” in Yad Vashem Studies, Volume 16, 1984) argued that the majority of the anti-Nazi national-conservatives were antisemitic.[184] Dipper wrote that for the majority of the national-conservatives “the bureaucratic, pseudo-legal deprivation of the Jews practiced until 1938 was still considered acceptable”.[184] Though Dipper noted no one in the German resistance supported the Holocaust, he also commented that the national-conservatives did not intend to restore civil rights to the Jews after the planned overthrow of Hitler.[184] Dipper went on to argue that, based on such views held by opponents of the regime, “a large part of the German people … believed that a “Jewish Question” existed and had to be solved …”.[184]

A study conducted in 2012 established that in Berlin alone there were 3,000 camps of various functions, another 1,300 were in Hamburg and its co-researcher concluded that it is unlikely that the German population could avoid knowing about the persecution considering such prevalence.[11] Robert Gellately has argued that the German civilian population were, by and large, aware of what was happening. According to Gellately, the government openly announced the conspiracy through the media and civilians were aware of its every aspect except for the use of gas chambers.[186] In contrast, some historical evidence indicates that the vast majority of Holocaust victims, prior to their deportation to concentration camps, were either unaware of the fate that awaited them or were in denial; they honestly believed that they were to be resettled.[187]



In his 1965 essay “Command and Compliance”, which originated in his work as an expert witness for the prosecution at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, the German historian Hans Buchheim wrote there was no coercion to murder Jews and others, and all who committed such actions did so out of free will.[188] Buchheim wrote that chances to avoid executing criminal orders “were both more numerous and more real than those concerned are generally prepared to admit”,[188] and that he found no evidence that SS men who refused to carry out criminal orders were sent to concentration camps or executed.[189] Moreover, SS rules prohibited acts of gratuitous sadism, as Himmler wished for his men to remain “decent”, and that acts of sadism were taken on the individual initiative of those who were either especially cruel or who wished to prove themselves ardent National Socialists.[188] Finally, he argued that those of a non-criminal bent who committed crimes did so because they wished to conform to the values of the group they had joined and were afraid of being branded “weak” by their colleagues if they refused.[190]

In his 1992 monograph Ordinary Men, the Holocaust historian Christopher Browning examined the deeds of German Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the Ordnungspolizei (Order Police), used to commit massacres and round-ups of Jews as well as mass deportations to the Nazi death camps. The members of the battalion were middle-aged men of working-class background from Hamburg, who were too old for regular military duty. They were given no special training for genocide and at first, the commander gave his men the choice of opting out of direct participation in murder of 1,500 Jews from Józefów if they found it too unpleasant. The majority chose not to exercise that option; fewer than 12 men, out of a battalion of 500 did so on that occasion. Influenced by postwar Milgram experiment on obedience, Browning argued that the men of the battalion killed out of peer pressure, not blood-lust.[191]

The Russian historian Sergei Kudryashov similarly to Browning studied the guards trained at the Trawniki SS camp division (“Trawniki men“), who provided the bulk of personnel for the Operation Reinhard death camps, and performed massacres for Battalion 101. Most of them were former Red Army soldiers who volunteered to join the SS in order to get out of the POW camps.[192] Christopher R. Browning wrote that Hiwis “were screened on the basis of their anti-Communist (and hence almost invariably anti-Semitic) sentiments.”[193] The majority of the “volunteers” were from Ukraine, but also from Latvia and Lithuania (Hilfswillige, or Hiwis).[193] Kudryashov claimed that prior to their capture many had been Communists.[194] The vast majority faithfully carried out the SS’s expectations of how to mistreat Jews.[194] Almost all Trawniki men working as guards in the Operation Reinhard camps personally killed an unknown number of Jews.[195] Following Christopher Browning, Kudryashov argued that the Trawniki men were examples of ordinary people becoming willing killers.[196]

The “Trawniki men” were deployed in all major killing sites of the “Final Solution” – it was their primary purpose of training. They took an active role in the executions of Jews at Belzec, Sobibór, Treblinka II, Warsaw (three times), Częstochowa, Lublin, Lvov, Radom, Kraków, Białystok (twice), Majdanek as well as Auschwitz, not to mention Trawniki itself,[193] and the remaining subcamps of KL Lublin/Majdanek camp complex including Poniatowa, Budzyń, Kraśnik, Puławy, Lipowa, and also during massacres in Łomazy, Międzyrzec, Łuków, Radzyń, Parczew, Końskowola, Komarówka and other locations.[197]

Extermination camps

Main article: Extermination camp
Approx. number killed at each extermination camp[198]
Camp name Killed Coordinates Ref.
Auschwitz II 1,000,000 50°2′9″N 19°10′42″E / 50.03583°N 19.17833°E / 50.03583; 19.17833 (Oświęcim (Auschwitz, Poland)) [199][200][201]
Belzec 600,000 50°22′18″N 23°27′27″E / 50.37167°N 23.45750°E / 50.37167; 23.45750 (Belzec (Poland)) [202][203]
Chełmno 320,000 52°9′27″N 18°43′43″E / 52.15750°N 18.72861°E / 52.15750; 18.72861 (Chełmno (Poland)) [204][205]
Jasenovac 58–97,000 45°16′54″N 16°56′6″E / 45.28167°N 16.93500°E / 45.28167; 16.93500 (Jasenovac (Sisačko-Moslavačka, Croatia)) [206][207][208]
Majdanek 360,000 51°13′13″N 22°36′0″E / 51.22028°N 22.60000°E / 51.22028; 22.60000 (Majdanek (Poland)) [209][210]
Maly Trostinets 65,000 53°51′4″N 27°42′17″E / 53.85111°N 27.70472°E / 53.85111; 27.70472 (Malyy Trostenets (Belarus)) [211][212]
Sobibór 250,000 51°26′50″N 23°35′37″E / 51.44722°N 23.59361°E / 51.44722; 23.59361 (Sobibór (Poland)) [213][214]
Treblinka 870,000 52°37′35″N 22°2′49″E / 52.62639°N 22.04694°E / 52.62639; 22.04694 (Treblinka (Poland)) [215][216]

During 1942, in addition to Auschwitz, five other camps were designated as extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) for the carrying out of the Reinhard plan.[217][218] Two of these, Chełmno[219] and Majdanek, were already functioning as, respectively, a labor camp and a POW camp: these now had extermination facilities added to them. Three new camps were built for the sole purpose of killing large numbers of Jews as quickly as possible, at Belzec, Sobibór and Treblinka, but Auschwitz was the most radically transformed in terms of systematic killing.[220] A seventh camp, at Maly Trostinets in Belarus, was also used for this purpose. Jasenovac was an extermination camp where mostly ethnic Serbs were killed.

Extermination camps are frequently confused with concentration camps such as Dachau and Belsen, which were mostly located in Germany and intended as places of incarceration and forced labor for a variety of enemies of the Nazi regime (such as Communists and homosexuals). They should also be distinguished from slave labor camps, which were set up in all German-occupied countries to exploit the labor of prisoners of various kinds, including prisoners of war. In all Nazi camps there were very high death rates as a result of starvation, disease and exhaustion, but only the extermination camps were designed specifically for mass killing.

There was a place called the ramp where the trains with the Jews were coming in. They were coming in day and night, and sometimes one per day and sometimes five per day . . . Constantly, people from the heart of Europe were disappearing, and they were arriving to the same place with the same ignorance of the fate of the previous transport. And the people in this mass . . . I knew that within a couple of hours . . . ninety percent would be gassed.

— Rudolf Vrba, who worked on the Judenrampe in Auschwitz from August 18, 1942 to June 7, 1943.[137]

There were another few “concentration” camps, such as the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in pre-war Austria, which were designed as Extermination through labor camps. These were specifically for the process where very extreme hard labor was deliberately intended to murder. This is in contrast to those concentration camps, where the murder was “incidental” to the extremely harsh conditions.

Gas chambers

At the extermination camps with gas chambers all the prisoners arrived by train. Sometimes entire trainloads were sent straight to the gas chambers, but usually the camp doctor on duty subjected individuals to selections, where a small percentage were deemed fit to work in the slave labor camps; the majority were taken directly from the platforms to a reception area where all their clothes and other possessions were seized by the Nazis to help fund the war. They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. Usually they were told these were showers or delousing chambers, and there were signs outside saying “baths” and “sauna.” They were sometimes given a small piece of soap and a towel so as to avoid panic, and were told to remember where they had put their belongings for the same reason. When they asked for water because they were thirsty after the long journey in the cattle trains, they were told to hurry up, because coffee was waiting for them in the camp, and it was getting cold.[221]

Picture of Auschwitz–Birkenau taken by an American surveillance plane, 13 September 1944.

According to Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, bunker 1 held 800 people, and bunker 2 held 1,200.[222] Once the chamber was full, the doors were screwed shut and solid pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents in the side walls, releasing toxic HCN, or hydrogen cyanide. Those inside died within 20 minutes; the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to Höß, who estimated that about one-third of the victims died immediately.[223] Johann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: “Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives.”[224] When they were removed, if the chamber had been very congested, as they often were, the victims were found half-squatting, their skin colored pink with red and green spots, some foaming at the mouth or bleeding from the ears.[223]

The gas was then pumped out, the bodies were removed (which would take up to four hours), gold fillings in their teeth were extracted with pliers by dentist prisoners, and women’s hair was cut.[225] The floor of the gas chamber was cleaned, and the walls whitewashed.[224] The work was done by the Sonderkommando, which were work units of Jewish prisoners. In crematoria 1 and 2, the Sonderkommando lived in an attic above the crematoria; in crematoria 3 and 4, they lived inside the gas chambers.[226] When the Sonderkommando had finished with the bodies, the SS conducted spot checks to make sure all the gold had been removed from the victims’ mouths. If a check revealed that gold had been missed, the Sonderkommando prisoner responsible was thrown into the furnace alive as punishment.[227]

At first, the bodies were buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but between September and November 1942, on the orders of Himmler, they were dug up and burned. In early 1943, new gas chambers and crematoria were built to accommodate the numbers.[228]

Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chambers to accommodate 2,000 people at one time, whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: we had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the Camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated, since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.

— Rudolf Höss, Auschwitz camp commandant, Nuremberg testimony.[229]

Jewish resistance

Jews captured and forcibly pulled out from dugouts by the Germans during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The photo is from Jurgen Stroop‘s report to Heinrich Himmler.

Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

In his study, Peter Longerich observes: “On the Jewish side there was practically no resistance.”[230] Hilberg accounts for this compliant attitude by evoking the history of Jewish persecution: as had been the case so many times before down through the centuries, simply appealing to their oppressors, and complying with orders, would hopefully avoid inflaming the situation and so mitigate the damage done to the Jews until the onslaught abated. “There were many casualties in these times of stress, but always the Jewish community emerged once again like a rock from a receding tidal wave. The Jews had never disappeared from the earth.” They were “caught in the straitjacket of their history”, and the realisation that this time was different came too late.[231]

In The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hilberg noted:

The reaction pattern of the Jews is characterized by [an] almost complete lack of resistance. In marked contrast to German propaganda, the documentary evidence of Jewish resistance, overt or submerged, is very slight. On a European-wide scale the Jews had no resistance organization, no blueprint for armed action, no plan even for psychological warfare. They were completely unprepared.
… Measured in German casualties, Jewish armed opposition shrinks into insignificance.
… A large component of the entire [destruction] process depended on Jewish participation, from the simple acts of individuals to the organized activity in councils.
… Jewish resistance organizations attempting to reverse the mass inertia spoke the words: “Do not be led like sheep to slaughter.”
Franz Stangl, who had commanded two death camps, was asked in a West German prison about his reaction to the Jewish victims. He said that only recently he had read a book about lemmings. It reminded him of Treblinka.[232]

Armed members of the Jewish resistance, the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye, active in the Vilnius Ghetto. The motto of the FPO was “We will not allow them to take us like sheep to the slaughter.”[233]

Discussing the case of Warsaw, Timothy Snyder notes in a similar vein that it was only during the three months after the massive deportations of July–September 1942 that general agreement on the need for armed resistance was reached, and lays the passivity emanating from the conservative center of Jewish politics at the door of the overall success the Jewish community had enjoyed by engaging in a quid pro quo with the pre-war Polish government.[234] By the time of the biggest act of armed resistance, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of spring 1943, only a small minority of Polish Jews were still alive.[230]

Yehuda Bauer and other historians argue that resistance consisted not only of physical opposition, but of any activity that gave the Jews dignity and humanity in humiliating and inhumane conditions.[235]

In every ghetto, in every deportation train, in every labor camp, even in the death camps, the will to resist was strong, and took many forms. Fighting with the few weapons that would be found, individual acts of defiance and protest, the courage of obtaining food and water under the threat of death, the superiority of refusing to allow the Germans their final wish to gloat over panic and despair.

Even passivity was a form of resistance. To die with dignity was a form of resistance. To resist the demoralizing, brutalizing force of evil, to refuse to be reduced to the level of animals, to live through the torment, to outlive the tormentors, these too were acts of resistance. Merely to give a witness of these events in testimony was, in the end, a contribution to victory. Simply to survive was a victory of the human spirit.

— Martin Gilbert. The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy.[236]

Captured members of the Jewish resistance, Warsaw Ghetto, 1943.

Hilberg argued against overstating the extent of Jewish resistance, or using all-encompassing definitions of it like that deployed by Gilbert. “When relatively isolated or episodic acts of resistance are represented as typical, a basic characteristic of the German measures is obscured”, namely that the merciless slaughter of peaceable innocent people is turned into some kind of battle. “The inflation of resistance has another consequence which has been of concern to those Jews who have regarded themselves as the actual resisters. If heroism is an attribute that should be assigned to every member of the European Jewish community, it will diminish the accomplishment of the few who took action.” Finally, the blending of the passive majority with the active few was “not merely a form of dilution, which blurred the multitudinous problems of organizing a defense in a cautious, reluctant Jewish community; it was also a way of shutting off a great many questions about that community, its reasoning and survival strategy.” Without posing these questions, Jewish history could not be written.[237]

The most well known example of Jewish armed resistance was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of January 1943, when thousands of poorly armed Jewish fighters held the SS at bay for four weeks before being crushed by overwhelmingly superior forces. According to Jewish accounts, several hundred Germans were killed, while the Germans claimed to have lost 17 dead and 93 wounded. 13,000 Jews were killed, 57,885 were deported and gassed according to German figures. This uprising was followed by the revolt in the Treblinka extermination camp in May 1943, when about 200 inmates escaped from the camp. They overpowered and killed a number of German guards and set the camp buildings ablaze, but 900 inmates were also killed, and out of the 600 who successfully escaped, only 40 survived the war. Two weeks later, there was an uprising in the Białystok Ghetto. The uprising was launched on the night of 16 August 1943 and was the second-largest ghetto uprising organized in Nazi-occupied Poland after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April–May 1943.[238] The revolt began upon the German announcement of mass deportations from the Ghetto. A group of 300 to 500 Jewish insurgents armed with 25 rifles, 100 pistols and home-made Molotov cocktails attacked the overwhelmingly larger German force.

In September, there was a short-lived uprising in the Vilna Ghetto. The armed Jewish resistance group Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (United Partisan Organization), which was one of the first resistance organizations established in the Nazi ghettos during World War II, was formed to defend the ghetto population and sabotage German industrial and military activities. When the Nazis came to liquidate the ghetto in September 1943, members of the FPO fled to the forest and fought with the partisans. In October, 600 Jewish prisoners, including Jewish Soviet prisoners of war, attempted an escape at the Sobibór death camp. The prisoners killed 11 German SS officers and a number of camp guards. However, the killings were discovered, and the inmates were forced to run for their lives under heavy fire. Three hundred of the prisoners were killed during the escape. Most of the survivors either died in the minefields surrounding the camp or were recaptured and executed. About 60 survived and joined the Soviet partisans. On 7 October 1944, 250 Jewish Sonderkommandos (laborers) at Auschwitz attacked their guards and blew up Crematorium IV with explosives that female prisoners had smuggled-in from a nearby factory. Three German guards were killed during the uprising, one of whom was stuffed into an oven. The Sonderkommandos attempted a mass breakout, but all 250 were killed soon afterwards.

Jewish Soviet POW captured by the German Army, August 1941. About 500,000 Jews served in the Soviet Army during World War II.

An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jewish partisans (see the list at the top of this section) actively fought the Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern Europe.[13][14] They engaged in guerilla warfare and sabotage against the Nazis, instigated Ghetto uprisings, and freed prisoners. In Lithuania alone, they killed approximately 3,000 German soldiers. As many as 1.4 million Jewish soldiers fought in the Allied armies.[239] including 500,000 in the Red Army, 550,000 in the U.S. Army, 100,000 in the Polish army and 30,000 in the British army.[240] About 200,000 Jewish soldiers serving in the Red Army died in the war.[241] The Jewish Brigade, a unit of 5,000 Jewish volunteers from the British Mandate of Palestine, fought in the British Army. German-speaking Jewish volunteers from the Special Interrogation Group performed commando and sabotage operations against the Nazis behind front lines in the Western Desert Campaign.

In occupied Poland and Soviet territories, thousands of Jews fled into the swamps or forests and joined the partisans, although the partisan movements did not always welcome them. In Lithuania and Belarus, an area with a heavy concentration of Jews, and also an area which suited partisan operations, Jewish partisan groups saved thousands of Jewish civilians from extermination. No such opportunities existed for the Jewish populations of cities such as Budapest. However, in Amsterdam, and other parts of the Netherlands, many Jews were active in the Dutch Resistance.[242] Timothy Snyder wrote that “Other combatants in the Warsaw Uprising were veterans of the ghetto uprising of 1943. Most of these Jews joined the Home Army; others found the People’s Army, or even the antisemitic National Armed Forces. Some Jews (or Poles of Jewish origin) were already enlisted in the Home Army and the People’s Army. Almost certainly, more Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 than in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943.”[243] Joining the partisans was an option only for the young and the fit who were willing to leave their families. Many Jewish families preferred to die together rather than be separated.

French Jews were also highly active in the French Resistance, which conducted a guerilla campaign against the Nazis and Vichy French authorities, assisted the Allies in their sweep across France, and supported Allied including Free French forces in the liberation of many occupied French cities. Although Jews made up only one percent of the French population, they made up fifteen to twenty percent of the French Resistance.[244] The Jewish youth movement EEIF, which had originally shown support for the Vichy regime, was banned in 1943, and many of its older members formed armed resistance units. Zionist Jews also formed the Armee Juive (Jewish Army), which participated in armed resistance under a Zionist flag, and smuggled Jews out of the country. Both organizations merged in 1944, and participated in the liberation of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Grenoble, and Nice.[245]

Many people think the Jews went to their deaths like sheep to the slaughter, and that’s not true—it’s absolutely not true. I worked closely with many Jewish people in the Resistance, and I can tell you, they took much greater risks than I did.

— Pieter Meerburg[246]

SS troops stand near the bodies of Jews who committed suicide rather than be captured, Warsaw Ghetto, 1943.

For the great majority of Jews, resistance could take only the passive forms of delay, evasion, negotiation, bargaining and where possible, bribery of German officials. The Nazis encouraged this by forcing the Jewish communities to police themselves, through bodies such as the Reich Association of Jews (Reichsvereinigung der Juden) in Germany and the Jewish Councils (Judenräte) in the urban ghettos in occupied Poland. They held out the promise of concessions in exchange for each surrender, enmeshing the Jewish leadership so deeply in well-intentioned compromise that a decision to stand and fight was never possible. Holocaust survivor Alexander Kimel wrote: “The youth in the Ghettos dreamed about fighting. I believe that although there were many factors that inhibited our responses, the most important factors were isolation and historical conditioning to accepting martyrdom.”[247]

The historical conditioning of the Jewish communities of Europe to accept persecution and avert disaster through compromise and negotiation was the most important factor in the failure to resist until the very end. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising took place only when the Jewish population had been reduced from 500,000 to 100,000, and it was obvious that no further compromise was possible. Paul Johnson writes:

The Jews had been persecuted for a millennium and a half and had learned from long experience that resistance cost lives rather than saved them. Their history, their theology, their folklore, their social structure, even their vocabulary trained them to negotiate, to pay, to plead, to protest, not to fight.[248]

The Jewish communities were also systematically deceived about German intentions, and were cut off from most sources of news from the outside world. The Germans told the Jews that they were being deported to work camps – euphemistically calling it “resettlement in the East” – and maintained this illusion through elaborate deceptions all the way to the gas chamber doors (which were marked with labels stating that the chambers were for the removal of lice) to avoid uprisings. As photographs testify, Jews disembarked at the railway stations at Auschwitz and other extermination camps carrying sacks and suitcases, clearly having no idea of the fate that awaited them. Rumours of the reality of the extermination camps filtered back only slowly to the ghettos, and were usually not believed, just as they were not believed when couriers such as Jan Karski, the Polish resistance fighter, conveyed them to the western Allies.[249]

Jewish resistance leaders

Belorussia, 1943. A Jewish partisan group of the brigade named after Valery Chkalov.[250]

A few examples of notable Jewish resistance leaders include:


Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated in Prague in June 1942 by soldiers from Czechoslovakia’s army-in-exile on a clandestine mission codenamed Operation Anthropoid.[251][252] He was succeeded as head of the RSHA by Ernst Kaltenbrunner.[253] With Heydrich’s death, Kaltenbrunner inherited the responsibility of the Gestapo, Sicherheitsdienst, the concentration camps, and the administrative apparatus designed to carry out the Final Solution.[254] During 1943 and 1944, the extermination camps worked at a furious rate to kill the hundreds of thousands of people shipped to them by rail from almost every country within the German sphere of influence.[255] By the spring of 1944, up to 8,000 people were being gassed every day at Auschwitz.[256]

Despite the high productivity of the war industries based in the Jewish ghettos in the General Government, they were liquidated during 1943, and their populations shipped to the camps for extermination.[257] The largest of these operations, the deportation of 100,000 people from the Warsaw Ghetto in early 1943, provoked the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which was suppressed with great brutality.[258][259] Approximately 42,000 Jews were shot during the Operation Harvest Festival on 3–4 November 1943.[260] At the same time, rail shipments arrived regularly from western and southern Europe. Few Jews were shipped from the occupied Soviet territories to the camps: the killing of Jews in this zone was left in the hands of the SS, aided by locally recruited auxiliaries.[261] In any case, by the end of 1943 the Germans had been driven from most Soviet territory.

Budapest, Hungary – Hungarian and German soldiers drive arrested Jews into the municipal theatre. October 1944.

Budapest, Hungary – Captured Jewish women in Wesselényi Street, 20–22 October 1944.

Shipments of Jews to the camps had priority on the German railways, and continued even in the face of the increasingly dire military situation after the Battle of Stalingrad at the end of 1942 and the escalating Allied air attacks on German industry and transport. Conducting a global war did not deter the Nazis from directing resources to their killing operations. Confounding as it must have been for military leaders, strategy suffered as additional manpower and material allocations needed to transport Jews took priority and train schedules were adjusted accordingly.[262]

Army leaders and economic managers complained about this diversion of resources and at the killing of irreplaceable skilled Jewish workers; however, Nazi leaders rated ideological imperatives above economic considerations.[263] In fact, many of the industries supporting the war effort using SS slave labor from the east and Jews were more productive when the SS was far removed from their operations;[264] otherwise their brutality and inconsideration for human needs proved counterproductive.

By 1944, it was evident to most Germans not blinded by Nazi fanaticism that Germany was losing the war. Many senior officials began to fear the retribution that might await Germany and them personally for the crimes being committed in their name.[265] But the power of Himmler and the SS within the German Reich was too great to resist, and Himmler could always evoke Hitler’s authority for his demands.

In October 1943, Himmler gave a speech to senior Nazi Party officials gathered in Posen (now Poznań in western Poland). Here he came closer than ever before to stating explicitly that he was intent on exterminating the Jews of Europe:

I am now referring to the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. It’s one of those things that is easily said: ‘The Jewish people are being exterminated’, says every party member, ‘this is very obvious, it’s in our program, elimination of the Jews, extermination, we’re doing it, hah, a small matter.’ And then they turn up, the upstanding 80 million Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. They say the others are all swines, but this particular one is a splendid Jew. But none has observed it, endured it. Most of you here know what it means when 100 corpses lie next to each other, when there are 500 or when there are 1,000. To have endured this and at the same time to have remained a decent person — with exceptions due to human weaknesses — has made us tough, and is a glorious chapter that has not and will not be spoken of. Because we know how difficult it would be for us if we still had Jews as secret saboteurs, agitators and rabble-rousers in every city, what with the bombings, with the burden and with the hardships of the war. If the Jews were still part of the German nation, we would most likely arrive now at the state we were at in 1916/17.

The hard decision had to be made that this people should be caused to disappear from earth…Perhaps, at a much later time, we can consider whether we should say something more about this to the German people. I myself believe that it is better for us – us together – to have borne this for our people, that we have taken the responsibility for it on ourselves (the responsibility for an act, not just for an idea), and that we should now take this secret with us to the grave.[266]

Jewish women and children from Carpatho-Ruthenia after their arrival at the Auschwitz death camp. May/June 1944.

The audience for this speech included Admiral Karl Dönitz and Armaments Minister Albert Speer. Dönitz successfully claimed at the Nuremberg trials that he had had no knowledge of the Final Solution. Speer declared at the trial and in a subsequent interview that “If I didn’t see it, then it was because I didn’t want to see it.”[267] The text of this speech was not known at the time of their post-war trials.

The scale of extermination slackened somewhat at the beginning of 1944 once the ghettos in occupied Poland were emptied, but on 19 March 1944, Hitler ordered the military occupation of Hungary, and Eichmann was dispatched to Budapest to supervise the deportation of Hungary’s 800,000 Jews. Hitler had personally complained to the Hungarian regent Admiral Miklós Horthy on the previous day, 18 March 1944, that:

Hungary did nothing in the matter of the Jewish problem, and was not prepared to settle accounts with the large Jewish population in Hungary.[268]

More than half of them were shipped to Auschwitz after the occupation. The commandant, Rudolf Höss, said at his trial that he killed 400,000 Hungarian Jews in three months.[269]

“Blood for Goods”

The operation to kill Hungarian Jews met strong opposition within the Nazi hierarchy, and there were some suggestions that Hitler should offer the Allies a deal where they would be spared in exchange for a favorable peace settlement. There were unofficial negotiations in Istanbul between Himmler’s agents, British agents, and representatives of Jewish organizations; at one point an attempt by Eichmann to exchange one million Jews for 10,000 trucks—the so-called “blood for goods” proposal—but there was no real possibility of such a deal being struck on this scale.[270][271] During Eichman’s trial in Jerusalem, he denied having knowledge of this attempt to blackmail the Allies in this manner but the evidence showed otherwise.[272]

Escapes, publication of existence (April–June 1944)

Bratislava, June–July 1944. Rudolf Vrba (right) escaped from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944, bringing the first credible news to the world of the mass murder that was taking place there. Arnost Rosin (left), escaped on 27 May 1944.[273]

“The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland”, by the Polish government-in-exile addressed to the wartime allies of the then-United Nations, 1942.

Escapes from the camps were few, but not unknown. In 1940, the Auschwitz commandant reported that “the local population is fanatically Polish and … prepared to take any action against the hated SS camp personnel. Every prisoner who managed to escape can count on help the moment he reaches the wall of a first Polish farmstead.”[274] According to Ruth Linn, however, escapees, particularly Jewish ones, could not rely on help from the local population or the Polish underground.[275]

In February 1942, an escaped inmate from the Chełmno extermination camp, Jacob Grojanowski, reached the Warsaw Ghetto, where he gave detailed information about the Chełmno camp to the Oneg Shabbat group. His report, which became known as the Grojanowski Report, was smuggled out of the ghetto through the channels of the Polish underground to the Delegatura, and reached London by June 1942. It is unclear what was done with the report at that point.[204][276][277][278] In the meantime, by 1 February, the United States Office of War Information had decided not to release information about the extermination of the Jews because it was felt that it would mislead the public into thinking the war was simply a Jewish problem.[279]

By at least 9 October 1942, British radio had broadcast news of gassing of Jews to the Netherlands.[280] In December 1942, the western Allies released the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations, that described how “Hitler’s oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe” was being carried out and which declared that they “condemn in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination.”[281]

In 1942, Jan Karski reported to the Polish, British and US governments on the situation in Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust of the Jews. He met with Polish politicians in exile including the prime minister, as well as members of political parties such as the Socialist Party, National Party, Labor Party, People’s Party, Jewish Bund and Poalei Zion. He also spoke to Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, and included a detailed statement on what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec.[282] In 1943 in London he met the then-well-known journalist Arthur Koestler. He then traveled to the United States and reported to president Franklin D. Roosevelt. His report was a major factor in informing the West.

In July 1943, Karski again personally reported to Roosevelt, telling him about the situation in Poland and becoming the first eyewitness to tell him about the Jewish Holocaust.[283] During their meeting Roosevelt asked about the condition of horses in Poland,[284] but did not ask one question about the Jews.[285] He also met with many other government and civic leaders in the United States, including Felix Frankfurter, Cordell Hull, William Joseph Donovan, and Stephen Wise. Karski also presented his report to the media, bishops of various denominations (including Cardinal Samuel Stritch) and members of the Hollywood film industry and artists, but without success. Many of those he spoke to did not believe him, or supposed that his testimony was much exaggerated or was propaganda from the Polish government in exile.[286]

News about gassing Jews was also published in illegal newspapers of the Dutch resistance, like in the issue of Het Parool of 27 September 1943. However, the news was so unbelievable that many assumed it was merely war propaganda. The publications were halted because they were counter-productive for the Dutch resistance. Nevertheless, many Jews were warned that they would be murdered, but as escape was impossible for most of them, they preferred to believe that the warnings were false.[287][288]

Auschwitz concentration camp photos of Pilecki (1941).

In September 1940, Captain Witold Pilecki, a member of the Polish underground and a soldier of the Polish Home Army, worked out a plan to enter Auschwitz and volunteered to be sent there, the only person known to volunteer to be imprisoned at Auschwitz. He organized an underground network Związek Organizacji Wojskowej (translation: “Union of Military Organizations”) that was ready to initiate an uprising but it was decided that the probability of success was too low for the uprising to succeed. UMO’s numerous and detailed reports became a principal source of intelligence on Auschwitz for the Western Allies. Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz with information that became the basis of a two-part report in August 1943 that was sent to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in London. The report included details about the gas chambers, about “selection”, and about the sterilization experiments. It stated that there were three crematoria in Birkenau able to burn 10,000 people daily, and that 30,000 people had been gassed in one day. The author wrote: “History knows no parallel of such destruction of human life.”[289] When Pilecki returned to Poland after the war the communist authorities arrested and accused him of spying for the Polish government in exile. He was sentenced to death in a show trial and was executed on 25 May 1948.

Before Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz the most spectacular escape took place on 20 June 1942, when Ukrainian Eugeniusz Bendera and three Poles, Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster and Józef Lempart made a daring escape.[290] The escapees were dressed as members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, fully armed and in an SS staff car. They drove out the main gate in a stolen Steyr 220 automobile with a smuggled first report from Witold Pilecki to the Polish resistance about the Holocaust. The Germans failed to recapture any of them.[291]

Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, Jewish inmates, escaped from Auschwitz in April 1944, eventually reaching Slovakia. The 32-page document they dictated to Jewish officials about the mass murder at Auschwitz became known as the Vrba-Wetzler report. Vrba had an eidetic memory and had worked on the Judenrampe, where Jews disembarked from the trains to be “selected” either for the gas chamber or slave labor. The level of detail with which he described the transports allowed Slovakian officials to compare his account with their own deportation records, and the corroboration convinced the Allies to take the report seriously.[292]

Two other Auschwitz inmates, Arnost Rosin and Czesław Mordowicz escaped on 27 May 1944, arriving in Slovakia on 6 June, the day of the Normandy landing (D-Day). Hearing about Normandy, they believed the war was over and got drunk to celebrate, using dollars they’d smuggled out of the camp. They were arrested for violating currency laws, and spent eight days in prison, before the Judenrat paid their fines. The additional information they offered the Judenrat was added to Vrba and Wetzler’s report and became known as the Auschwitz Protocols. They reported that, between 15 and 27 May 1944, 100,000 Hungarian Jews had arrived at Birkenau, and had been killed at an unprecedented rate, with human fat being used to accelerate the burning.[293]

The BBC and The New York Times published material from the Vrba-Wetzler report on 15 June,[294] 20 June, 3 July[295] and 6 July[296] 1944. The subsequent pressure from world leaders persuaded Miklós Horthy to bring the mass deportations of Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz to a halt on 9 July, saving up to 200,000 Jews from the extermination camps.[293]

On 14 November 2001, in the 150th anniversary issue, The New York Times ran an article by former editor Max Frankel reporting that before and during World War II, the Times had maintained a strict policy in their news reporting and editorials to minimize reports on the Holocaust.[297] The Times accepted the detailed analysis and findings of journalism professor Laurel Leff, who had published an article the year before in the Harvard International Journal of the Press and Politics, that The New York Times had deliberately suppressed news of the Third Reich’s persecution and murder of Jews.[298] Leff concluded that New York Times reporting and editorial policies made it virtually impossible for American Jews to impress Congress, church or government leaders with the importance of helping Europe’s Jews.[299]

Death marches (1944–1945)

Grave and Memorial in Wodzisław of the most infamous Death march from Auschwitz Birkenau to Wodzisław Śląski.

By mid-1944, the Final Solution had largely run its course. Those Jewish communities within easy reach of the Nazi regime had been largely exterminated, in proportions ranging from about 25 percent in France to more than 90 percent in Poland. On 5 May, Himmler claimed in a speech that “The Jewish question has in general been solved in Germany and in the countries occupied by Germany.”[300] During 1944, in any case, the task became steadily more difficult. German armies were evicted from the Soviet Union, the Balkans and Italy, and German forces—as well as forces aligned with them—were either defeated or were switching sides to the Allies. In June, the western Allies landed in France. Allied air attacks and the operations of partisans made rail transport increasingly difficult, and the objections of the military to the diversion of rail transport for carrying Jews to Poland more urgent and harder to ignore.

At this time, as the Soviet armed forces approached, the camps in eastern Poland were closed down, any surviving inmates being shipped west to camps closer to Germany, first to Auschwitz and later to Gross Rosen in Silesia. Auschwitz itself was closed as the Soviets advanced through Poland. The last 13 prisoners, all women, were killed in Auschwitz II on 25 November 1944; records show they were “unmittelbar getötet” (“killed outright”), leaving open whether they were gassed or otherwise disposed of.[301]

Despite the desperate military situation, great efforts were made to conceal evidence of what had happened in the camps. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, mass graves dug up and the corpses cremated, and Polish farmers were induced to plant crops on the sites to give the impression that they had never existed. Local commanders continued to kill Jews, and to shuttle them from camp to camp by forced “death marches” until the last weeks of the war.[302]

Already sick after months or years of violence and starvation, prisoners were forced to march for tens of miles in the snow to train stations; then transported for days at a time without food or shelter in freight trains with open carriages; and forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. Around 250,000 Jews died during these marches.[303]

The largest and best-known of the death marches took place in January 1945, when the Soviet army advanced on Poland. Nine days before the Soviets arrived at Auschwitz, the SS marched 60,000 prisoners out of the camp toward Wodzisław (German: Loslau), 56 km (35 mi) away, where they were put on freight trains to other camps. Around 15,000 died on the way. Elie Wiesel and his father, Shlomo, were among the marchers:

An icy wind blew in violent gusts. But we marched without faltering. . . .

Pitch darkness. Every now and then, an explosion in the night. They had orders to fire on any who could not keep up. Their fingers on the triggers, they did not deprive themselves of this pleasure. If one of us had stopped for a second, a sharp shot finished off another filthy son of a bitch. …

Near me, men were collapsing in the dirty snow. Shots.[304]


A grave inside Bergen-Belsen.

The first major camp to be directly encountered by Allied troops, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets on 23 July 1944. Chełmno was liberated by the Soviets on 20 January 1945. Auschwitz was liberated, also by the Soviets, on 27 January 1945;[305] Buchenwald by the Americans on 11 April;[306] Bergen-Belsen by the British on 15 April;[307] Dachau by the Americans on 29 April;[308] Ravensbrück by the Soviets on the same day; Mauthausen by the Americans on 5 May;[309] and Theresienstadt by the Soviets on 8 May.[310] Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Nazis in 1943. Colonel William W. Quinn of the US 7th Army said of Dachau: “There our troops found sights, sounds, and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind.”[311][312]

Starving prisoners in Mauthausen camp liberated on 5 May 1945.

In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, almost all the prisoners had already been removed, leaving only a few thousand alive—7,600 inmates were found in Auschwitz,[313] including 180 children who had been experimented on by doctors. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division,[314] 13,000 corpses lay unburied, and another 10,000 died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks.[315] The British forced the remaining SS guards to gather up the corpses and place them in mass graves.[316]

The BBC’s Richard Dimbleby described the scenes that greeted him and the British Army at Belsen:

Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which . . . The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them . . . Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live . . . A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms . . . He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.[317]


Victims (enlarged) Killed Source
Jews 5.93 million [318]
Soviet POWs 2–3 million [319]
Ethnic Poles 1.8–2 million [320][321]
Serbs 300,000–500,000 [322][323]
Disabled 270,000 [324]
Romani 90,000–220,000 [325][326]
Freemasons 80,000–200,000 [327][328]
Slovenes 20,000–25,000 [329]
Homosexuals 5,000–15,000 [330]
2,500–5,000 [331]
Spanish Republicans 7,000 [332]

The number of victims depends on which definition of “the Holocaust” is used. Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia write in The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust that the term is commonly defined as the mass murder of more than five million European Jews.[333] They further state that ‘Not everyone finds this a fully satisfactory definition.’[334] According to British historian Martin Gilbert, the total number of victims is just under six million—around 78 percent of the 7.3 million Jews in occupied Europe at the time.[335] Timothy D. Snyder wrote that “The term Holocaust is sometimes used in two other ways: to mean all German killing policies during the war, or to mean all oppression of Jews by the Nazi regime.”[336]

Broader definitions include the two to three million Soviet POWs who died as a result of mistreatment due to Nazi racial policies, two million non-Jewish ethnic Poles who died due to the conditions of Nazi occupation, 90,000-220,000 Romani, 270,000 mentally and physically disabled killed in Germany’s eugenics program, 80,000–200,000 Freemasons, 20,000–25,000 Slovenes, 5,000–15,000 homosexuals, 2,500–5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 7,000 Spanish Republicans, bringing the death toll to around 11 million. The broadest definition would include six million Soviet civilians who died as a result of war-related famine and disease, raising the death toll to 17 million.[333] A research project conducted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimated that 15 to 20 million people died or were imprisoned.[11] R.J. Rummel estimates the total democide death toll of Nazi Germany to be 21 million.


The following figures from Lucy Dawidowicz show the annihilation of the Jewish population of Europe by (pre-war) country:[318]
Country Estimated
Poland 3,300,000 3,000,000 90
Baltic countries 253,000 228,000 90
Germany and Austria 240,000 210,000 90
Bohemia and Moravia 90,000 80,000 89
Slovakia 90,000 75,000 83
Greece 70,000 54,000 77
Netherlands 140,000 105,000 75
Hungary 650,000 450,000 70
Byelorussian SSR 375,000 245,000 65
Ukrainian SSR 1,500,000 900,000 60
Belgium 65,000 40,000 60
Yugoslavia 43,000 26,000 60
Romania 600,000 300,000 50
Norway 2,173 890 41
France 350,000 90,000 26
Bulgaria 64,000 14,000 22
Italy 40,000 8,000 20
Luxembourg 5,000 1,000 20
Russian SFSR 975,000 107,000 11
Denmark 8,000 52 <1
Total 8,861,800 5,933,900 67
The following updated figures are from Wolfgang Benz in the Holocaust Encyclopedia show the Jewish death toll for post-war European countries.[337]
Country Death toll of Jews
Germany 144,000
Austria 48,767
Luxembourg 720
France 76,000
Belgium 28,000
Netherlands 102,000
Denmark 116
Norway 758
Italy 5,596
Albania 591
Greece 58,443
Bulgaria 7,335
Yugoslavia 51,400
Hungary 559,250
Czechoslovakia 143,000
Romania 120,919
Poland 2,700,000
Soviet Union 2,100,000

Since 1945, the most commonly cited figure for the total number of Jews killed has been six million. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, writes that there is no precise figure for the number of Jews killed,[338] but has been able to find documentation of more than three million names of Jewish victims killed,[339] which it displays at its visitors center. The figure most commonly used is the six million attributed to Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS official.[340]

Early calculations range from about 4.2 to 4.5 million in The Final Solution (1953) by Gerald Reitlinger (arguing against higher Russian estimates),[341] and 5.1 million from Raul Hilberg, to 5.95 million from Jacob Lestschinsky. Yisrael Gutman and Robert Rozett in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust estimate 5.59–5.86 million.[342] A study led by Wolfgang Benz of the Technical University of Berlin suggests 5.29 to 6.20 million.[343][344] Yad Vashem writes that the main sources for these statistics are comparisons of prewar and postwar censuses and population estimates, and Nazi documentation on deportations and murders.[343] Its Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names currently holds close to three million names of Holocaust victims, all accessible online. Yad Vashem continues its project of collecting names of Jewish victims from historical documents and individual memories.[345]

Hilberg’s estimate of 5.1 million, in the third edition of The Destruction of the European Jews, includes over 800,000 who died from “ghettoization and general privation”; 1,400,000 killed in open-air shootings; and up to 2,900,000 who perished in camps. Hilberg estimates the death toll of Jews in Poland as up to 3,000,000.[346] Hilberg’s numbers are generally considered to be a conservative estimate, as they typically include only those deaths for which records are available, avoiding statistical adjustment.[347]

Martin Gilbert arrived at a “minimum estimate” of over 5.75 million Jewish victims.[348] Lucy S. Dawidowicz used pre-war census figures to estimate that 5.934 million Jews died (see table below).[349]

There were about eight to ten million Jews in the territories controlled directly or indirectly by Germany (the uncertainty arises from the lack of knowledge about how many Jews there were in the Soviet Union). The six million killed in the Holocaust thus represent 60 to 75 percent of these Jews. Of Poland’s 3.3 million Jews, about 90 percent were killed.[350] At the beginning of World War II, the Jewish population of the Baltic States was around 350,000: 250,000 in Lithuania, 95,000 in Latvia, and 4,500 in Estonia.[351] By the end of 1941, close to 230,000 Jews in Latvia and Lithuania had been murdered during the previous six months. [352] Of 4,000 Jews in Estonia before the German invasion, some 3,000 fled to the Soviet Union. The remaining 1,000 were all murdered by the SS killing squads.[353]Of the 750,000 Jews in Germany and Austria in 1933, only about a quarter survived.[citation needed] Although many German Jews emigrated before 1939, the majority of these fled to Czechoslovakia, France or the Netherlands, from where they were later deported to their deaths.

In Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, and Yugoslavia, over 70 percent were killed. 50 to 70 percent were killed in Romania, Belgium and Hungary. It is likely that a similar proportion were killed in Belarus and Ukraine, but these figures are less certain. Countries with notably lower proportions of deaths include Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Italy, and Norway. Albania was the only country occupied by Germany that had a significantly larger Jewish population in 1945 than in 1939. About two hundred native Jews and over a thousand refugees were provided with false documents, hidden when necessary, and generally treated as honored guests in a country whose population was approximately 60 percent Muslim.[354] Additionally, Japan, as an Axis member, had its own unique response to German policies regarding Jews; see Shanghai Ghetto.

Year Jews killed[355]
1933–1940 under 100,000
1941 1,100,000
1942 2,700,000
1943 500,000
1944 600,000
1945 100,000
Extermination Camp Estimate of
number killed
Auschwitz-Birkenau 1,000,000 [199][356]
Treblinka 870,000 [215]
Belzec 600,000 [202]
Majdanek 79,000–235,000 [209][357]
Chełmno 320,000 [204]
Sobibór 250,000 [213]

This gives a total of over 3.8 million; of these, 80–90% were estimated to be Jews. These seven camps thus accounted for half the total number of Jews killed in the entire Nazi Holocaust. Virtually the entire Jewish population of Poland died in these camps.[318]

In addition to those who died in the above extermination camps, at least half a million Jews died in other camps, including the major concentration camps in Germany. These were not extermination camps, but had large numbers of Jewish prisoners at various times, particularly in the last year of the war as the Nazis withdrew from Poland. About a million people died in these camps, and although the proportion of Jews is not known with certainty, it was estimated to be at least 50 percent.[citation needed] Another 800,000 to one million Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied Soviet territories (an approximate figure, since the Einsatzgruppen killings were frequently undocumented).[358] Many more died through execution or of disease and malnutrition in the ghettos of Poland before they could be deported.

By country

Jewish Holocaust death toll as a percentage of the total pre-war Jewish population.[citation needed]

In the 1990s, the opening of government archives in Eastern Europe resulted in the adjustment of the death tolls published in the pioneering work by Hilberg, Dawidowicz and Gilbert (e.g. compare Gilbert’s estimation of two million deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau with the updated figure of one million in the Extermination Camp data box). As pointed out above, Wolfgang Benz has been carrying out work on the more recent data. He concluded in 1999:

The goal of annihilating all of the Jews of Europe, as it was proclaimed at the conference in the villa Am Grossen Wannsee in January 1942, was not reached. Yet the six million murder victims make the holocaust a unique crime in the history of mankind. The number of victims — and with certainty the following represent the minimum number in each case — cannot express that adequately. Numbers are just too abstract. However they must be stated in order to make clear the dimension of the genocide: 165,000 Jews from Germany, 65,000 from Austria, 32,000 from France and Belgium, more than 100,000 from the Netherlands, 60,000 from Greece, the same number from Yugoslavia, more than 140,000 from Czechoslovakia, half a million from Hungary, 2.2 million from the Soviet Union, and 2.7 million from Poland. To these numbers must be added all those killed in the pogroms and massacres in Romania and Transitrien (over 200,000) and the deported and murdered Jews from Albania and Norway, Denmark and Italy, from Luxembourg and Bulgaria.

— Benz, Wolfgang The Holocaust: A German Historian Examines the Genocide[359]

Considering the massive numbers of killed Jews all across Europe, Benz erroneously must have thought that the same would be the case for Denmark and Albania. However, in Albania no Jew was deported, and in Denmark about 1 percent of the Jewish population was deported.[360]

Effect on the Yiddish and Ladino languages

Entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1945.

Because the significant majority of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust were speakers of Yiddish, the Holocaust had a profound and permanent effect on the fate of the Yiddish language and culture (see Yiddish Renaissance). On the eve of World War II, there were 11 to 13 million Yiddish speakers in the world.[361] The Holocaust led to a dramatic, sudden decline in the use of Yiddish, because the extensive Jewish communities, both secular and religious, that used it in their day-to-day life were largely destroyed. Around five million (85%) of the victims of the Holocaust were speakers of Yiddish.[362]

Of the remaining non-Yiddish speaking population, the Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) speaking Jewish communities of Greece and the Balkans were also destroyed, which contributed to the near-extinction of this language.



Main articles: Generalplan Ost and Hunger Plan

Europe, with pre-World War II borders and showing the extension of the future Generalplan Ost master plan.

Hitler declared in Mein Kampf that the German people needed Lebensraum (“living space”) in Eastern Europe at the expense of the racially inferior Slavs.[363] The Nazis considered the Slavs as Untermenschen (subhumans).[364]

Heinrich Himmler in his secret memorandum “Reflections on the Treatment of Peoples of Alien Races in the East” dated 25 May 1940 expressed his own thoughts and the future plans for the populations in the East.[365] Himmler stated that it was in the German interests to discover as many ethnic groups in the East and splinter them as much as possible, find and select racially valuable children to be sent to Germany to assimilate them and restrict non-Germans in the General Government and conquered territories to four-grade elementary school which would only teach them how to write their own name, count up to 500 and to obey Germans.[365] Himmler believed the Germanization process in Eastern Europe would be complete when “in the East dwell only men with truly German, Germanic blood”.[366]

Himmler’s Generalplan Ost (General Plan East), which was enthusiastically agreed to by Hitler in the summer of 1942, involved exterminating, expelling, or enslaving most or all Slavs from their native lands so as to make living space for German settlers, something that would be carried out over a period of 20–30 years.[367]

Author and historian Doris L. Bergen has written: “Like so much Nazi writing, General Plan East was full of euphemisms. … Nevertheless its intentions were obvious. It also made clear that German policies toward different population groups were closely connected. Settlement of Germans and ethnic Germans in the east; expulsion, enslavement, and decimation of Slavs; and murder of Jews were all parts of the same plan.”[368]

Historian Rudolph Rummel estimates the number of Slav civilians and POWs murdered by the Nazis at 10,547,000.[369]

According to historian William W. Hagen:

Generalplan Ost . . . forecast the diminution of the targeted east European peoples’ populations by the following measures: Poles – 85 percent; Belarusians – 75 percent; Ukrainians – 65 percent; Czechs – 50 percent. These enormous reductions would result from “extermination through labor” or decimation through malnutrition, disease, and controls on reproduction. . . . The Russian people, once subjugated in war, would join the four Slavic-speaking nations whose fate Generalplan Ost foreshadowed.[370]

It is a question of existence, thus it will be a racial struggle of pitiless severity, in the course of which 20 to 30 million Slavs and Jews will perish through military actions and crises of food supply.

—  Heinrich Himmler spoke about Operation Barbarossa, June 1941[371]
Ethnic Poles

A 12-year-old Polish girl in Auschwitz 1942/43. Prisoner identity photographs.

Auschwitz I patch with the letter “P”, required wear for Polish inmates.

Polish civilians executed in Warsaw.

Announcement of death penalty for Poles helping Jews.

Execution of Poles by Einsatzkommando, Leszno, October 1939.

German planners had in November 1939 called for “the complete destruction” of all Poles.[372] “All Poles”, Heinrich Himmler swore, “will disappear from the world”.[373] The Polish state under German occupation was to be cleared of ethnic Poles and settled by German colonists.[374] Of the Poles, by 1952 only about three–four million of them were to be left in the former Poland, and only to serve as slaves for German settlers. They were to be forbidden to marry, the existing ban on any medical help to Poles in Germany would be extended, and eventually Poles would cease to exist. On 22 August 1939, just over a week before the onset of war, Hitler declared that “the object of the war is … physically to destroy the enemy. That is why I have prepared, for the moment only in the East, my ‘Death’s Head’ formations with orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language. Only in this way can we obtain the living space we need.”[375] Nazi planners decided against a genocide of ethnic Poles on the same scale as against ethnic Jews; it could not proceed in the short term since “such a solution to the Polish question would represent a burden to the German people into the distant future, and everywhere rob us of all understanding, not least in that neighbouring peoples would have to reckon at some appropriate time, with a similar fate”.[376]

The actions taken against ethnic Poles were not on the scale of the genocide of the Jews. Most Polish Jews (perhaps 90% of their pre-war population) perished during the Holocaust, while most Christian Poles survived the brutal German occupation.[377] Between 1.8 and 2.1 million non-Jewish Polish citizens perished in German hands during the course of the war, about four-fifths of whom were ethnic Poles with the remaining fifth being ethnic minorities of Ukrainians and Belarusians, the vast majority of them civilians.[320][321] At least 200,000 of these victims died in concentration camps with about 146,000 being killed in Auschwitz. Many others died as a result of general massacres such as in the Warsaw Uprising where between 120,000 and 200,000 civilians were killed.[378][379]

The policy of the Germans in Poland included diminishing food rations, conscious lowering of the state of hygiene and depriving the population of medical services. The general mortality rate rose from 13 to 18 per thousand.[380] Overall, about 5.6 million of the victims of World War II were Polish citizens,[321] both Jewish and non-Jewish, and over the course of the war Poland lost 16 percent of its pre-war population; approximately 3.1 million of the 3.3 million Polish Jews and approximately two million of the 31.7 million non-Jewish Polish citizens died at German hands during the war.[381] According to recent (2009) estimates by the IPN, over 2.5 million non-Jewish Polish citizens died as a result of the German occupation.[382] Over 90 percent of the death toll came through non-military losses, as most of the civilians were targeted by various deliberate actions by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.[378]

A few days before the invasion of Poland, on 22 August 1939, Adolf Hitler said to his generals:

Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter—with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. … Our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness—for the present only in the East—with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? … Poland will be depopulated and settled with Germans. … As for the rest, gentlemen, the fate of Russia will be exactly the same as I am now going through with in the case of Poland.[383][384]

Other West Slavs

Other West Slavic populations were persecuted to some extent. By one estimate, 345,000 Czechoslovak citizens were executed or otherwise killed, and hundreds of thousands more of all of these groups were sent to concentration camps and used as forced labor.[385] The villages of Lidice and Ležáky were completely destroyed by the Nazis; all men over 16 years of age from the village were murdered and the rest of the population was sent to Nazi concentration camps where many women and nearly all of the children were killed.

The German ethnic Sorbian population was also persecuted.

Ethnic Serbs and other South Slavs

Croatian Ustaše sawing off the head of Branko Jungić, an ethnic Serb from Bosnia.

In the Balkans, up to 581,000 Yugoslav civilians were killed during World War II in Yugoslavia.[386][387] German forces, under express orders from Hitler, fought with a special vengeance against the Serbs, who were considered Untermenschen (sub-humans).[388] The Ustaše collaborators conducted a systematic extermination of large numbers of people for political, religious or racial reasons. The most numerous victims were Serbs.

Bosniaks, Croats and others were also victims of the Jasenovac concentration camp. According to the US Holocaust Museum:

The Ustaša authorities established numerous concentration camps in Croatia between 1941 and 1945. These camps were used to isolate and murder Serbs, Jews, Roma, Muslims [Bosniaks], and other non-Catholic minorities, as well as Croatian political and religious opponents of the regime.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and Jewish Virtual Library report between 56,000 and 97,000 persons were killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp.[389][390][391] Yad Vashem reports an overall number of over 500,000 murders of Serbs “in horribly sadistic ways” at the hands of the Ustaše.[322]

According to the most recent study, Bošnjaci u Jasenovačkom logoru (“Bosniaks in the Jasenovac concentration camp”) by the author Nihad Halilbegović, at least 103,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) perished during the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazi regime and the Croatian Ustaše. According to the study, “unknown is the full number of Bosniaks who were murdered under Serb or Croat alias or national name” and “a large numbers of Bosniaks were killed and listed under Roma populations”, therefore in advance sentenced to death and extermination.[392][393] Excluding Slovenes under Italian rule, between 20,000 and 25,000 Slovenes were killed by Nazis or fascists (counting only civilian victims).[394]

Albanian collaborationists cooperated with the Nazis and what followed was an extensive persecution of non-Albanians (mostly Serbs) by Albanian fascists. Most of the war crimes were perpetrated by the Albanian SS Skenderbeg Division and the Balli Kombëtar. 3,000 to 10,000 Kosovo Serbs were murdered by the Albanians during the war, and another 30,000 to 100,000 were expelled.[395]

East Slavs

Mass murder of Soviet civilians near Minsk, Belarus, 1943.

Soviet civilian populations in the occupied areas were also heavily persecuted (in addition to the barbarity of the Eastern Front frontline warfare manifesting itself in episodes such as the siege of Leningrad in which more than one million civilians died).[396] Thousands of peasant villages across Soviet Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were annihilated by German troops. Bohdan Wytwycky has estimated that as many as one-quarter of all Soviet civilian deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies were racially motivated.[333]

The Russian Academy of Sciences in 1995 reported civilian victims in the USSR at German hands, including Jews, totaled 13.7 million dead, 20% of the 68 million persons in the occupied USSR. This included 7.4 million victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals.[397]

In Belarus, Nazi Germany imposed a regime in the country that was responsible for burning down some 9,000 villages, deporting some 380,000 people for slave labour, and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. More than 600 villages, like Khatyn, were burned along with their entire population and at least 5,295 Belarusian settlements were destroyed by the Nazis and some or all of their inhabitants killed. Tim Snyder states: “Of the nine million people who were on the territory of Soviet Belarus in 1941, some 1.6 million were killed by the Germans in actions away from battlefields, including about 700,000 prisoners of war, 500,000 Jews, and 320,000 people counted as partisans (the vast majority of whom were unarmed civilians.”[398]

The German racists assigned the Slavs to the lowest rank of human life, from which the Jews were altogether excluded. The Germans thus looked upon Slavs as people not fit to be educated, not able to govern themselves, worthy only as slaves whose existence would be justified because they served their German masters. Hitler’s racial policy with regard to the Slavs, to the extent that it was formulated, was “depopulation.” The Slavs were to be prevented from procreating, except to provide the necessary continuing supply of slave laborers.

—  Lucy Dawidowicz, The Holocaust and the historians[399]

Naked Soviet POWs in Mauthausen concentration camp. Unknown date.

Soviet POWs

According to Michael Berenbaum, between two and three million Soviet prisoners-of-war—or around 57 percent of all Soviet POWs—died of starvation, mistreatment, or executions between June 1941 and May 1945, and most of those during their first year of captivity. According to other estimates by Daniel Goldhagen, an estimated 2.8 million Soviet POWs died in eight months in 1941–42, with a total of 3.5 million by mid-1944.[400] The USHMM has estimated that 3.3 million of the 5.7 million Soviet POWs died in German custody—compared to 8,300 of 231,000 British and American prisoners.[401] The death rates decreased as the POWs were needed to work as slaves to help the German war effort; by 1943, half a million of them had been deployed as slave labor.[319]

Romani people

Main article: Porajmos

[T]hey wish to toss into the Ghetto everything that is characteristically dirty, shabby, bizarre, of which one ought to be frightened and which anyway had to be destroyed.

— Emmanuel Ringelblum on the Roma.[402]

Because the Romani are traditionally a private people with a culture based on oral history, less is known about their experience of the genocide than about that of any other group.[403] Yehuda Bauer writes that the lack of information can be attributed to the Romani’s distrust and suspicion, and to their humiliation, because some of the basic taboos of Romani culture regarding hygiene and sexual contact were violated at Auschwitz. Bauer writes that “most [Romani] could not relate their stories involving these tortures; as a result, most kept silent and thus increased the effects of the massive trauma they had undergone.”[404]

Map of persecution of the Roma.

The treatment of the Romani was not consistent in the different areas that Nazi Germany conquered. In some areas (e.g. Luxembourg and the Baltic countries), the Nazis killed virtually the entire Romani population. In other areas (e.g. Denmark, Greece), there is no record of Romanis being subjected to mass killings.[405]

Donald Niewyk and Frances Nicosia write that the death toll was at least 130,000 of the nearly one million Romani in Nazi-controlled Europe.[403] Michael Berenbaum writes that serious scholarly estimates lie between 90,000 and 220,000.[406] A study by Sybil Milton, senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, calculated a death toll of at least 220,000 and possibly closer to 500,000, but this study explicitly excluded the Independent State of Croatia where the genocide of Romanies was intense.[325][407] Martin Gilbert estimates a total of more than 220,000 of the 700,000 Romani in Europe.[408] Ian Hancock, Director of the Program of Romani Studies and the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas at Austin, has argued in favour of a much higher figure of between 500,000 and 1,500,000, claiming the Romani toll proportionally equaled or exceeded that of Jewish victims.[326][409]

Before being sent to the camps, the victims were herded into ghettos, including several hundred into the Warsaw Ghetto.[138] Further east, teams of Einsatzgruppen tracked down Romani encampments and murdered the inhabitants on the spot, leaving no records of the victims. They were also targeted by the puppet regimes that cooperated with the Nazis, e.g. the Ustaše regime in Croatia, where a large number of Romani were killed in the Jasenovac concentration camp. The genocide analyst Helen Fein has stated that the Ustashe killed virtually every Romani in Croatia.[410]

In May 1942, the Romani were placed under similar labor and social laws to the Jews. On 16 December 1942, Heinrich Himmler, Commander of the SS and regarded as the “architect” of the Nazi genocide,[411] issued a decree that “Gypsy Mischlinge (mixed breeds), Romani, and members of the clans of Balkan origins who are not of German blood” should be sent to Auschwitz, unless they had served in the Wehrmacht.[412] On 29 January 1943, another decree ordered the deportation of all German Romani to Auschwitz.

This was adjusted on 15 November 1943, when Himmler ordered that, in the occupied Soviet areas, “sedentary Gypsies and part-Gypsies (Mischlinge) are to be treated as citizens of the country. Nomadic Gypsies and part-Gypsies are to be placed on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps.”[413] Bauer argues that this adjustment reflected Nazi ideology that the Romani, originally an Aryan population, had been “spoiled” by non-Romani blood.[414]

Persons of color

The number of black people in Germany when the Nazis came to power is variously estimated at 5,000–25,000.[415] It is not clear whether these figures included Asians. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., “The fate of black people from 1933 to 1945 in Nazi Germany and in German-occupied territories ranged from isolation to persecution, sterilization, medical experimentation, incarceration, brutality, and murder. However, there was no systematic program for their elimination as there was for Jews and other groups.”[416] Meanwhile, Afrikaaners, Berbers, Iranians and Pre-Partition Indians were classified as Aryans, so they were not persecuted (see main article). Racial restrictions were relaxed to the extent that Turkic peoples, Arabs and South Asians were recruited by the German military due to the shortage of manpower.[417]


Disabled and mentally ill

Hitler’s order for Action T4.

Our starting-point is not the individual, and we do not subscribe to the view that one should feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty or clothe the naked—those are not our objectives. Our objectives are entirely different. They can be put most crisply in the sentence: we must have a healthy people in order to prevail in the world.

Nazis used the phrase Lebensunwertes Leben (Life unworthy of life) in reference to their victims in an attempt to justify the killings.[419]

In October 1939 Adolf Hitler signed a “euthanasia decree” backdated to 1 September 1939 that authorized Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, the chief of his Chancellery,[420] and Dr. Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician, to carry out the programme of involuntary euthanasia (translated as follows):

Reich Leader Bouhler and Dr. Brandt are entrusted with the responsibility of extending the authority of physicians, designated by name, so that patients who, on the basis of human judgment [menschlichem Ermessen], are considered incurable, can be granted mercy death [Gnadentod] after a definitive diagnosis.

— Adolf Hitler[421]

The Action T4 program was established to maintain the racial purity of the German people by killing or sterilizing citizens who were judged to be disabled or suffering from mental disorder.[422]

Between 1939 and 1941, 80,000 to 100,000 mentally ill adults in institutions were killed; 5,000 children in institutions; and 1,000 Jews in institutions.[423] Outside the mental health institutions, the figures are estimated as 20,000 (according to Dr. Georg Renno, the deputy director of Schloss Hartheim, one of the euthanasia centers) or 400,000 (according to Frank Zeireis, the commandant of Mauthausen concentration camp).[423] Another 300,000 were forcibly sterilized.[424] Overall it has been estimated that over 270,000 individuals[324] with mental disorders of all kinds were put to death, although their mass murder has received relatively little historical attention. Along with the physically disabled, people suffering from dwarfism were persecuted as well. Many were put on display in cages and experimented on by the Nazis.[425] Despite not being formally ordered to take part, psychiatrists and many psychiatric institutions took part in the planning and carrying out of controversial practices at every stage, and constituted the connection to the later annihilation of Jews and other deemed undesirable in the Holocaust.[426] After strong protests by the German Catholic and Protestant churches on 24 August 1941 Hitler ordered the cancellation of the T4 program.[427]

The program was named after Tiergartenstraße 4, the address of a villa in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, the headquarters of the General Foundation for Welfare and Institutional Care,[428] led by Philipp Bouhler, head of Hitler’s private chancellery (Kanzlei des Führer der NSDAP) and Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician.

Brandt was tried in December 1946 at Nuremberg, along with 22 others, in a case known as United States of America vs. Karl Brandt et al., also known as the Doctors’ Trial. He was found guilty and was sentenced to death. He was hanged at Landsberg Prison on 2 June 1948.


The Homomonument in Amsterdam, a memorial to the homosexual victims of Nazi Germany.

Between 5,000 and 15,000 homosexuals of German nationality are estimated to have been sent to concentration camps.[330] James D. Steakley writes that what mattered in Germany was criminal intent or character, rather than criminal acts, and the “gesundes Volksempfinden” (“healthy sensibility of the people”) became the leading normative legal principle.[429] In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion.[430] Homosexuality was declared contrary to “wholesome popular sentiment,”[330] and homosexuals were consequently regarded as “defilers of German blood.” The Gestapo raided gay bars, tracked individuals using the address books of those they arrested, used the subscription lists of gay magazines to find others, and encouraged people to report suspected homosexual behavior and to scrutinize the behavior of their neighbors.[330][429]

Tens of thousands were convicted between 1933 and 1944 and sent to camps for “rehabilitation”, where they were identified by yellow armbands[431] and later pink triangles worn on the left side of the jacket and the right trouser leg, which singled them out for sexual abuse.[429] Hundreds were castrated by court order.[432] They were humiliated, tortured, used in hormone experiments conducted by SS doctors, and killed.[330] Steakley writes that the full extent of gay suffering was slow to emerge after the war. Many victims kept their stories to themselves because homosexuality remained criminalized in postwar Germany.[429]

The political left

German opponent of Nazism executed at Dachau.

German communists, socialists and trade unionists were among the earliest domestic opponents of Nazism[433] and were also among the first to be sent to concentration camps. Hitler claimed that communism was a Jewish ideology which the Nazis termed “Judeo-Bolshevism“. Fear of communist agitation was used as justification for the Enabling Act of 1933, the law which gave Hitler his original dictatorial powers. Hermann Göring later testified at the Nuremberg Trials that the Nazis’ willingness to repress German communists prompted president Paul von Hindenburg and the German elite to cooperate with the Nazis.[citation needed] MI6 assisted the Gestapo via “the exchange of information about Communism”, and as late as October 1937, the head of the British agency’s Berlin station, Frank Foley, described his relationship with Heinrich Müller‘s so-called communism expert as “cordial”.[434]

Hitler and the Nazis also hated German leftists because of their resistance to the party’s racism. Many leaders of German leftist groups were Jews, and Jews were especially prominent among the leaders of the Spartacist uprising in 1919. Hitler already referred to Marxism and “Bolshevism” as a means of “the international Jew” to undermine “racial purity” and survival of the Nordics or Aryans, as well as to stir up socioeconomic class tension and labor unions against the government or state-owned businesses. Within concentration camps such as Buchenwald, German communists were privileged in comparison to Jews because of their “racial purity”.[435]

Whenever the Nazis occupied a new territory, members of communist, socialist, or anarchist groups were normally to be the first persons detained or executed. Evidence of this is found in Hitler’s infamous Commissar Order, in which he ordered the summary execution of all political commissars captured among Soviet soldiers, as well as the execution of all Communist Party members in German-held territory.[436][437] Einsatzgruppen carried out these executions in the east. Nacht und Nebel (“Night and Fog”) was a directive of Hitler on 7 December 1941 signed and implemented by Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Wilhelm Keitel, resulting in kidnapping and the disappearance of many political activists throughout Nazi Germany’s occupied territories.

Among the well-known leftist prisoners of the concentration camps were German socialists Hermann Brill, Rudolf Breitscheid, Heinrich Bußmann, Josef Felder, Heinrich Fulda, Ernst Heilmann, and Alfred Schmieder; German communists Emil Carlebach, Ernst Grube, Walter Krämer, Adolf Maislinger, Oskar Müller, Beppo Römer, Werner Scholem, and Ernst Thälmann; Jewish socialist and former French Prime Minister Léon Blum; Slovenian socialist activist Andrej Gosar; Jewish Austrian socialist Robert Danneberg; and Austrian socialist (and later Interior Minister) Franz Olah. Kurt Schumacher, a leading German socialist politician, was imprisoned in various concentration camps for ten years, and left the camps severely ill, leading to the amputation of his leg in 1948 and ultimately his death in 1952; however, during that time he played an instrumental role in re-establishing the Social Democratic Party of Germany.


A memorial for Loge Liberté chérie, founded in November 1943 in Hut 6 of Emslandlager VII (KZ Esterwegen), one of two Masonic Lodges founded in a Nazi concentration camp.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that Freemasonry had “succumbed” to the Jews: “The general pacifistic paralysis of the national instinct of self-preservation begun by Freemasonry is then transmitted to the masses of society by the Jewish press.”[438] Within the Reich, however, the “threat” posed by Freemasons was not considered serious from the mid-1930s onwards.[439] Heydrich even established a Freemasonry museum—at which Eichmann spent some time early in his SD career[440]—for what he regarded as a “disappeared cult”.[441] Similarly, Hitler was happy to issue a proclamation on 27 April 1938 whose third point lifted restrictions on Party membership for former Freemasons, “provided the applicants had not served with the Lodge as high degree members.”[442] The Führer still maintained Freemasonry within his conspiratorial outlook,[443] but its adherents were not persecuted in a systematic fashion like groups such as the Jews.[439] Those Freemasons who were sent to concentration camps as political prisoners were forced to wear an inverted red triangle.[444]

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum believes that, “because many of the Freemasons who were arrested were also Jews and/or members of the political opposition, it is not known how many individuals were placed in Nazi concentration camps and/or were targeted only because they were Freemasons.”[445] However, the Grand Lodge of Scotland estimates the number of Freemasons executed between 80,000 and 200,000.[327]

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Refusing to pledge allegiance to the Nazi party or to serve in the military, roughly 12,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses were forced to wear a purple triangle and were placed in camps where they were given the option of renouncing their faith and submitting to the state’s authority. Between 2,500 and 5,000 were killed.[331] Historian Detlef Garbe, director of Hamburg’s Neuengamme Memorial, writes that “no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness.”[446]

Spanish Republicans

After losing the Spanish Civil War many republicans fled to France. With the subsequent fall of France, many were sent to concentration camps, particularly the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, where about 7000 died.[332][447]


Dr. Shimon Samuels, director for International Liaison of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, describes the acrimonious debate that exists between “specifists” and “universalists”. The former fear debasement of the Holocaust by invidious comparisons, while the latter places the Holocaust alongside non-Jewish experiences of mass extermination as part and parcel of the global context of genocide. Dr. Samuels considers the debate, ipso facto, to dishonour the memory of the respective victims of each genocide. In his words, “Each case is specific as a threshold phenomenon, while each also adds its unique memory as signposts along an incremental continuum of horror.”[448] Peter Novick argued, “A moment’s reflection makes clear that the notion of uniqueness is quite vacuous [… and], in practice, deeply offensive. What else can all of this possibly mean except ‘your catastrophe, unlike ours, is ordinary’.”[449]

Adam Jones, professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (Canada), believes that claims of uniqueness for the Holocaust have become less common since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.[450] In 1997, the publication of The Black Book of Communism led to further debate on the comparison between Soviet and Nazi crimes; the book argued that Nazi crimes were not very different from the Soviet ones, and that Nazi methods were to a significant extent adopted from Soviet methods;[451] in the course of the debate, the term “Red Holocaust” appeared in discourse.[452] Some scholars strongly dissent from this view.[453] In his controversial book,[454][455] The Holocaust Industry, Norman Finkelstein argues that the uniqueness theory does not figure within scholarship of the Nazi Holocaust.[further explanation needed] He writes that the reason these claims persist is because claims of Holocaust uniqueness also confer “unique entitlement” to Jews, and serve as “Israel’s prize alibi.”[further explanation needed] [456] Steven Katz of Boston University has argued that the Holocaust is the only genocide that has occurred in history, and he defines “Holocaust” to include only “the travail of European Jewry” and not other victims of the Nazis.[further explanation needed][457]


Nuremberg trials

Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg trials. The main target of the prosecution was Hermann Göring (at the left edge on the first row of benches), considered to be the most important surviving official in the Third Reich after Hitler’s death.

The Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the Allied forces after World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg, Germany. The first, and best known of these trials, described as “the greatest trial in history” by Norman Birkett, one of the British judges who presided over it,[458] was the trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). Held between 20 November 1945 and 1 October 1946,[459] the Tribunal tried 23 of the most important political and military leaders of the Third Reich (except for Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels, all of whom had committed suicide several months before).[460]

The International Military Tribunal was opened on November 19, 1945, in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg.[461][462] The first session was presided over by the Soviet judge, Nikitchenko. The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals and seven organizations – the leadership of the Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the “General Staff and High Command”, comprising several categories of senior military officers.[463] These organizations were to be declared “criminal” if found guilty.

The indictments were for: participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. The Tribunal passed out sentences ranging from acquittal to 10 to 15 years in prison, to life imprisonment, to death by hanging (standard drop method).

Creation of the state of Israel

There is debate as to whether the Holocaust was a key factor that led to the creation of the state of Israel as a homeland for the Jews. One writer argues that the “…establishment of the State of Israel would have been possible without the Holocaust due to the [actions of the] Zionist movement.”[464] Nevertheless, the “….Holocaust played an important role in the founding and long term visibility of the State of Israel in three respects: The Holocaust motivated large numbers of immigrants to move to the new country, providing the necessary population; secondly, the Holocaust enabled Israel to pressure Germany into supplying the economic base necessary to build infrastructure and support those immigrants; and finally, the Holocaust swayed world opinion so that the United Nations approved the State of Israel in 1948.”[464]


In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the Jewish Agency led by Chaim Weizmann submitted to the Allies a memorandum demanding reparations to Jews by Germany but it received no answer. In March 1951, a new request was made by Israel’s foreign minister Moshe Sharett which claimed global recompense to Israel of $1.5 billion based on the financial cost absorbed by Israel for the rehabilitation of 500,000 Jewish survivors. West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer accepted these terms and declared he was ready to negotiate other reparations. A Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany was opened in New York City by Nahum Goldmann in order to help with individual claims. After negotiations, the claim was reduced to a sum of $845 million in direct and indirect compensation to be paid over a period of 14 years.

Railcar manufactured by Maschinenfabrik Esslingen in the old train station of Jerusalem, shortly after delivery as part of the reparations agreement with Germany.

On 1952 Ben Gurion argued that the reparation demand was based on recovering as much Jewish property as possible “so that the murderers do not become the heirs as well”. His other argument was that the reparations were needed to finance the absorption and rehabilitation of the Holocaust survivors in Israel.[465]

In 1988, West Germany allocated another $125 million for reparations.[466] In 1999, many German industries such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens or BMW faced lawsuits for their role in the forced labour during World War II. In order to dismiss these lawsuits, Germany agreed to raise $5 billion of which Jewish forced laborers still alive could apply to receive a lump sum payment of between $2,500 and $7,500.[466] In 2012, Germany agreed to pay a new reparation of €772 million as a result of negotiations with Israel.[467]

In 2014, the SNCF, the French state-owned railway company, was compelled to allocate $60 million to American Jewish Holocaust survivors for its role in the transport of deportees to Germany, a sum equivalent to about $100,000 for each survivor.[468] This is despite the fact that SNCF was forced by German authorities to cooperate in providing transport for French Jews to the border and did not make any profit from this transport, according to Serge Klarsfeld, president of the organization Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France.[469]

These reparations were sometimes criticized in Israel where they were seen as “blood money”.[466] The American professor Norman Finkelstein wrote The Holocaust Industry to denounce how the American Jewish establishment exploits the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for political and financial gain, as well as to further the interests of Israel.[470] Some of the reparations money was subject to a fraud between 1993 and 2009, in which $57 million was diverted to people who were not eligible.[471]

Normandy Landings – D-Day – They Fought & Died for our Freedom

Normandy Landings –  D-Day


Rare D Day Footage In Colour


The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front.


Archive Video Of The D-Day Normandy Landings


Planning for the operation began in 1943. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. The weather on D-Day was far from ideal, but postponing would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the invasion planners had requirements for the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days in each month were deemed suitable. Hitler placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 British, US, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armoured divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beach. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled using specialised tanks.


Surviving D-Day Omaha Beach 1944 – Full Documentary


The Allies failed to achieve all of their goals on the first day. Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeux remained in German hands, and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until 21 July. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June. However, the operation gained a foothold that the Allies gradually expanded over the coming months. German casualties on D-Day were around 1,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. Museums, memorials, and war cemeteries in the area host many visitors each year.


Between 27 May and 4 June 1940, over 338,000 troops of the British Expeditionary Force and the French Army, trapped along the northern coast of France, were evacuated in the Dunkirk evacuation.[12] After the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began pressing for the creation of a second front in western Europe.[13] In late May 1942 the Soviet Union and United States made a joint announcement that a “… full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a second front in Europe in 1942.”[14] However, Churchill persuaded Roosevelt to postpone the promised invasion as, even with American help, the Allies did not have adequate forces for such a strike.[15]

Instead of an immediate return to France, the Western Allies staged offensives in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, where British troops were already stationed. By mid-1943, the North African Campaign had been won. The Allies then launched the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and Italy in September 1943. By then, Soviet forces were on the offensive and had won a major victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion within the next year was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943.[16] Initial planning was constrained by the number of available landing craft, most of which were already committed in the Mediterranean and Pacific.[17] At the Tehran Conference in November 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill promised Stalin that they would open the long-delayed second front in May 1944.[18]

Meeting of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), 1 February 1944. Front row: Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder; General Dwight D. Eisenhower; General Bernard Montgomery. Back row: Lieutenant General Omar Bradley; Admiral Bertram Ramsay; Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory; Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith

Four sites were considered for the landings: Brittany, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, and Pas de Calais. As Brittany and Cotentin are peninsulas, it would have been possible for the Germans to cut off the Allied advance at a relatively narrow isthmus, so these sites were rejected.[19] As the Pas de Calais is the closest point in continental Europe to Britain, the Germans considered it to be the most likely initial landing zone, so it was the most heavily fortified region.[20] But it offered few opportunities for expansion, as the area is bounded by numerous rivers and canals,[21] whereas landings on a broad front in Normandy would permit simultaneous threats against the port of Cherbourg, coastal ports further west in Brittany, and an overland attack towards Paris and eventually into Germany. Normandy was hence chosen as the landing site.[22] The most serious drawback of the Normandy coast—the lack of port facilities—would be overcome through the development of artificial Mulberry harbours.[23] A series of specialised tanks, nicknamed Hobart’s Funnies, were created to deal with conditions expected during the Normandy campaign, such as scaling sea walls and providing close support on the beach.[24]

The Allies planned to launch the invasion on 1 May 1944.[21] The initial draft of the plan was accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).[25] General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all of the land forces involved in the invasion.[26] On 31 December 1943, Eisenhower and Montgomery first saw the plan, which proposed amphibious landings by three divisions with two more divisions in support. The two generals immediately insisted that the scale of the initial invasion be expanded to five divisions, with airborne descents by three additional divisions, to allow operations on a wider front and speed up the capture of the port at Cherbourg.[27] The need to acquire or produce extra landing craft for the expanded operation meant that the invasion had to be delayed to June.[27] Eventually, thirty-nine Allied divisions would be committed to the Battle of Normandy: twenty-two American, twelve British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totalling over a million troops[28] all under overall British command.[29]


Operation Overlord was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent. The first phase, the amphibious invasion and establishment of a secure foothold, was codenamed Operation Neptune.[23] To gain the air superiority needed to ensure a successful invasion, the Allies undertook a bombing campaign (codenamed Operation Pointblank) that targeted German aircraft production, fuel supplies, and airfields.[23] Elaborate deceptions, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, were undertaken in the months leading up to the invasion to prevent the Germans from learning the timing and location of the invasion.[30]

The landings were to be preceded by airborne landings near Caen on the eastern flank to secure the Orne River bridges and north of Carentan on the western flank. The Americans, assigned to land at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, were to attempt to capture Carentan and St. Lô the first day, then cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and eventually capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword Beach and Gold Beach and Canadians at Juno Beach would protect the American flank and attempt to establish airfields near Caen. A secure lodgement would be established and an attempt made to hold all territory north of the AvranchesFalaise line within the first three weeks.[31][32] Montgomery envisaged a ninety-day battle, lasting until all Allied forces reached the Seine.[33]

Deception plans

Shoulder patches were designed for units of the fictitious First United States Army Group under Patton.

Under the overall umbrella of Operation Bodyguard, the Allies conducted several subsidiary operations designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the Allied landings.[34] Operation Fortitude included Fortitude North, a misinformation campaign using fake radio traffic to lead the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway,[35] and Fortitude South, a major deception involving the creation of a fictitious First United States Army Group under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex. Fortitude South was intended to deceive the Germans into believing that the main attack would take place at Calais.[30][36] Genuine radio messages from 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast, to give Germans the impression that most of the Allied troops were stationed there.[37] Patton was stationed in England until 6 July, thus continuing to deceive the Germans into believing a second attack would take place at Calais.[38]

Many of the German radar stations on the French coast were destroyed in preparation for the landings.[39] In addition, on the night before the invasion, a small group of Special Air Service (SAS) operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny. These dummies led the Germans to believe that an additional airborne landing had occurred. On that same night, in Operation Taxable, No. 617 Squadron RAF dropped strips of “window”, metal foil that caused a radar return which was mistakenly interpreted by German radar operators as a naval convoy near Le Havre. The illusion was bolstered by a group of small craft towing barrage balloons. A similar deception was undertaken near Boulogne-sur-Mer in the Pas de Calais area by No. 218 Squadron RAF in Operation Glimmer.[40][2]


The invasion planners determined a set of conditions involving the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that would be satisfied on only a few days in each month. A full moon was desirable, as it would provide illumination for aircraft pilots and have the highest tides. The Allies wanted to schedule the landings for shortly before dawn, midway between low and high tide, with the tide coming in. This would improve the visibility of obstacles on the beach, while minimising the amount of time the men would be exposed in the open.[41] Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault. However, on 4 June, conditions were unsuitable for a landing: high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft, and low clouds would prevent aircraft from finding their targets.[42]

Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force (RAF) met Eisenhower on the evening of 4 June. He and his meteorological team predicted that the weather would improve enough for the invasion to proceed on 6 June.[43] The next available dates with the required tidal conditions (but without the desirable full moon) would be two weeks later, from 18 to 20 June. Postponement of the invasion would have required recalling men and ships already in position to cross the Channel, and would have increased the chance that the invasion plans would be detected.[44] After much discussion with the other senior commanders, Eisenhower decided that the invasion should go ahead on the 6th.[45] A major storm battered the Normandy coast from 19 to 22 June, which would have made the beach landings impossible.[42]

Allied control of the Atlantic meant German meteorologists had less information than the Allies on incoming weather patterns.[39] As the Luftwaffe meteorological centre in Paris was predicting two weeks of stormy weather, many Wehrmacht commanders left their posts to attend war games in Rennes, and men in many units were given leave.[46] Field Marshal Erwin Rommel returned to Germany for his wife’s birthday and to meet Hitler to try to obtain more Panzers.[47]

German order of battle

Nazi Germany had at its disposal fifty divisions in France and the Low Countries, with another eighteen stationed in Denmark and Norway. Fifteen divisions were in the process of formation in Germany.[48] Combat losses throughout the war, particularly on the Eastern Front, meant that the Germans no longer had a pool of able young men from which to draw. German soldiers were now on average six years older than their Allied counterparts. Many in the Normandy area were Ostlegionen (eastern legions) – conscripts and volunteers from Russia, Mongolia, and elsewhere. They were provided mainly with unreliable captured equipment and lacked motorised transport.[49] Many German units were under strength.[50]

German Supreme commander: Adolf Hitler

Cotentin Peninsula

Allied forces attacking Utah Beach faced the following German units stationed on the Cotentin Peninsula:

Grandcamps Sector

German troops using captured French tanks (Beutepanzer) in Normandy, 1944

Americans assaulting Omaha Beach were faced the following troops:

  • 352nd Infanterie-Division logo.jpg 352nd Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss, a full-strength unit of around 12,000 brought in by Rommel on 15 March and reinforced by two additional regiments.[53]
    • 914th Grenadier Regiment[54]
    • 915th Grenadier Regiment (as reserves)[54]
    • 916th Grenadier Regiment[54]
    • 726th Infantry Regiment (from 716th Infantry Division)[54]
    • 352nd Artillery Regiment[54]

Allied forces at Gold and Juno faced the following elements of the 352nd Infantry Division:

  • 914th Grenadier Regiment[55]
  • 915th Grenadier Regiment[55]
  • 916th Grenadier Regiment[55]
  • 352nd Artillery Regiment[55]

Forces around Caen

Allied forces attacking Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches faced the following German units:

Atlantic Wall

Main articles: Atlantic Wall and English Channel

Map of the Atlantic Wall, shown in green

  German Reich and Axis powers
  Neutral countries

Alarmed by the raids on St Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942, Hitler had ordered the construction of fortifications all along the Atlantic coast, from Spain to Norway, to protect against an expected Allied invasion. He envisioned 15,000 emplacements manned by 300,000 troops, but shortages, particularly of concrete and manpower, meant that most of the strongpoints were never built.[59] As it was expected to be the site of the invasion, the Pas de Calais was heavily defended.[59] In the Normandy area, the best fortifications were concentrated at the port facilities at Cherbourg and Saint-Malo.[27] Rommel was assigned to oversee the construction of further fortifications along the expected invasion front, which stretched from the Netherlands to Cherbourg,[59][60] and was given command of the newly re-formed Army Group B, which included the 7th Army, the 15th Army, and the forces guarding the Netherlands. Reserves for this group included the 2nd, 21st, and 116th Panzer divisions.[61][62]

Rommel believed that the Normandy coast could be a possible landing point for the invasion, so he ordered the construction of extensive defensive works along that shore. In addition to concrete gun emplacements at strategic points along the coast, he ordered wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and large anti-tank obstacles to be placed on the beaches to delay the approach of landing craft and impede the movement of tanks.[63] Expecting the Allies to land at high tide so that the infantry would spend less time exposed on the beach, he ordered many of these obstacles to be placed at the high water mark.[41] Tangles of barbed wire, booby traps, and the removal of ground cover made the approach hazardous for infantry.[63] On Rommel’s order, the number of mines along the coast was tripled.[27] The Allied air offensive over Germany had crippled the Luftwaffe and established air supremacy over western Europe, so Rommel knew he could not expect effective air support.[64] The Luftwaffe could muster only 815 aircraft[65] over Normandy in comparison to the Allies’ 9,543.[66] Rommel arranged for booby-trapped stakes known as Rommelspargel (Rommel’s asparagus) to be installed in meadows and fields to deter airborne landings.[27]

Armoured reserves

Rommel believed that Germany’s best chance was to stop the invasion at the shore. He requested that the mobile reserves, especially tanks, be stationed as close to the coast as possible. Rundstedt, Geyr, and other senior commanders objected. They believed that the invasion could not be stopped on the beaches. Geyr argued for a conventional doctrine: keeping the Panzer formations concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen and deploying them only when the main Allied beachhead had been identified. He also noted that, in the Italian Campaign, the armoured units stationed near the coast had been damaged by naval bombardment. Rommel’s opinion was that, because of Allied air supremacy, the large-scale movement of tanks would not be possible once the invasion was under way. Hitler made the final decision, which was to leave three Panzer divisions under Geyr’s command and give Rommel operational control of three more as reserves. Hitler took personal control of four divisions as strategic reserves, not to be used without his direct orders.[67][68][69]

Allied order of battle

D-day assault routes into Normandy

Commander, SHAEF: General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Commander, 21st Army Group: General Bernard Montgomery[70]

American zones

Commander, First Army (United States): General Omar Bradley[70]

The First Army contingent totalled approximately 73,000 men, including 15,600 from the airborne divisions.


D-Day – Omaha/Utah Beach


Utah Beach


Omaha beach amazing real pictures


Omaha Beach

British and Canadian zones

Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Infantry Division move inland from Sword Beach, 6 June 1944.

Commander, Second Army (Britain and Canada): Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey[70]

Overall, the Second Army contingent consisted of 83,115 men, 61,715 of them British.[11] The nominally British air and naval support units included a large number of personnel from Allied nations, including several RAF squadrons manned almost exclusively by overseas air crew. For example, the Australian contribution to the operation included a regular Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron, nine Article XV squadrons, and hundreds of personnel posted to RAF units and RN warships.[74] The RAF supplied two-thirds of the aircraft involved in the invasion.[75]


D-Day Gold Beach WWII British Landing Beach Normandy France


Gold Beach


WW2: Juno Beach


Juno Beach


D-Day revisited: assault on Sword Beach


Sword Beach

Some elements of the 79th Armoured Division (commanded by Major General Percy Hobart[79]) provided specialised armoured vehicles which supported the landings on all beaches in Second Army’s sector.

Coordination with the French Resistance

French Resistance members and Allied paratroopers discuss the situation during the Battle of Normandy in 1944

Through the London-based État-major des Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (French Forces of the Interior), the British Special Operations Executive orchestrated a massive campaign of sabotage to be implemented by the French Resistance. The Allies developed four plans for the Resistance to execute on D-Day and the following days:

  • Plan Vert was a 15-day operation to sabotage the rail system.
  • Plan Bleu dealt with destroying electrical facilities.
  • Plan Tortue was a delaying operation aimed at the enemy forces that would potentially reinforce Axis forces at Normandy.
  • Plan Violet dealt with cutting underground telephone and teleprinter cables.[80]

The resistance was alerted to carry out these tasks by messages personnels transmitted by the BBC’s French service from London. Several hundred of these messages, which might be snatches of poetry, quotations from literature, or random sentences, were regularly transmitted, masking the few that were actually significant. In the weeks preceding the landings, lists of messages and their meanings were distributed to resistance groups.[81] An increase in radio activity on 5 June was correctly interpreted by German intelligence to mean that an invasion was imminent or underway. However, because of the barrage of previous false warnings and misinformation, most units ignored the warning.[82][83]

A 1965 report from the Counter-insurgency Information Analysis Center details the results of the French Resistance’s sabotage efforts: “In the southeast, 52 locomotives were destroyed on 6 June and the railway line cut in more than 500 places. Normandy was isolated as of 7 June.”[84]

Naval activity

Large landing craft convoy crosses the English Channel on 6 June 1944.

Naval operations for the invasion were described by historian Correlli Barnett as a “never surpassed masterpiece of planning”.[85] In overall command was British Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who had served as Flag officer at Dover during the Dunkirk evacuation four years earlier. He had also been responsible for the naval planning of the invasion of North Africa in 1942, and one of the two fleets carrying troops for the invasion of Sicily the following year.[86]

The invasion fleet was drawn from eight different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels.[11] The majority of the fleet was supplied by the UK and Canada, who provided 892 warships and 3,261 landing craft.[75] There were 195,700 naval personnel involved.[11] The invasion fleet was split into the Western Naval Task Force (under Admiral Alan G Kirk) supporting the American sectors and the Eastern Naval Task Force (under Admiral Sir Philip Vian) in the British and Canadian sectors.[87][86] Available to the fleet were five battleships, twenty cruisers, sixty-five destroyers, and two monitors.[88] German ships in the area on D-Day included three torpedo boats, twenty-nine fast attack craft, thirty-six R boats, and thirty-six minesweepers and patrol boats.[89] The Germans also had several U-boats available, and all the approaches had been heavily mined.[41]

Naval losses

At 05:10, four German torpedo boats reached the Eastern Task Force and launched fifteen torpedoes, sinking the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Svenner off Sword beach but missing the battleships HMS Warspite and Ramillies. After firing, the German vessels turned away and fled east into a smoke screen that had been laid by the RAF to shield the fleet from the long-range battery at Le Havre.[90] Allied losses to mines included USS Corry off Utah and USS PC-1261, a 173-foot patrol craft.[91] In addition, many landing craft were lost.[92]


Main article: Bombing of Normandy

Map of the invasion area showing channels cleared of mines, location of vessels engaged in bombardment, and targets on shore

Bombing of Normandy began around midnight with over 2,200 British and American bombers attacking targets along the coast and further inland.[41] The coastal bombing attack was largely ineffective at Omaha, because low cloud cover made the assigned targets difficult to see. Concerned about inflicting casualties on their own troops, many bombers delayed their attacks too long and failed to hit the beach defences.[93] The Germans had 570 aircraft stationed in Normandy and the Low Countries on D-Day, and another 964 in Germany.[41]

Minesweepers began clearing channels for the invasion fleet shortly after midnight and finished just after dawn without encountering the enemy.[94] The Western Task Force included the battleships Arkansas, Nevada, and Texas, plus eight cruisers, twenty-eight destroyers, and one monitor.[95] The Eastern Task Force included the battleships HMS Ramillies and Warspite and the monitor HMS Roberts, twelve cruisers, and thirty-seven destroyers.[6] Naval bombardment of areas behind the beach commenced at 05:45, while it was still dark, with the gunners switching to pre-assigned targets on the beach as soon as it was light enough to see, at 05:50.[96] Since troops were scheduled to land at Utah and Omaha starting at 06:30 (an hour earlier than the British beaches), these areas received only about 40 minutes of naval bombardment before the assault troops began to land on the shore.[97] Some of the landing craft had been modified to provide close support fire, and self-propelled amphibious Duplex-Drive tanks (DD tanks), specially designed for the Normandy landings, were to land shortly before the infantry to provide covering fire. However, few arrived in advance of the infantry, and many sank before reaching the shore, especially at Omaha.[98][99]

The landings

Airborne operations

The success of the amphibious landings depended on the establishment of a secure lodgement from which to expand the beachhead to allow the buildup of a well-supplied force capable of breaking out. The amphibious forces were especially vulnerable to strong enemy counter-attacks before the buildup of sufficient forces in the beachhead could be accomplished. To slow or eliminate the enemy’s ability to organise and launch counter-attacks during this critical period, airborne operations were used to seize key objectives such as bridges, road crossings, and terrain features, particularly on the eastern and western flanks of the landing areas. The airborne landings some distance behind the beaches were also intended to ease the egress of the amphibious forces off the beaches, and in some cases to neutralise German coastal defence batteries and more quickly expand the area of the beachhead.[100][101]

The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were assigned to objectives west of Utah Beach, where they hoped to capture and control the few narrow causeways through terrain that had been intentionally flooded by the Germans. Reports from Allied intelligence in mid-May of the arrival of the German 91st Infantry Division meant the intended drop zones had to be shifted eastward and to the south.[102] The British 6th Airborne Division, on the eastern flank, was assigned to capture intact the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne, destroy five bridges over the Dives 6 miles (9.7 km) to the east, and destroy the Merville Gun Battery overlooking Sword Beach.[103] Free French paratroopers from the British SAS Brigade were assigned to objectives in Brittany from 5 June through August in Operations Dingson, Samwest, and Cooney.[104][105]

BBC war correspondent Robert Barr described the scene as paratroopers prepared to board their aircraft:

Their faces were darkened with cocoa; sheathed knives were strapped to their ankles; tommy guns strapped to their waists; bandoliers and hand grenades, coils of rope, pick handles, spades, rubber dinghies hung around them, and a few personal oddments, like the lad who was taking a newspaper to read on the plane … There was an easy familiar touch about the way they were getting ready, as though they had done it often before. Well, yes, they had kitted up and climbed aboard often just like this – twenty, thirty, forty times some of them, but it had never been quite like this before. This was the first combat jump for every one of them.[106]

American airborne landings

Gliders are delivered to the Cotentin Peninsula by Douglas C-47 Skytrains. 6 June 1944.

The American airborne landings began with the arrival of pathfinders at 00:15. Navigation was difficult because of a bank of thick cloud, and as a result only one of the five paratrooper drop zones was accurately marked with radar signals and Aldis lamps.[107] Paratroopers of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, numbering over 13,000 men, were delivered by Douglas C-47 Skytrains of the IX Troop Carrier Command.[108] To avoid flying over the invasion fleet, the planes arrived from the west over the Cotentin Peninsula and exited over Utah Beach.[109][107]

Paratroops from 101st Airborne were dropped beginning around 01:30, tasked with controlling the causeways behind Utah Beach and destroying road and rail bridges over the Douve River.[110] The C-47s could not fly in a tight formation because of thick cloud cover, and many paratroopers were dropped far from their intended landing zones. Many planes came in so low that they were under fire from both flak and machine gun fire. Some paratroopers were killed on impact when their parachutes did not have time to open, and others drowned in the flooded fields.[111] Gathering together into fighting units was made difficult by a shortage of radios and by the bocage terrain, with its hedgerows, stone walls, and marshes.[112][113] Some units did not arrive at their targets until afternoon, by which time several of the causeways had already been cleared by members of the 4th Infantry Division moving up from the beach.[114]

Troops of the 82nd Airborne began arriving around 02:30, with the primary objective of capturing two bridges over the River Merderet and destroying two bridges over the Douve.[110] On the east side of the river, 75 per cent of the paratroopers landed in or near their drop zone, and within two hours they captured the important crossroads at Sainte-Mère-Église (the first town liberated in the invasion[115]) and began working to protect the western flank.[116] Because of the failure of the pathfinders to accurately mark their drop zone, the two regiments dropped on the west side of the Merderet were extremely scattered, with only four per cent landing in the target area.[116] Many landed in nearby swamps, with much loss of life.[117] Paratroopers consolidated into small groups, usually a combination of men of various ranks from different units, and attempted to concentrate on nearby objectives.[118] They captured but failed to hold the Merderet River bridge at La Fière, and fighting for the crossing continued for several days.[119]

Reinforcements arrived by glider around 04:00 (Mission Chicago and Mission Detroit), and 21:00 (Mission Keokuk and Mission Elmira), bringing additional troops and heavy equipment. Like the paratroopers, many landed far from their drop zones.[120] Even those that landed on target experienced difficulty, with heavy cargo such as Jeeps shifting during landing, crashing through the wooden fuselage, and in some cases crushing personnel on board.[121]

After 24 hours, only 2,500 men of the 101st and 2,000 of the 82nd Airborne were under the control of their divisions, approximately a third of the force dropped. This wide dispersal had the effect of confusing the Germans and fragmenting their response.[122] The 7th Army received notification of the parachute drops at 01:20, but Rundstedt did not initially believe that a major invasion was underway. The destruction of radar stations along the Normandy coast in the week before the invasion meant that the Germans did not detect the approaching fleet until 02:00.[123]

British and Canadian airborne landings

Main article: Operation Tonga

An abandoned Waco CG-4 glider is examined by German troops.

The first Allied action of D-Day was Operation Deadstick, a glider assault at 00:16 at Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal and the bridge (since renamed Horsa Bridge) over the Orne, half a mile (800 metres) to the east. Both bridges were quickly captured intact, with light casualties, by members of the 5th Parachute Brigade and the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion.[124][125] The five bridges over the Dives were destroyed with minimal difficulty by the 3rd Parachute Brigade.[126][127] Meanwhile, the pathfinders tasked with setting up radar beacons and lights for further paratroopers (scheduled to begin arriving at 00:50 to clear the landing zone north of Ranville) were blown off course, and had to set up the navigation aids too far east. Many paratroopers, also blown too far east, landed far from their intended drop zones; some took hours or even days to be reunited with their units.[128][129] Major General Richard Gale arrived in the third wave of gliders at 03:30, along with equipment, such as antitank guns and jeeps, and more troops to help secure the area from counter-attacks, which were initially staged only by troops in the immediate vicinity of the landings.[130] At 02:00, the commander of the German 716th Infantry Division ordered Feuchtinger to move his 21st Panzer Division into position to counter-attack. However, as the division was part of the armoured reserve, Feuchtinger was obliged to seek clearance from OKW before he could commit his formation.[131] Feuchtinger did not receive orders until nearly 09:00, but in the meantime on his own initiative he put together a battle group (including tanks) to fight the British forces east of the Orne.[132]

Only 160 men out of the 600 members of the 9th Battalion tasked with eliminating the enemy battery at Merville arrived at the rendezvous point. Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway, in charge of the operation, decided to proceed regardless, as the emplacement had to be destroyed by 06:00 to prevent it firing on the invasion fleet and the troops arriving on Sword Beach. In the Battle of Merville Gun Battery, Allied forces disabled the guns at a cost of 75 casualties. The emplacement was found to contain 75 mm guns rather than the expected 150 mm heavy coastal artillery.[133]

With this action, the last of the D-Day goals of the British 6th Airborne Division was achieved.[134] They were reinforced at 12:00 by commandos of the 1st Special Service Brigade, who landed on Sword Beach, and by the 6th Airlanding Brigade, who arrived in gliders at 21:00 in Operation Mallard.[135]

Utah Beach

Main article: Utah Beach

Carrying full equipment, American assault troops move onto Utah Beach. Landing craft can be seen in the background.

Utah Beach was in the area defended by two battalions of the 919th Grenadier Regiment.[136] Members of the 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division were the first to land, arriving at 06:30. Their landing craft were pushed to the south by strong currents, and they found themselves about 2,000 yards (1.8 km) from their intended landing zone. This site turned out to be better, as there was only one strongpoint nearby rather than two, and bombers of IX Bomber Command had bombed the defences from lower than their prescribed altitude, inflicting considerable damage. In addition, the strong currents had washed ashore many of the underwater obstacles. The assistant commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the first senior officer ashore, made the decision to “start the war from right here”, and ordered further landings to be re-routed.[137][138]

The initial assault battalions were quickly followed by 28 DD tanks and several waves of engineer and demolition teams to remove beach obstacles and clear the area directly behind the beach of obstacles and mines. Gaps were blown in the sea wall to allow quicker access for troops and tanks. Combat teams began to exit the beach at around 09:00, with some infantry wading through the flooded fields rather than travelling on the single road. They skirmished throughout the day with elements of the 919th Grenadier Regiment, who were armed with antitank guns and rifles. The main strongpoint in the area and another 1,300 yards (1.2 km) to the south were disabled by noon.[139] The 4th Infantry Division did not meet all of their D-Day objectives at Utah Beach, partly because they had arrived too far to the south, but they landed 21,000 troops at the cost of only 197 casualties.[140][141]

Pointe du Hoc

Main article: Pointe du Hoc

Rangers scaling the wall at Pointe du Hoc.

Pointe du Hoc, a prominent headland situated between Utah and Omaha, was assigned to two hundred men of 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder. Their task was to scale the 30-metre (98 ft) cliffs with grappling hooks, ropes, and ladders to destroy the coastal gun battery located at the top. The cliffs were defended by the German 352nd Infantry Division and French collaborators firing from above.[142] Allied destroyers Satterlee and Talybont provided fire support. After scaling the cliffs, the Rangers discovered that the guns had already been withdrawn. They located the weapons, unguarded but ready to use, in an orchard some 550 metres (600 yd) south of the point, and disabled them with explosives.[142]

The now-isolated Rangers fended off numerous counter-attacks from the German 914th Grenadier Regiment. The men at the point became isolated and some were captured. By dawn on D+1, Rudder had only 90 men able to fight. Relief did not arrive until D+2, when members of the 743rd Tank Battalion and others arrived.[143][144] By then, Rudder’s men had run out of ammunition and were using captured German weapons. Several men were killed as a result, because the German weapons made a distinctive noise, and the men were mistaken for the enemy.[145] By the end of the battle, the Rangers casualties were 135 dead and wounded, while German casualties were 50 killed and 40 captured. An unknown number of French collaborators were executed.[146][147]

Omaha Beach

Main article: Omaha Beach

Assault troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944.

Omaha, the most heavily defended beach, was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division.[148] They faced the 352nd Infantry Division rather than the expected single regiment.[149] Strong currents forced many landing craft east of their intended position or caused them to be delayed.[150] For fear of hitting the landing craft, American bombers delayed releasing their loads and, as a result, most of the beach obstacles at Omaha remained undamaged when the men came ashore.[151] Many of the landing craft ran aground on sandbars and the men had to wade 50 to 100 yards (46 to 91 m) in water up to their necks while under fire to get to the beach.[99] In spite of the rough seas, DD tanks of two companies of the 741st Tank Battalion were dropped 5,000 yards (4,600 m) from shore, and 27 of the 32 flooded and sank, with the loss of 33 crew.[152] Some tanks, disabled on the beach, continued to provide covering fire until their ammunition ran out or they were swamped by the rising tide.[153]

Casualties were around 2,000, as the men were subjected to fire from the cliffs above.[154] Problems clearing the beach of obstructions led to the beachmaster calling a halt to further landings of vehicles at 08:30. A group of destroyers arrived around this time to provide fire support so landings could resume.[155] Exit from the beach was possible only via five heavily defended gullies, and by late morning barely 600 men had reached the higher ground.[156] By noon, as the artillery fire took its toll and the Germans started to run out of ammunition, the Americans were able to clear some lanes on the beaches. They also started clearing the gullies of enemy defences so that vehicles could move off the beach.[156] The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the D-Day objectives for Omaha were accomplished by D+3.[157]

Gold Beach

Main article: Gold Beach

British troops come ashore at Jig Green sector, Gold Beach.

At Gold, high winds made conditions difficult for the landing craft, and the amphibious DD tanks were released close to shore or directly on the beach instead of further out as planned.[158] Three of the four guns in a large emplacement at the Longues-sur-Mer battery were disabled by direct hits from the cruisers Ajax and Argonaut at 06:20. The fourth gun resumed firing intermittently in the afternoon, and its garrison surrendered on 7 June.[159] Aerial attacks had failed to hit the Le Hamel strongpoint, which had its embrasure facing east to provide enfilade fire along the beach and had a thick concrete wall on the seaward side.[160] Its 75 mm gun continued to do damage until 16:00, when a modified Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) tank fired a large petard charge into its rear entrance.[161][162] A second casemated emplacement at La Rivière containing an 88 mm gun was neutralised by a tank at 07:30.[163]

Meanwhile, infantry began clearing the heavily fortified houses along the shore and advanced on targets further inland.[164] The No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando moved toward the small port at Port-en-Bessin and captured it the following day in the Battle of Port-en-Bessin.[165] Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis received the only Victoria Cross awarded on D-Day for his actions while attacking two pillboxes at the Mont Fleury high point.[166] On the western flank, the 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment captured Arromanches (future site of Mulberry “B”), and contact was made on the eastern flank with the Canadian forces at Juno.[167] Bayeux was not captured the first day due to stiff resistance from the 352nd Infantry Division.[164] Allied casualties at Gold Beach are estimated at 1,000.[11]

Juno Beach

Main article: Juno Beach

Personnel of Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando “W” land on Mike Beach sector of Juno Beach, 6 June 1944.

The landing at Juno was delayed because of choppy seas, and the men arrived ahead of their supporting armour, suffering many casualties while disembarking. Most of the offshore bombardment had missed the German defences.[168] Several exits from the beach were created, but not without difficulty. At Mike Beach on the western flank, a large crater was filled using an abandoned AVRE tank and several rolls of fascine, which were then covered by a temporary bridge. The tank remained in place until 1972, when it was removed and restored by members of the Royal Engineers.[169] The beach and nearby streets were clogged with traffic for most of the day, making it difficult to move inland.[92]

Major German strongpoints with 75 mm guns, machine-gun nests, concrete fortifications, barbed wire, and mines were located at Courseulles-sur-Mer, St Aubin-sur-Mer, and Bernières-sur-Mer.[170] The towns themselves also had to be cleared in house-to-house fighting.[171] Soldiers on their way to Bény-sur-Mer, 3 miles (5 km) inland, discovered that the road was well covered by machine gun emplacements that had to be outflanked before the advance could proceed.[172] Elements of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade advanced to within sight of the Carpiquet airfield late in the afternoon, but by this time their supporting armour was low on ammunition so the Canadians dug in for the night. The airfield was not captured until a month later as the area became the scene of fierce fighting.[173] By nightfall, the contiguous Juno and Gold beachheads covered an area 12 miles (19 km) wide and 7 miles (10 km) deep.[174] Casualties at Juno were 961 men.[175]

Sword Beach

Main article: Sword Beach

British troops take cover after landing on Sword Beach.

On Sword, 21 of 25 DD tanks of the first wave made it safely ashore to provide cover for the infantry, who began disembarking at 07:30.[176] The beach was heavily mined and peppered with obstacles, making the work of the beach clearing teams difficult and dangerous.[177] In the windy conditions, the tide came in more quickly than expected, so manoeuvring the armour was difficult. The beach quickly became congested.[178] Brigadier Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat and his 1st Special Service Brigade arrived in the second wave, piped ashore by Private Bill Millin, Lovat’s personal piper.[179] Members of No. 4 Commando moved through Ouistreham to attack from the rear a German gun battery on the shore. A concrete observation and control tower at this emplacement had to be bypassed and was not captured until several days later.[180] French forces under Commander Philippe Kieffer (the first French soldiers to arrive in Normandy) attacked and cleared the heavily fortified strongpoint at the casino at Riva Bella, with the aid of one of the DD tanks.[180]

The ‘Morris’ strongpoint near Colleville-sur-Mer was captured after about an hour of fighting.[178] The nearby ‘Hillman’ strongpoint, headquarters of the 736th Infantry Regiment, was a large complex defensive work that had come through the morning’s bombardment essentially undamaged. It was not captured until 20:15.[181] The 2nd Battalion, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry began advancing to Caen on foot, coming within a few kilometres of the town, but had to withdraw due to lack of armour support.[182] At 16:00, the 21st Panzer Division mounted a counter-attack between Sword and Juno and nearly succeeded in reaching the Channel. It met stiff resistance from the British 3rd Division and was soon recalled to assist in the area between Caen and Bayeux.[183][184] Estimates of Allied casualties on Sword Beach are as high as 1,000.[11]


Situation map for 24:00, 6 June 1944

The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating.[185] Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day,[29] with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June.[186] Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.[187] The Germans lost 1,000 men.[188] The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches (other than Utah) linked with a front line 10 to 16 kilometres (6 to 10 mi) from the beaches; none of these objectives were achieved.[32] The five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June, by which time the Allies held a front around 97 kilometres (60 mi) long and 24 kilometres (15 mi) deep.[189] Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day and would not be completely captured until 21 July.[190] The Germans had ordered French civilians, other than those deemed essential to the war effort, to leave potential combat zones in Normandy.[191] Civilian casualties on D-Day and D+1 are estimated at 3,000 people.[192]

Victory in Normandy stemmed from several factors. German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only partially finished; shortly before D-Day Rommel reported that construction was only 18 per cent complete in some areas as resources were diverted elsewhere.[193] The deceptions undertaken in Operation Fortitude were successful, leaving the Germans obligated to defend a huge stretch of coastline.[194] The Allies achieved and maintained air supremacy, which meant that the Germans were unable to make observations of the preparations underway in Britain and were unable to interfere via bomber attacks.[195] Transportation infrastructure in France was severely disrupted by Allied bombers and the French Resistance, making it difficult for the Germans to bring up reinforcements and supplies.[196] Some of the opening bombardment was off-target or not concentrated enough to have any impact,[151] but the specialised armour worked well except on Omaha, providing close artillery support for the troops as they disembarked onto the beaches.[197] Indecisiveness and an overly complicated command structure on the part of the German high command were also factors in the Allied success.[198]

War memorials and tourism

The La Cambe German war cemetery, near Bayeux

At Omaha Beach, parts of the Mulberry harbour are still visible, and a few of the beach obstacles remain. A memorial to the American National Guard sits at the location of a former German strongpoint. Pointe du Hoc is little changed from 1944, with the terrain covered with bomb craters and most of the concrete bunkers still in place. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is nearby, in Colleville-sur-Mer.[199] A museum about the Utah landings is located at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, and there is one dedicated to the activities of the American airmen at Sainte-Mère-Église. Two German military cemeteries are located nearby.[200]

Pegasus Bridge, a target of the British 6th Airborne, was the site of some of the earliest action of the Normandy landings. The bridge was replaced in 1994 by one similar in appearance, and the original is now housed on the grounds of a nearby museum complex.[201] Sections of Mulberry Harbour B still sit in the sea at Arromanches, and the well-preserved Longues-sur-Mer battery is nearby.[202] The Juno Beach Centre, opened in 2003, was funded by the Canadian federal and provincial governments, France, and Canadian veterans

World War I – Chemical Weapons – History & Background

Chemical weapons in World War I


Chemical Weapons in World War I


Chemical weapons in World War I were primarily used to demoralize, injure, and kill entrenched defenders, against whom the indiscriminate and generally slow-moving or static nature of gas clouds would be most effective. The types of weapons employed ranged from disabling chemicals, such as tear gas and the severe mustard gas, to lethal agents like phosgene and chlorine. This chemical warfare was a major component of the first global war and first total war of the 20th century. The killing capacity of gas was limited, with four percent of combat deaths caused by gas. Gas was unlike most other weapons of the period because it was possible to develop effective countermeasures, such as gas masks. In the later stages of the war, as the use of gas increased, its overall effectiveness diminished. The widespread use of these agents of chemical warfare, and wartime advances in the composition of high explosives, gave rise to an occasionally expressed view of World War I as “the chemists’ war”.[1][2]

The use of poison gas performed by all major belligerents throughout World War I constituted war crimes as its use violated the 1899 Hague Declaration Concerning Asphyxiating Gases and the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare, which prohibited the use of “poison or poisoned weapons” in warfare.

History of poison gas in World War

1914: Tear gas

The earliest military uses of chemicals were tear-inducing irritants rather than fatal or disabling poisons. During the first World War, the French army was the first to employ gas, using 26 mm grenades filled with tear gas (ethyl bromoacetate) in August 1914. The small quantities of gas delivered, roughly 19 cm³ per cartridge, were not even detected by the Germans. The stocks were rapidly consumed and by November a new order was placed by the French military. As bromine was scarce among the Entente allies, the active ingredient was changed to chloroacetone.[5]

In October 1914, German troops fired fragmentation shells filled with a chemical irritant against British positions at Neuve Chapelle, though the concentration achieved was so small that it was barely noticed.[6] None of the combatants considered the use of tear gas to be a conflict with the Hague Treaty of 1899, which prohibited the launching of projectiles containing asphyxiating or poisonous gas.[7]

1915: Large-scale use and lethal gases

The first instance of large-scale use of gas as a weapon was on 31 January 1915, when Germany fired 18,000 artillery shells containing liquid xylyl bromide tear gas on Russian positions on the Rawka River, west of Warsaw during the Battle of Bolimov. However, instead of vaporizing, the chemical froze and failed to have the desired effect.[6]

The first killing agent employed by the German military was chlorine. Chlorine is a powerful irritant that can inflict damage to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. At high concentrations and prolonged exposure it can cause death by asphyxiation.[8] German chemical companies BASF, Hoechst and Bayer (which formed the IG Farben conglomerate in 1925) had been producing chlorine as a by-product of their dye manufacturing.[9] In cooperation with Fritz Haber of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin, they began developing methods of discharging chlorine gas against enemy trenches.[10][11]

According to the fieldpost letter of Major Karl von Zingler, the first chlorine gas attack by German forces took place before 2 January 1915: “In other war theaters it does not go better and it has been said that our Chlorine is very effective. 140 English officers have been killed. This is a horrible weapon …”.


Gas warfare in the First World War


By 22 April 1915, the German Army had 168 tons of chlorine deployed in 5,730 cylinders from Langemark–Poelkapelle, north of Ypres. At 17:30, in a slight easterly breeze, the gas was released, forming a gray-green cloud that drifted across positions held by French Colonial troops from Martinique who broke ranks, abandoning their trenches and creating an 8,000-yard (7 km) gap in the Allied line. However, the German infantry were also wary of the gas and, lacking reinforcements, failed to exploit the break before the 1st Canadian Division and assorted French troops reformed the line in scattered, hastily prepared positions 1,000–3,000 yards (910–2,740 m) apart.[6] The Entente governments quickly claimed the attack was a flagrant violation of international law but Germany argued that the Hague treaty had only banned chemical shells, rather than the use of gas projectors.


WW1: Chemical Warfare


In what became the Second Battle of Ypres, the Germans used gas on three more occasions; on 24 April against the 1st Canadian Division,[14] on 2 May near Mouse Trap Farm and on 5 May against the British at Hill 60.[15] The British Official History stated that at Hill 60, “90 men died from gas poisoning in the trenches or before they could be got to a dressing station; of the 207 brought to the nearest dressing stations, 46 died almost immediately and 12 after long suffering.”[16]

On August 6, German troops used chlorine gas against Russian troops defending the Fortress of Osowiec. Surviving defenders drove back the attack and successfully retained the fortress.

Germany used chemical weapons on the eastern front in an attack at Rawka, south of Warsaw. The Russian army took 9,000 casualties, with more than 1,000 fatalities. In response, the artillery branch of the Russian army organized a commission to study the delivery of poison gas in shells.[17]

Effectiveness and countermeasures

British emplacement after German gas attack (probably phosgene)

It quickly became evident that the men who stayed in their places suffered less than those who ran away, as any movement worsened the effects of the gas, and that those who stood up on the fire step suffered less—indeed they often escaped any serious effects—than those who lay down or sat at the bottom of a trench. Men who stood on the parapet suffered least, as the gas was denser near the ground. The worst sufferers were the wounded lying on the ground, or on stretchers, and the men who moved back with the cloud.[18] Chlorine was less effective as a weapon than the Germans had hoped, particularly as soon as simple countermeasures were introduced. The gas produced a visible greenish cloud and strong odour, making it easy to detect. It was water-soluble, so the simple expedient of covering the mouth and nose with a damp cloth was somewhat effective at reducing the effect of the gas. It was thought to be even more effective to use urine rather than water, as it was known at the time that chlorine reacted readily with urea (present in urine) to form dichloro urea.[19]

Chlorine required a concentration of 1,000 parts per million to be fatal, destroying tissue in the lungs, likely through the formation of hydrochloric acid when dissolved in the water in the lungs (2Cl2 + 2H2O → 4HCl + O2).[20] Despite its limitations, however, chlorine was an effective psychological weapon—the sight of an oncoming cloud of the gas was a continual source of dread for the infantry.[21]

Countermeasures were quickly introduced in response to the use of chlorine. The Germans issued their troops with small gauze pads filled with cotton waste, and bottles of a bicarbonate solution with which to dampen the pads. Immediately following the use of chlorine gas by the Germans, instructions were sent to British and French troops to hold wet handkerchiefs or cloths over their mouths. Simple pad respirators similar to those issued to German troops were soon proposed by Lieutenant-Colonel N. C. Ferguson, the A.D.M.S. of the 28th Division. These pads were intended to be used damp, preferably dipped into a solution of bicarbonate kept in buckets for that purpose, though other liquids were also used. Because such pads could not be expected to arrive at the front for several days, army divisions set about making them for themselves. Locally available muslin, flannel and gauze were used, officers were sent to Paris to buy more and local French women were employed making up rudimentary pads with string ties. Other units used lint bandages manufactured in the convent at Poperinge. Pad respirators were sent up with rations to British troops in the line as early as the evening of 24 April.[22]

In Britain the Daily Mail newspaper encouraged women to manufacture cotton pads, and within one month a variety of pad respirators were available to British and French troops, along with motoring goggles to protect the eyes. The response was enormous and a million gas masks were produced in a day. Unfortunately, the Mail’s design was useless when dry and caused suffocation when wet—the respirator was responsible for the deaths of scores of men. By 6 July 1915, the entire British army was equipped with the far more effective “smoke helmet” designed by Major Cluny MacPherson, Newfoundland Regiment, which was a flannel bag with a celluloid window, which entirely covered the head. The race was then on between the introduction of new and more effective poison gases and the production of effective countermeasures, which marked gas warfare until the armistice in November 1918.[22]

British gas attacks

British infantry advancing through gas at Loos, 25 September 1915

Football team of British soldiers with gas masks, Western front, 1916

A British gas bomb from 1915

The British expressed outrage at Germany’s use of poison gas at Ypres but responded by developing their own gas warfare capability. The commander of II Corps, Lieutenant General Sir Charles Ferguson, said of gas:

It is a cowardly form of warfare which does not commend itself to me or other English soldiers … We cannot win this war unless we kill or incapacitate more of our enemies than they do of us, and if this can only be done by our copying the enemy in his choice of weapons, we must not refuse to do so.[23]

The first use of gas by the British was at the Battle of Loos, 25 September 1915, but the attempt was a disaster. Chlorine, codenamed Red Star, was the agent to be used (140 tons arrayed in 5,100 cylinders), and the attack was dependent on a favorable wind. However, on this occasion the wind proved fickle, and the gas either lingered in no man’s land or, in places, blew back on the British trenches.[6] This debacle was compounded when the gas could not be released from all the British canisters because the wrong turning keys were sent with them. Subsequent retaliatory German shelling hit some of those unused full cylinders, releasing more gas among the British troops.[24] Exacerbating the situation was the primitive flannel gas masks distributed to the British. The masks were hot and the small eye-pieces misted over, reducing visibility. Some of the troops lifted the masks to get some fresh air, causing them to be gassed.[25]

1915: More deadly gases

Plate I, Microscopic section of human lung from phosgene shell poisoning, American Red Cross and Medical Research Committee, An Atlas of Gas Poisoning, 1918

The deficiencies of chlorine were overcome with the introduction of phosgene, which was prepared by a group of French chemists led by Victor Grignard and first used by France in 1915.[26] Colourless and having an odor likened to “mouldy hay,” phosgene was difficult to detect, making it a more effective weapon. Although phosgene was sometimes used on its own, it was more often used mixed with an equal volume of chlorine, with the chlorine helping to spread the denser phosgene.[27] The Allies called this combination White Star after the marking painted on shells containing the mixture.[28]

Phosgene was a potent killing agent, deadlier than chlorine. It had a potential drawback in that some of the symptoms of exposure took 24 hours or more to manifest. This meant that the victims were initially still capable of putting up a fight; although this could also mean that apparently fit troops would be incapacitated by the effects of the gas on the following day.[29]

In the first combined chlorine–phosgene attack by Germany, against British troops at Wieltje near Ypres, Belgium on 19 December 1915, 88 tons of the gas were released from cylinders causing 1069 casualties and 69 deaths.[27] The British P gas helmet, issued at the time, was impregnated with sodium phenolate and partially effective against phosgene. The modified PH Gas Helmet, which was impregnated with phenate hexamine and hexamethylene tetramine (urotropine) to improve the protection against phosgene, was issued in January 1916.[27][30][31]

Around 36,600 tons of phosgene were manufactured during the war, out of a total of 190,000 tons for all chemical weapons, making it second only to chlorine (93,800 tons) in the quantity manufactured:[32]

  • Germany 18,100 tons
  • France 15,700 tons
  • United Kingdom 1,400 tons (although they also used French stocks)
  • United States 1,400 tons (although they also used French stocks)

Although phosgene was never as notorious in public consciousness as mustard gas, it killed far more people, about 85% of the 100,000 deaths caused by chemical weapons during World War I.

1917: Mustard gas

Plate X, Microscopic section of human lung from mustard gas poisoning, American Red Cross and Medical Research Committee, An Atlas of Gas Poisoning, 1918

The most widely reported and, perhaps, the most effective gas of the First World War was mustard gas. It was a vesicant that was introduced by Germany in July 1917 prior to the Third Battle of Ypres.[6] The Germans marked their shells yellow for mustard gas and green for chlorine and phosgene; hence they called the new gas Yellow Cross. It was known to the British as HS (Hun Stuff), while the French called it Yperite (named after Ypres).[33]

A Canadian soldier with mustard gas burns, 1917/1918

Mustard gas is not a particularly effective killing agent (though in high enough doses it is fatal) but can be used to harass and disable the enemy and pollute the battlefield. Delivered in artillery shells, mustard gas was heavier than air, and it settled to the ground as an oily liquid resembling sherry. Once in the soil, mustard gas remained active for several days, weeks, or even months, depending on the weather conditions.[34]

The skin of victims of mustard gas blistered, their eyes became very sore and they began to vomit. Mustard gas caused internal and external bleeding and attacked the bronchial tubes, stripping off the mucous membrane. This was extremely painful. Fatally injured victims sometimes took four or five weeks to die of mustard gas exposure.[35]

One nurse, Vera Brittain, wrote: “I wish those people who talk about going on with this war whatever it costs could see the soldiers suffering from mustard gas poisoning. Great mustard-coloured blisters, blind eyes, all sticky and stuck together, always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke.”[36]

The polluting nature of mustard gas meant that it was not always suitable for supporting an attack as the assaulting infantry would be exposed to the gas when they advanced. When Germany launched Operation Michael on 21 March 1918, they saturated the Flesquières salient with mustard gas instead of attacking it directly, believing that the harassing effect of the gas, coupled with threats to the salient’s flanks, would make the British position untenable.[citation needed]

Gas never reproduced the dramatic success of 22 April 1915; however, it became a standard weapon which, combined with conventional artillery, was used to support most attacks in the later stages of the war. Gas was employed primarily on the Western Front—the static, confined trench system was ideal for achieving an effective concentration. Germany also made use of gas against Russia on the Eastern Front, where the lack of effective countermeasures resulted in deaths of over 56,000 Russians,[37] while Britain experimented with gas in Palestine during the Second Battle of Gaza.[38] Russia began manufacturing chlorine gas in 1916, with phosgene being produced later in the year. However, most of the manufactured gas was never used.[17]

The British Army believed that the use of gas was needed, but did not use mustard gas until November 1917 at Cambrai, after their armies had captured a stockpile of German mustard-gas shells. It took the British more than a year to develop their own mustard gas weapon, with production of the chemicals centred on Avonmouth Docks.[39][40] (The only option available to the British was the Despretz–Niemann–Guthrie process). This was used first in September 1918 during the breaking of the Hindenburg Line with the Hundred Days’ Offensive.

The Allies mounted more gas attacks than the Germans in 1917 and 1918 because of a marked increase in production of gas from the Allied nations. Germany was unable to keep up with this pace despite creating various new gases for use in battle, mostly as a result of very costly methods of production. Entry into the war by the United States allowed the Allies to increase mustard gas production far more than Germany.[41] Also the prevailing wind on the Western Front was blowing from west to east,[42] which meant the British more frequently had favorable conditions for a gas release than did the Germans.

Though the United States never used chemical weapons of its own manufacture in World War I (the Artillery used Mustard gas with significant effect during the Meuse Argonne Offensive on at least three occasions [43]), it had begun large-scale production of an improved vesicant gas known as Lewisite, for use in an offensive planned for early 1919. By the time of the armistice on 11 November, a plant near Willoughby, Ohio was producing 10 tons per day of the substance, for a total of about 150 tons. It is uncertain what effect this new chemical would have had on the battlefield, however, as it degrades in moist conditions.[44][45]


By the end of the war, chemical weapons had lost much of their effectiveness against well trained and equipped troops. At that time, chemical weapon agents inflicted an estimated 1.3 million casualties.[46]

Nevertheless, in the following years, chemical weapons were used in several, mainly colonial, wars where one side had an advantage in equipment over the other. The British used adamsite against Russian revolutionary troops in 1919 and allegedly used mustard gas against Iraqi insurgents in the 1920s; Bolshevik troops used poison gas to suppress the Tambov Rebellion in 1920, Spain used chemical weapons in Morocco against Rif tribesmen throughout the 1920s[47] and Italy used mustard gas in Libya in 1930 and again during its invasion of Ethiopia in 1936.[48] In 1925, a Chinese warlord, Zhang Zuolin, contracted a German company to build him a mustard gas plant in Shenyang,[47] which was completed in 1927.

Public opinion had by then turned against the use of such weapons which led to the Geneva Protocol, an updated and extensive prohibition of poison weapons. The Protocol, which was signed by most First World War combatants in 1925, bans the use (but not the stockpiling) of lethal gas and bacteriological weapons. Most countries that signed ratified it within around five years, although a few took much longer – Brazil, Japan, Uruguay, and the United States did not do so until the 1970s, and Nicaragua ratified it only in 1990.[49] The signatory nations agreed not to use poison gas in the future, stating “the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilised world.”[50]

Although chemical weapons have been used in at least a dozen wars since the end of the First World War,[48] they were not used in combat on a large scale until mustard gas and the more deadly nerve agents were used by Iraq during the 8-year Iran-Iraq war. It killed around 20,000 Iranian troops (and injured another 80,000), which is around a quarter of the number of deaths caused by chemical weapons during the First World War.[51]

Effect on World War II

Although all major combatants stockpiled chemical weapons during the Second World War, the only reports of its use in the conflict were the Japanese use of relatively small amounts of mustard gas and lewisite in China,[52][53] and very rare occurrences in Europe (for example some sulfur mustard bombs were dropped on Warsaw on 3 September 1939, which Germany acknowledged in 1942 but indicated had been accidental).[47] Mustard gas was the agent of choice, with the British stockpiling 40,719 tons, the Russians 77,400 tons, the Americans over 87,000 tons and the Germans 27,597 tons.[47] The destruction of a cargo ship containing mustard gas led to many casualties in Bari, Italy.

In both Axis and Allied nations, children in school were taught to wear gas masks in case of gas attack. Germany developed the poison gases tabun, sarin, and soman during the war, and used Zyklon B in their extermination camps. Neither Germany nor the Allied nations used any of their war gases in combat, despite maintaining large stockpiles and occasional calls for their use.[nb 1] Poison gas played an important role in the Holocaust.

Britain made plans to use mustard gas on the landing beaches in the event of an invasion of the United Kingdom in 1940.[54][55] The United States considered using gas to support their planned invasion of Japan.[56]


The contribution of gas weapons to the total casualty figures was relatively minor. British figures, which were accurately maintained from 1916, recorded that only 3% of gas casualties were fatal, 2% were permanently invalid and 70% were fit for duty again within six weeks.[citation needed]

It was remarked as a joke that if someone yelled ‘Gas’, everyone in France would put on a mask. … Gas shock was as frequent as shell shock.

— H. Allen, Towards the Flame, 1934

John Singer Sargent‘s 1918 painting Gassed

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime …
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

Plate III, Pallid type of asphyxia from phosgene poisoning, with circulatory failure, American Red Cross and Medical Research Committee, An Atlas of Gas Poisoning, 1918

Death by gas was often slow and painful. According to Denis Winter (Death’s Men, 1978), a fatal dose of phosgene eventually led to “shallow breathing and retching, pulse up to 120, an ashen face and the discharge of four pints (2 litres) of yellow liquid from the lungs each hour for the 48 of the drowning spasms.”

A common fate of those exposed to gas was blindness, chlorine gas or mustard gas being the main causes. One of the most famous First World War paintings, Gassed by John Singer Sargent, captures such a scene of mustard gas casualties which he witnessed at a dressing station at Le Bac-du-Sud near Arras in July 1918. (The gases used during that battle (tear gas) caused temporary blindness and/or a painful stinging in the eyes. These bandages were normally water-soaked to provide a rudimentary form of pain relief to the eyes of casualties before they reached more organized medical help.)

The proportion of mustard gas fatalities to total casualties was low; only 2% of mustard gas casualties died and many of these succumbed to secondary infections rather than the gas itself. Once it was introduced at the third battle of Ypres, mustard gas produced 90% of all British gas casualties and 14% of battle casualties of any type.

Estimated gas casualties[37]
Nation Fatal Total
(Fatal & Non-fatal)
Russia 56,000 419,340
Germany 9,000 200,000
France 8,000 190,000
British Empire
(includes Canada)
8,109 188,706
Austria-Hungary 3,000 100,000
United States 1,462 72,807
Italy 4,627 60,000
Total 90,198 1,230,853

Mustard gas was a source of extreme dread. In The Anatomy of Courage (1945), Lord Moran, who had been a medical officer during the war, wrote:

After July 1917 gas partly usurped the role of high explosive in bringing to head a natural unfitness for war. The gassed men were an expression of trench fatigue, a menace when the manhood of the nation had been picked over.[57]

Mustard gas did not need to be inhaled to be effective — any contact with skin was sufficient. Exposure to 0.1 ppm was enough to cause massive blisters. Higher concentrations could burn flesh to the bone. It was particularly effective against the soft skin of the eyes, nose, armpits and groin, since it dissolved in the natural moisture of those areas. Typical exposure would result in swelling of the conjunctiva and eyelids, forcing them closed and rendering the victim temporarily blind. Where it contacted the skin, moist red patches would immediately appear which after 24 hours would have formed into blisters. Other symptoms included severe headache, elevated pulse and temperature (fever), and pneumonia (from blistering in the lungs).

Many of those who survived a gas attack were scarred for life. Respiratory disease and failing eyesight were common post-war afflictions. Of the Canadians who, without any effective protection, had withstood the first chlorine attacks during 2nd Ypres, 60% of the casualties had to be repatriated and half of these were still unfit by the end of the war, over three years later.

In reading the statistics of the time, one should bear the longer term in mind. Many of those who were fairly soon recorded as fit for service were left with scar tissue in their lungs. This tissue was susceptible to tuberculosis attack. It was from this that many of the 1918 casualties died, around the time of the Second World War, shortly before sulfa drugs became widely available for its treatment.

British casualties

British forces gas casualties on the Western Front[citation needed]
Date Agent Casualties (official)
Fatal Non-fatal
April –
May 1915
Chlorine 350 7,000
May 1915 –
June 1916
Lachrymants 0 0
December 1915 –
August 1916
Chlorine 1,013 4,207
July 1916 –
July 1917
Various 532 8,806
July 1917 –
November 1918
Mustard gas 4,086 160,526
April 1915 –
November 1918
Total 5,981 180,539

A British nurse treating mustard gas cases recorded:

They cannot be bandaged or touched. We cover them with a tent of propped-up sheets. Gas burns must be agonizing because usually the other cases do not complain even with the worst wounds but gas cases are invariably beyond endurance and they cannot help crying out.[58]

A postmortem account from the British official medical history records one of the British casualties:

Case four. Aged 39 years. Gassed 29 July 1917. Admitted to casualty clearing station the same day. Died about ten days later. Brownish pigmentation present over large surfaces of the body. A white ring of skin where the wrist watch was. Marked superficial burning of the face and scrotum. The larynx much congested. The whole of the trachea was covered by a yellow membrane. The bronchi contained abundant gas. The lungs fairly voluminous. The right lung showing extensive collapse at the base. Liver congested and fatty. Stomach showed numerous submucous haemorrhages. The brain substance was unduly wet and very congested.[59]

Civilian casualties

The distribution of gas cloud casualties was not only limited to the front. Nearby towns were at risk from winds blowing the poison gases through. Civilians rarely had a warning system put into place to alert their neighbours of the danger. In addition to poor warning systems, civilians often did not have access to effective gas masks. Also, when the gas came to the towns over the wind, it could easily get into houses through open windows and doors. An estimated 100,000-260,000 civilian casualties were caused by chemical weapons during the conflict and tens of thousands of more (along with military personnel) died from scarring of the lungs, skin damage, and cerebral damage in the years after the conflict ended. Many commanders on both sides knew that such weapon would cause major harm to civilians as wind would blow poison gases into nearby civilian towns but nonetheless continued to use them throughout the war. British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig wrote in his diary: “My officers and I were aware that such weapon would cause harm to women and children living in nearby towns, as strong winds were common on the battlefront. However, because the weapon was to be directed against the enemy, none of us were overly concerned at all.


None of the First World War’s combatants were prepared for the introduction of poison gas as a weapon. Once gas had appeared, development of gas protection began and the process continued for much of the war producing a series of increasingly effective gas masks.

Even at Second Ypres, Germany, still unsure of the weapon’s effectiveness, only issued breathing masks to the engineers handling the gas. At Ypres a Canadian medical officer, who was also a chemist, quickly identified the gas as chlorine and recommended that the troops urinate on a cloth and hold it over their mouth and nose. The first official equipment issued was similarly crude; a pad of material, usually impregnated with a chemical, tied over the lower face. To protect the eyes from tear gas, soldiers were issued with gas goggles.

British Vickers machine gun crew wearing PH gas helmets with exhaust tubes

The next advance was the introduction of the gas helmet — basically a bag placed over the head. The fabric of the bag was impregnated with a chemical to neutralize the gas — however, the chemical would wash out into the soldier’s eyes whenever it rained. Eye-pieces, which were prone to fog up, were initially made from talc. When going into combat, gas helmets were typically worn rolled up on top of the head, to be pulled down and secured about the neck when the gas alarm was given. The first British version was the Hypo helmet, the fabric of which was soaked in sodium hyposulfite (commonly known as “hypo”). The British P gas helmet, partially effective against phosgene and with which all infantry were equipped with at Loos, was impregnated with sodium phenolate. A mouthpiece was added through which the wearer would breathe out to prevent carbon dioxide build-up. The adjutant of the 1/23rd Battalion, The London Regiment, recalled his experience of the P helmet at Loos:

The goggles rapidly dimmed over, and the air came through in such suffocatingly small quantities as to demand a continuous exercise of will-power on the part of the wearers.[64]

A modified version of the P Helmet, called the PH Helmet, was issued in January 1916, and was additionally impregnated with hexamethylenetetramine to improve the protection against phosgene.[27]

Australian infantry wearing Small Box Respirators, Ypres, September 1917

Self-contained box respirators represented the culmination of gas mask development during the First World War. Box respirators used a two-piece design; a mouthpiece connected via a hose to a box filter. The box filter contained granules of chemicals that neutralised the gas, delivering clean air to the wearer. Separating the filter from the mask enabled a bulky but efficient filter to be supplied. Nevertheless, the first version, known as the Large Box Respirator (LBR) or “Harrison’s Tower”, was deemed too bulky — the box canister needed to be carried on the back. The LBR had no mask, just a mouthpiece and nose clip; separate gas goggles had to be worn. It continued to be issued to the artillery gun crews but the infantry were supplied with the “Small Box Respirator” (SBR).

The Small Box Respirator featured a single-piece, close-fitting rubberized mask with eye-pieces. The box filter was compact and could be worn around the neck. The SBR could be readily upgraded as more effective filter technology was developed. The British-designed SBR was also adopted for use by the American Expeditionary Force. The SBR was the prized possession of the ordinary infantryman; when the British were forced to retreat during the German Spring Offensive of 1918, it was found that while some troops had discarded their rifles, hardly any had left behind their respirators.

Humans were not the only ones that needed protection from gas clouds. Horses and mules were important methods of transportation that could be endangered if they came into close contact with gas. This was not so much of a problem until it became common to launch gas great distances. This caused many researchers to develop masks that could be used on animals such as dogs, horses, mules, and even carrier pigeons.[65]

The following are some examples of improvised animal gas masks that were implemented:

For mustard gas, which could cause severe damage by simply making contact with skin, no effective countermeasure was found during the war. The kilt-wearing Scottish regiments were especially vulnerable to mustard gas injuries due to their bare legs. At Nieuwpoort in Flanders some Scottish battalions took to wearing women’s tights beneath the kilt as a form of protection.

Gas alert by Arthur Streeton, 1918

Gas alert procedure became a routine for the front-line soldier. To warn of a gas attack, a bell would be rung, often made from a spent artillery shell. At the noisy batteries of the siege guns, a compressed air strombus horn was used, which could be heard nine miles (14 km) away. Notices would be posted on all approaches to an affected area, warning people to take precautions.

Other British attempts at countermeasures were not so effective. An early plan was to use 100,000 fans to disperse the gas. Burning coal or carborundum dust was tried. A proposal was made to equip front-line sentries with diving helmets, air being pumped to them through a 100 ft (30 m) hose.

However, the effectiveness of all countermeasures is apparent. In 1915, when poison gas was relatively new, less than 3% of British gas casualties died. In 1916, the proportion of fatalities jumped to 17%. By 1918, the figure was back below 3%, though the total number of British gas casualties was now nine times the 1915 levels.

Various gas masks employed on the Western Front during the war

Delivery systems

A British cylinder release at Montauban on the Somme, June 1916 — part of the preparation for the Battle of the Somme.

The first system employed for the mass delivery of gas involved releasing the gas cylinders in a favourable wind such that it was carried over the enemy’s trenches. The Hague Convention of 1899 prohibited the use of poisons gasses delivered by projectiles. The main advantage of this method was that it was relatively simple and, in suitable atmospheric conditions, produced a concentrated cloud capable of overwhelming the gas mask defences. The disadvantages of cylinder releases were numerous. First and foremost, delivery was at the mercy of the wind. If the wind was fickle, as was the case at Loos, the gas could backfire, causing friendly casualties. Gas clouds gave plenty of warning, allowing the enemy time to protect themselves, though many soldiers found the sight of a creeping gas cloud unnerving. Also gas clouds had limited penetration, only capable of affecting the front-line trenches before dissipating.

Finally, the cylinders had to be emplaced at the very front of the trench system so that the gas was released directly over no man’s land. This meant that the cylinders had to be manhandled through communication trenches, often clogged and sodden, and stored at the front where there was always the risk that cylinders would be prematurely breached during a bombardment. A leaking cylinder could issue a telltale wisp of gas that, if spotted, would be sure to attract shellfire.

German gas attack on the eastern front.

A British chlorine cylinder, known as an “oojah”, weighed 190 lb (86 kg), of which only 60 lb (27 kg) was chlorine gas, and required two men to carry. Phosgene gas was introduced later in a cylinder, known as a “mouse”, that only weighed 50 lb (23 kg).

Delivering gas via artillery shell overcame many of the risks of dealing with gas in cylinders. The Germans, for example, used 5.9-inch (150 mm) artillery shells (“five-nines”). Gas shells were independent of the wind and increased the effective range of gas, making anywhere within reach of the guns vulnerable. Gas shells could be delivered without warning, especially the clear, nearly odorless phosgene — there are numerous accounts of gas shells, landing with a “plop” rather than exploding, being initially dismissed as dud HE or shrapnel shells, giving the gas time to work before the soldiers were alerted and took precautions.

Loading a battery of Livens gas projectors

The main flaw associated with delivering gas via artillery was the difficulty of achieving a killing concentration. Each shell had a small gas payload and an area would have to be subjected to a saturation bombardment to produce a cloud to match cylinder delivery. Mustard gas, however, did not need to form a concentrated cloud and hence artillery was the ideal vehicle for delivery of this battlefield pollutant.

The solution to achieving a lethal concentration without releasing from cylinders was the “gas projector”, essentially a large-bore mortar that fired the entire cylinder as a missile. The British Livens projector (invented by Captain W.H. Livens in 1917) was a simple device; an 8-inch (200 mm) diameter tube sunk into the ground at an angle, a propellant was ignited by an electrical signal, firing the cylinder containing 30 or 40 lb (14 or 18 kg) of gas up to 1,900 meters. By arranging a battery of these projectors and firing them simultaneously, a dense concentration of gas could be achieved. The Livens was first used at Arras on 4 April 1917. On 31 March 1918 the British conducted their largest ever “gas shoot”, firing 3,728 cylinders at Lens.

Unexploded weapons

Phosgene delivery system unearthed at the Somme, 2006

Over 16,000,000 acres (65,000 km2) of France had to be cordoned off at the end of the war because of unexploded ordnance. About 20% of the chemical shells were duds, and approximately 13 million of these munitions were left in place. This has been a serious problem in former battle areas from immediately after the end of the War until the present. Shells may be, for instance, uncovered when farmers plough their fields (termed the ‘iron harvest‘), and are also regularly discovered when public works or construction work is done.[66]

An additional difficulty is the current stringency of environmental legislation. In the past, a common method of getting rid of unexploded chemical ammunition was to detonate or dump it at sea; this is currently prohibited in most countries.[67][nb 2]

The problems are especially acute in some northern regions of France. The French government no longer disposes of chemical weapons at sea. For this reason, piles of untreated chemical weapons accumulated. In 2001, it became evident that the pile stored at a depot in Vimy was unsafe; the inhabitants of the neighboring town were evacuated, and the pile moved, using refrigerated trucks and under heavy guard, to a military camp in Suippes.[68] The capacity of the plant is meant to be 25 tons per year (extensible to 80 tons at the beginning), for a lifetime of 30 years.[69]

Germany has to deal with unexploded ammunition and polluted lands resulting from the explosion of an ammunition train in 1919.[69]

Aside from unexploded shells, there have been claims that poison residues have remained in the local environment for an extended period, though this is unconfirmed; well known but unverified anecdotes claim that as late as the 1960s trees in the area retained enough mustard gas residue to injure farmers or construction workers who were clearing them.[70]

Gases used

Name First use Type Used by
Xylyl bromide[71] 1914 Lachrymatory, toxic Both
Chlorine[72] 1915 Corrosive. Lung Irritant Both
Phosgene[72] 1915 Irritant – Skin and mucous membranes. Corrosive, toxic Both
Benzyl bromide[71] 1915 Lachrymatory Central Powers
Chloromethyl chloroformate[71] 1915 Irritant – Eyes, skin, lungs Both
Trichloromethyl chloroformate[71] 1916 Severe irritant, causes burns Both
Chloropicrin[72] 1916 Irritant, lachrymatory, toxic Both
Stannic chloride[71] 1916 Severe irritant, causes asphyxiating Allies
Ethyl iodoacetate[71] 1916 Lachrymatory, toxic Allies
Bromoacetone[71] 1916 Lachrymatory, irritant Both
Monobromomethyl ethyl ketone[71] 1916 Lachrymatory, irritant Central Powers
Acrolein[71] 1916 Lachrymatory, toxic Central Powers
Hydrogen cyanide[71] (Prussic acid) 1916 Toxic, Chemical Asphyxiant Allies
Hydrogen sulfide[71] (Sulphuretted hydrogen) 1916 Irritant, toxic Allies
Diphenylchloroarsine[72] (Diphenyl chlorasine) 1917 Irritant/Sternutatory (causes sneezing) Central Powers
α-chlorotoluene (Benzyl chloride) 1917 Irritant, lachrymatory Central Powers
Mustard gas[72] (Bis(2-chloroethyl) sulfide) 1917 Vesicant (blistering agent), lung irritant Both
Bis(chloromethyl) ether (Dichloromethyl ether) 1918 Irritant, can blur vision Central Powers
Ethyldichloroarsine[72] 1918 Vesicant Central Powers
N-Ethylcarbazole 1918 Irritant Central Powers

Long-term health effects

Soldiers who claimed to have been exposed to chemical warfare have often presented with unusual medical conditions which has led to much controversy. The lack of information has left doctors, patients, and their families in the dark in terms of prognosis and treatment. Nerve agents such as sarin, tabun, and soman are believed to have the most significant long-term health effects.[73] Chronic fatigue and memory loss have been reported to last up to three years after exposure. In the years following World War One, there were many conferences held in attempts to abolish the use of chemical weapons all together, such as The Washington Conference (1921–22), Geneva Conference (1923–25) and the World Disarmament Conference (1933). Although the United States was an original signatory of the Geneva Protocol in 1925, the US Senate did not formally ratify it until 1975.

Although the health effects are generally chronic in nature, the exposures were generally acute. A positive correlation has been proven between exposure to mustard agents and skin cancers, other respiratory and skin conditions, leukemia, several eye conditions, bone marrow depression and subsequent immunosuppression, psychological disorders and sexual dysfunction.[74] Chemicals used in the production of chemical weapons have also left residues in the soil where the weapons were used. The chemicals that have been detected can cause cancer and can have an impact on a person’s brain, blood, liver, kidneys and skin.[75]

Despite the evidence in support of long-term health effects, there are studies that show just the opposite. Some US veterans who were closely affected by chemical weapons showed no neurological evidence in the following years. These same studies showed that one single contact with chemical weapons would be enough to cause long-term health effects.[76]

Japanese war crimes – Execution of Leonard Siffleet

Execution of  Leonard Siffleet

14 January 1916 – 24 October 1943

With VJ around the corner I thought I would do a  post about Leonard Siffleet , whose lonely end was immortalised in this famous picture. When I first saw this picture I was struck by how calm and dignified Leonard seemed as he waited on the brutal end to his too short life. His sacrifice and death will live long in our memory. I salute you Leonard!

Leonard George (Len) Siffleet

Leonard George (Len) Siffleet
Studio portrait of Len Siffleet, c. 1941
Born(1916-01-14)14 January 1916

Gunnedah, New South Wales

Died24 October 1943(1943-10-24) (aged 27)

Aitape, Papua New Guinea

Service/branchAustralian Army
Years of service1940–43
UnitSRD (1942–43)
Battles/warsWorld War II

Leonard George (Len) Siffleet (14 January 1916 – 24 October 1943) was an Australian commando of World War II. Born in Gunnedah, New South Wales, he joined the Second Australian Imperial Force in 1941, and by 1943 had reached the rank of sergeant. Posted to M Special Unit of the Services Reconnaissance Department, Siffleet was on a mission in Papua New Guinea when he and two Ambonese companions were captured by partisan tribesmen and handed over to the Japanese.

All three men were interrogated, tortured and later beheaded. A photograph of Siffleet’s impending execution became an enduring image of the war, and his identity was often confused with that of other servicemen who suffered a similar fate, in particular Flight Lieutenant Bill Newton, VC.

Early life

Siffleet and fiancée Clarice Lane, 1941

Len Siffleet was born on 14 January 1916 in Gunnedah, New South Wales. The son of an itinerant worker of Dutch ancestry,  his siblings included a sister and two brothers. Siffleet made his way to Sydney in the late 1930s, seeking to join the police force, but was prevented from doing so because of his eyesight. He was nevertheless called up for the militia in August 1940, and attached to a searchlight unit at RAAF Station Richmond.

Discharged from the militia after three months, Siffleet returned to his family to help look after his young brothers following their mother’s death. He was working as a shop assistant when he enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in September 1941.

Allotted to a signals company based at Ingleburn, New South Wales, he was reported absent without leave on two occasions; he was by this time engaged to Clarice Lane.

New Guinea campaign

After training in radio communications at Melbourne Technical College, Siffleet volunteered for special operations in September 1942 and was posted to the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) of the Allied Intelligence Bureau in Melbourne.[1][4] He joined Z Special Unit in October and was transferred to Cairns in Far North Queensland for further operational training. Assigned to the SRD’s Dutch section as a radio operator, Siffleet was promoted sergeant in May 1943. He moved across to M Special Unit the same month to take part in a mission to set up a coastwatching station in the hills behind Hollandia in Papua New Guinea.[1][3] Described by Commander Eric Feldt, director of the Coastwatchers, as “the best type of N.C.O. of the A.I.F., young and competent”. 

Siffleet joined a party led by Sergeant H. N. Staverman of the Royal Netherlands Navy, which included two Ambonese privates, H. Pattiwal and M. Reharing. Code-named “Whiting”, this team was to work in concert with another group known as “Locust”, led by Lieutenant Jack Fryer.

Staverman’s reconnaissance group commenced its mission in north-east New Guinea in July, trekking across mountainous terrain through August and September. At some point Staverman and Pattiwal separated from the others to undertake further exploration of the countryside, and were ambushed by a group of natives. Both were captured and reported as killed, but Pattiwal later escaped and rejoined Siffleet and Reharing. Siffleet signalled Fryer to warn him of the hostile natives and of Japanese patrols, indicating that he was preparing to burn his party’s codes and bury its radio. No more was heard from them after early October.

Clarice Lane (incorrectly addressed as “Clemice” Lane) had in the meantime received two letters from the Allied Intelligence Bureau in July and September, stating that Siffleet was “safe and well”.

Death and legacy

Sergeant Siffleet’s execution at Aitape, 1943

After Pattiwal rejoined Siffleet and Reharing, they attempted to make their way to the Dutch border. They were ambushed by a hundred native villagers near Aitape and, after a brief melée during which Siffleet shot and wounded one of their attackers, the group was captured and handed over to the Japanese. Interrogated and tortured, the team was confined for approximately two weeks before being taken down to Aitape Beach on the afternoon of 24 October 1943.

Bound and blindfolded, surrounded by Japanese and native onlookers, they were forced to the ground and executed by beheading, on the orders of Vice-Admiral Michiaki Kamada of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The officer who executed Siffleet, Yasuno Chikao, detailed a private to photograph him in the act.  Chikao has been variously reported as having died before the end of the war, and as having been captured and sentenced to be hanged, with his sentence subsequently commuted to 10 years’ imprisonment. 

The photograph of Siffleet’s execution was discovered on the body of a dead Japanese major near Hollandia by American troops in April 1944. It is believed to be the only surviving depiction of a western prisoner of war being executed by a Japanese soldier.

The photo was published in Australian newspapers and in Life magazine but was thought to depict Flight Lieutenant Bill Newton VC, who had been captured in Salamaua, Papua New Guinea, and beheaded on 29 March 1943.

It later went on display at the Australian War Memorial. Elsewhere, despite positive identification in 1945 of Siffleet as the soldier pictured, the image continues on occasion to be misidentified as Newton.

Siffleet is commemorated on the Lae Memorial in Lae, Papua New Guinea, together with all other Commonwealth war dead from actions in the region who have no known grave.A memorial park commemorating Siffleet was also dedicated at Aitape in May 2015.


See: Execution of Bill Newton – Life & Death

Dambusters pilot Les Munro dies – Operation Chastise

Dambusters pilot Les Munro dies in New Zealand aged 96

The last surviving Dambusters pilot, Les Munro, has died at the age of 96, the New Zealand Bomber Command Association has said.

Sqn Ldr Munro died in hospital in his native New Zealand on Monday following heart problems, the association said.

The legendary World War Two Dambusters operation flew from RAF Scampton, near Lincoln, in 1943 and successfully used “bouncing bombs” to attack German dams.

There are now only two surviving crew members of the Dambusters missions. Out of 133 crew, only 77 returned.

Sqn Ldr Munro’s aircraft was hit by flak, but he made it home after the hit had destroyed communications in his Lancaster bomber over the Netherlands.

Dave Homewood, of the association, described Sqn Ldr Munro as a “down-to-earth man” who was “very modest about what he did during the war”.

John Leslie Munro
Sqn Ldr Munro was one of 77 Dambusters to make it home

“I think he was pretty proud to have been part of the Dambusters, although he was disappointed he never got to drop his weapon.

“He went on to be a flight commander and did a lot of very important operations after the dam raid, although these are often forgotten because the Dambusters were world-renowned.”

Sqn Ldr Munro, who was patron of the NZ Bomber Command, was still flying at the age of 95 and had co-piloted an Avro Anson plane in January, Mr Homewood added.

‘Remarkable life’

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key paid tribute, writing on Twitter: “Really sad to hear of Les Munro’s death, New Zealand has lost a remarkable man who led a remarkable life.”

In an interview with the BBC on the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid, Sqn Ldr Munro said he had not worried about the dangers of the mission.

“I approached most operations with a thought: ‘If I’m going to cop it, so be it,'” he said.

Earlier this year, he put his medals up for auction to help pay for the upkeep of the Bomber Command Memorial in London.

A day before the auction, they were bought by British peer Lord Ashcroft for £75,000 ($117,000). He donated them to the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland.

While Sqn Ldr Munro was the last living Dambusters pilot, he is survived by two crew members – Canadian former front gunner Fred Sutherland and British former bomb aimer George Johnson.


Dambusters mission

Lancaster bombers
Sqn Ldr Munro’s Lancaster was the second aircraft to take off on the night of the dams raid
  • On the night of 16 May 1943, 19 bombers left RAF Scampton near Lincoln in three waves
  • The first headed to the Mohne and the Eder Dams, the second and third to the Sorpe dam
  • Out of the 133 crew that set off, only 77 returned, including Sqn Ldr Munro, who made it home after flak destroyed the internal and external communications in his Lancaster bomber over the Netherlands
  • He had been briefed to attack the Sorpe Dam by flying parallel to its wall and releasing the bomb from the lowest possible height, while flying at 180 mph (290 km/h)
  • The Sorpe Dam was damaged but the Mohne and Eder Dams were destroyed, flooding the Ruhr valley and killing an estimated 1,300 people, mostly civilians

Dambusters Declassified Documentary


Operation Chastise

Operation Chastise was an attack on German dams carried out on 16–17 May 1943 by Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, subsequently publicised as the “Dam Busters”,[1] using a specially developed “bouncing bomb” invented and developed by Sir Barnes Wallis. The Möhne and Edersee Dams were breached, causing catastrophic flooding of the Ruhr valley and of villages in the Eder valley; the Sorpe dam sustained only minor damage. Two hydroelectric power stations were destroyed and several more were damaged. Factories and mines were also either damaged or destroyed. An estimated 1,600 German civilians drowned. The damage was mitigated by rapid repairs by the Germans, with production returning to normal in September.


Prior to World War II, the British Air Ministry had identified Germany’s heavily industrialised Ruhr Valley, and especially its dams, as important strategic targets: in addition to providing hydro-electric power and pure water for steel-making, they also supplied drinking water and water for the canal transport system. The methods used to attack the dams had been carefully worked out. Calculations indicated that repeated air strikes with large bombs could be effective, but required a degree of accuracy which Bomber Command had been unable to attain in the face of enemy defences.


The mission grew out of a concept for a bomb designed by Barnes Wallis and developed by his team at Vickers. Wallis was Assistant Chief Designer at Vickers. He had worked on both the Vickers Wellesley and Vickers Wellington bombers. While working on the Vickers Windsor he had also begun work, with support of the Admiralty, on a bomb designed initially for attacking ships, although dam destruction was soon considered.

Wallis’s initial idea was to drop a 10 long tons (10 t) bomb from an altitude of about 40,000 ft (12,200 m). This idea was part of the earthquake bomb concept. At that time no bomber aircraft was capable of flying at that altitude with such a heavy payload. A much smaller explosive charge would suffice, if it could be exploded directly against the dam wall below the surface of the water, but the major German reservoir dams were protected by heavy torpedo nets to prevent such an attack.

Wallis’s breakthrough overcame this. A drum-shaped bomb — essentially a specially designed, heavy depth charge — spinning backwards at over 500 rpm, dropped at a sufficiently low altitude at the correct speed, would skip for a significant distance over the surface of the water in a series of bounces before reaching the dam wall. Its residual spin would run the bomb down the side of the dam to its underwater base. Using a hydrostatic fuse, an accurate drop could bypass the dam’s defences and enable the bomb to explode against the dam.

Using two spotlights to adjust altitude, a modified Lancaster dropped a backspun drum-bomb which skipped over torpedo nets protecting the dam. After impact the bomb spun down to the dam’s base and exploded.

Remains of the Nant-y-Gro dam breached in July 1942 during testing.

Initial testing of the concept included blowing up a plaster model dam at the Building Research Establishment, Watford in May 1942 and then the breaching of the disused Nant-y-Gro dam in Wales in July 1942. The first full-scale trials were at Chesil Beach in January 1943. This demonstrated that a bomb of sufficient size could be carried by an Avro Lancaster rather than waiting for a larger bomber such as the Windsor to be built. Air Vice-Marshal Francis Linnell at the Ministry of Aircraft Production thought the work was diverting Wallis from the development of the Windsor. Pressure from Linnell via the chairman of Vickers, Sir Charles Worthington Craven, caused Wallis to resign. Sir Arthur Harris, head of RAF Bomber Command from a briefing by Linnell also opposed the allocation of his bombers. Wallis had written to an influential intelligence officer, Group Captain Frederick Winterbotham. Winterbotham ensured that the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal heard of the project. Portal saw the film of the Chesil Beach trials and was convinced.[2] Over-riding Harris, Portal ordered on 26 February 1943 that thirty Lancasters were to be allocated to the mission and the target date was set for May, when water levels would be at their highest and breaches in the dams would cause the most damage. With eight weeks to go, the larger bomb, code-named ‘Upkeep’, that was needed for the mission, and the modifications to the Lancasters had yet to be designed.


Air Vice-Marshal Ralph Cochrane, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, King George VI and Group Captain John Whitworth discussing the Dambuster Raid in May 1943.

The operation was given to No. 5 Group RAF which formed a new squadron to undertake the dams mission. It was initially called Squadron “X”, as the speed of its formation outstripped the RAF process for naming squadrons.

Led by 24 year-old Wing Commander Guy Gibson, a veteran of over 170 bombing and night-fighter missions, twenty-one bomber crews were selected from existing squadrons in 5 Group. These crews included RAF personnel of several different nationalities, as well as members of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), who were frequently attached to RAF squadrons under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The squadron was based at RAF Scampton, about 5 mi (8 km) north of Lincoln.

The targets selected were the two key dams upstream from the Ruhr industrial area, the Möhne Dam and the Sorpe Dam, with the Eder Dam on the Eder River, which feeds into the Weser, as a secondary target. While the loss of hydroelectric power was important, the loss of water supply to industry, cities, and canals would have greater effect. Also, there was the potential for devastating flooding if the dams broke.

The aircraft were modified Avro Lancaster Mk IIIs, known as B Mark III Special (Type 464 Provisioning).[3] To reduce weight, much of the internal armour was removed, as was the mid-upper machine gun turret. The size of the bomb with its unusual shape meant that the bomb-bay doors had to be removed, and the bomb itself hung, in part, below the fuselage of the aircraft. It was mounted on two crutches, and before dropping it was spun up to speed by an auxiliary motor.[4]


“Upkeep” bouncing bomb mounted under Gibson’s Lancaster B III (Special).

Barnes Wallis and others watch a practice Upkeep bomb strike the shoreline at Reculver, Kent

Bombing from an altitude of 60 ft (18 m), at an air speed of 240 mph (390 km/h), and at a pre-selected distance from the target called for expert crews. Intensive night-time and low-altitude flight training began.

There were also technical problems to solve, the first one being to determine when the aircraft was at optimum distance from its target. Both the Möhne and Eder Dams had towers at each end. A special targeting device with two prongs, making the same angle as the two towers at the correct distance from the dam, showed when to release the bomb. (The BBC documentary Dambusters Declassified (2010) stated that the pronged device was not used due to issues related to vibration and that other methods were employed, including a length of string tied in a loop and pulled back centrally to a fixed point in the manner of a catapult.)

The second problem was determining the aircraft’s altitude, as the barometric altimeters then in use lacked sufficient accuracy. Two spotlights were mounted, one under the aircraft’s nose and the other under the fuselage, so that at the correct height their light beams would converge on the surface of the water. The crews practised at the Eyebrook Reservoir, near Uppingham, Rutland; Abberton Reservoir near Colchester; Derwent Reservoir; and Fleet Lagoon on Chesil Beach. Wallis’s bomb itself was first tested at the Elan Valley Reservoirs.

The squadron took delivery of the bombs on 13 May, after the final tests on 29 April. At 1800 on 15 May, at a meeting in Whitworth’s house, Gibson and Wallis briefed four key officers: the squadron’s two flight commanders, Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay and Sqn Ldr H. M. “Dinghy” Young; Gibson’s deputy for the Möhne attack, Flt Lt John V. Hopgood and; the squadron bombing leader, Flight Lieutenant Bob Hay. The rest of the crews were told at a series of briefings the following day, which began with a briefing of pilots, navigators and bomb-aimers at about midday.


The squadron was divided into three formations.

Formation No. 1 was composed of nine aircraft in three groups: (listed by pilot) Gibson, Hopgood and Flt Lt H. B. “Micky” Martin (an Australian serving in the RAF); Young, Flt Lt David Maltby and Flt Lt Dave Shannon (RAAF), and; Maudslay, Flt Lt Bill Astell and Flying Officer Les Knight (RAAF). Its mission was to attack the Möhne; any aircraft with bombs remaining would then attack the Eder.

Formation No. 2, numbering five aircraft, piloted by: Flt Lt Joe McCarthy (an American serving in the RCAF), Pilot Officer Vernon Byers, Flt Lt Bob Barlow (RAAF), P/O Geoff Rice and Flt Lt Les Munro (RNZAF), was to attack the Sorpe.

Formation No. 3 was a mobile reserve consisting of aircraft piloted by: Flight Sergeant Cyril Anderson, Flt Sgt Bill Townsend, Flt Sgt Ken Brown (RCAF), P/O Warner Ottley and P/O Lewis Burpee (RCAF), taking off two hours later on 17 May, either to bomb the main dams or to attack three smaller secondary target dams: the Lister, the Ennepe and the Diemel.

Two crews were unable to make the mission owing to illness.

The Operations Room for the mission was at 5 Group Headquarters in St Vincents Hall, Grantham, Lincolnshire. The mission codes (transmitted in morse) were: Goner, meaning “bomb dropped”; Nigger, meaning that the Möhne was breached and; Dinghy meaning that the Eder was breached. “Nigger” was the name of Gibson’s dog, a black labrador retriever that had been run over and killed on the morning of the attack.[5] “Dinghy” was Young’s nickname, a reference to the fact that he had twice survived crash landings at sea where he and his crew were rescued from the aircraft’s inflatable rubber dinghy.

The attacks


The aircraft used two routes, carefully avoiding known concentrations of flak, and were timed to cross the enemy coast simultaneously. The first aircraft, those of Formation No. 2 and heading for the longer, northern route, took off at 21:28 on 16 May.[6] McCarthy’s bomber developed a coolant leak and he took off in the reserve aircraft 34 minutes late.[7]

Formation No. 1 took off in groups of three at 10 minute intervals beginning at 21:39.[6] The reserve formation did not begin taking off until 00:09 on 17 May.[6]

Formation No. 1 entered continental Europe between Walcheren and Schouwen, flew over the Netherlands, skirted the airbases at Gilze-Rijen and Eindhoven, curved around the Ruhr defences, and turned north to avoid Hamm before turning south to head for the Möhne River. Formation No. 2 flew further north, cutting over Vlieland and crossing the IJsselmeer before joining the first route near Wesel and then flying south beyond the Möhne to the Sorpe River.[8]

The bombers flew low, at about 100 ft (30 m) altitude, to avoid radar detection. Flight Sergeant George Chalmers, radio operator on “O for Orange”, looked out through the astrodome and was astonished to see that his pilot was flying towards the target along a forest’s firebreak, below treetop level.[9]

First casualties

The first casualties were suffered soon after reaching the Dutch coast. Formation No. 2 did not fare well: Munro’s aircraft lost its radio to flak and turned back over the IJsselmeer, while Rice flew too low and struck the sea, losing his bomb in the water; he recovered and returned to base. Both Barlow’s and Byers’ Lancasters crossed over the coast around the island of Texel. Byers’ bomber was shot down by flak shortly afterwards, crashing into the Waddenzee. Barlow’s aircraft hit electricity pylons and crashed 5 km east of Rees, near Haldern. The bomb was thrown clear of the crash and was examined intact by Heinz Schweizer.[10] Only the delayed bomber piloted by McCarthy survived to cross the Netherlands. Formation No. 1 lost Astell’s bomber near the German hamlet of Marbeck when he flew his Lancaster into high voltage electrical cables and crashed into a field.[6]

Attack on the Möhne Dam

Möhne Dam after the attack.

Formation No. 1 arrived over the Möhne lake and Gibson’s aircraft (G for George) made the first run, followed by Hopgood (M for Mother). Hopgood’s aircraft was hit by flak as it made its low-level run and was caught in the blast of its own bomb, crashing shortly afterwards when a wing disintegrated. Three crew members successfully abandoned the aircraft, but only two survived. Subsequently Gibson flew his aircraft across the dam to draw the flak away from Martin’s run. Martin (P for Popsie) bombed third; his aircraft was damaged but made a successful attack. Next, Young (A for Apple) made a successful run and after him Maltby (J for Johnny) when, finally, the dam was breached. Gibson, with Young accompanying, led Shannon, Maudslay and Knight to the Eder.[6] In the attack on the Möhne one of the bombers made a running commentary on the attack, relayed to base by an airborne TR. 1142 (Transmitter Receiver) manufactured by GEC, the distance being too great for direct VHF transmission.[11]

Attack on the Eder Dam

Eder Dam on 17 May 1943

Eder Dam in 2004: the destroyed sluice-gate channels on the left were not replaced after the attack.

The Eder Valley was covered by heavy fog but not defended. The tricky topography of the surrounding hills made the approach difficult and the first aircraft, Shannon’s, made six runs before taking a break. Maudslay (Z for Zebra) then attempted a run but the bomb struck the top of the dam and the aircraft was severely damaged in the blast. Shannon made another run and successfully dropped his bomb. The final bomb of the formation, from Knight’s aircraft (N for Nan), breached the dam.[12]

Attacks on the Sorpe and Ennepe Dams

The Sorpe dam was the one least likely to be breached. It was a huge earthen dam, unlike the two concrete-and-steel gravity dams that were attacked successfully. Due to various problems, only three Lancasters reached the Sorpe Dam: Joe McCarthy (in “T for Tommy”, a delayed aircraft from the second wave) and later Brown (“F for Freddie”) and Anderson (“Y for York”), both from the third formation. This attack differed from the previous ones in two ways: the “Upkeep” bomb was not spun, and due to the topography of the valley the approach was made along the length of the dam, not at right angles over the reservoir.

McCarthy’s plane was on its own when it arrived over the Sorpe Dam at 00:15 hours, and realised the approach was even more difficult than expected: the flight path led over a church steeple in the village of Langscheid, located on the hillcrest overlooking the dam. With only seconds to go before the bomber had to pull up, to avoid hitting the hillside at the other end of the dam, the bombardier George Johnson had no time to correct the bomb’s height and heading.

The crew of “T for Tommy”

McCarthy made nine attempted bombing runs before Johnson was satisfied. The ‘Upkeep’ bomb was dropped on the tenth run. The bomb exploded, but when he turned his Lancaster to assess the damage it turned out that only a section of the crest of the dam had been blown off; the main body of the dam itself was still functional.

Meanwhile, three of the reserve aircraft had been directed to the Sorpe Dam. Burpee (“S for Sugar”) never arrived, and it was later determined that the plane had been shot down while skirting the Gilze-Rijen airfield. Brown (“F for Freddy”) reached the Sorpe Dam: in the increasingly dense fog the bomb was dropped hastily and also failed to breach the dam. Anderson (“Y for York”) arrived last, but by then the fog had become too dense for him even to attempt a bombing run. The remaining two bombers were then sent to secondary targets, with Ottley (“C for Charlie”) being shot down en route to the Lister Dam. Townsend (“O for Orange”) eventually dropped his bomb at the Ennepe Dam without harming it.[6]

Possible attack on Bever Dam

There is some evidence that Townsend might have attacked the Bever Dam by mistake rather than the Ennepe Dam.[13] Townsend reported difficulty in finding his dam, and in his post-raid report he complained that the map of the Ennepe Dam was incorrect. The Bever Dam is located only about 5 mi (8 km) southwest of the Ennepe Dam, and its reservoir has a similar topography. The Bever Dam is located on the southern edge of the reservoir while the Ennepe is located on the northern edge of its reservoir. With the foggy mists filling the valleys during the early morning hours, it would be understandable for him to have mistaken the two lakes. The War Diary of the German Naval Staff reported that the Bever Dam had been attacked at nearly the same time that the Sorpe Dam was. In addition, the Wupperverband authority responsible for the Bever Dam is said to have recovered the remains of a “mine”. Paul Keiser, a 19-year-old soldier on leave at his home close to the Bever Dam, also reported a bomber making several approaches to the dam and then dropping a bomb that caused a large explosion and a great pillar of flame.

John Sweetman, author of the book The Dambusters’ Raid, suggests Townsend’s report of the moon’s reflecting on the mist and water is consistent with an attack that was heading to the Bever Dam rather than to the Ennepe Dam, given the moon’s azimuth and altitude during the bombing attacks. Sweetman also points out that the Ennepe-Wasserverband authority was adamant that only a single bomb was dropped near the Ennepe Dam during the entire war, and that this bomb fell into the woods by the side of the dam, not in the water, as in Townsend’s report. Finally, members of Townsend’s crew independently reported seeing a manor house and attacking an earthen dam, which is consistent with the Bever Dam rather than the Ennepe Dam. The main evidence supporting the hypothesis of an attack of the Ennepe Dam is Townsend’s post-flight report that he attacked the Ennepe Dam on a heading of 355 degrees magnetic. Assuming that the heading was incorrect, all other evidence points toward an attack on the Bever Dam.[13]

Return flight

On the way back, flying again at treetop level, two more Lancasters were lost. The damaged aircraft of Maudslay was struck by flak near Netterden and Young’s “A for Apple” was flayed by flak north of IJmuiden. That bomber crashed into the North Sea just off the coast of the Netherlands.[6] On the return flight over the Dutch coast, some German flak targeting the planes was aimed so low that shells were seen to bounce off the sea.[14]

The nine surviving bombers began landing at Scampton at 03:11 hours, with Gibson returning at 04:15. The last of the survivors, Townsend’s bomber, put its wheels on the ground at 06:15.[6] It was the last to land because one of its engines had been shut down after passing the Dutch coast. Air Chief Marshall Harris was among those who came out to greet the last crew to land.[15]

List of aircraft involved

Aircraft call sign Commander Target Attacked target? Hit target? Breached target? Returned? Notes
First Wave
G George Gibson Möhne Dam Yes No N/A Yes Raid leader. Mine exploded short of dam. Used aircraft to draw anti-aircraft fire away from other crews.
M Mother Hopgood Yes No N/A No Hit by anti-aircraft fire outbound. Mine bounced over dam. Shot down over the target while attacking.
P Peter (Popsie) Martin Yes No N/A Yes Mine missed the target.
A Apple Young Yes Yes Yes No Mine hit dam and caused small breach. Shot down over the Dutch coast while returning.
J Johnny Maltby Yes Yes Yes Yes Mine hit dam and caused a large breach.
L Leather Shannon Eder Dam Yes Yes No Yes Mine hit target—no effect.
Z Zebra Maudslay Yes No N/A No Mine overshot target and damaged the bomber, which was shot down over Germany while trying to return.
N Nancy (Nan) Knight Yes Yes Yes Yes Mine hit the dam and caused a large breach.
B Baker Astell N/A No N/A N/A No Crashed after hitting large-scale power lines outbound.
Second Wave
T Tommy McCarthy Sorpe Dam Yes Yes No Yes Mine hit the target – no apparent effects.
E Easy Barlow N/A No N/A N/A No Crashed after hitting large-scale power lines outbound.
K King Byers No N/A N/A No Shot down over the Dutch coast outbound.
H Harry Rice No N/A N/A Yes Lost the mine after clipping the sea outbound. Returned without attacking a target.
W Willie Munro No N/A N/A Yes Damaged by anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast. Returned without attacking a target.
Third Wave
Y York Anderson Sorpe Dam No N/A N/A Yes Could not find the target due to mist. Landed at Scampton with an armed mine.
F Freddy Brown Sorpe Dam Yes Yes No Yes Mine hit the target – no apparent effects.
O Orange Townsend Ennepe or Bever Dam Yes Yes No Yes Mine hit the target – no apparent effect.
S Sugar Burpee N/A No N/A N/A No Shot down over the Netherlands outbound.
C Charlie Ottley No N/A N/A No Shot down over Germany outbound. Frederick Tees was the only survivor of the crew

Bomb damage assessment

Bomber Command wanted a complete bomb damage assessment as soon as possible, therefore the CO of 542 Squadron was informed of the estimated time of the attacks. One of the squadron’s photo-reconnaissance Spitfires, piloted by Flying Officer Frank “Jerry” Fray,[16] took off from RAF Benson at 07:30 hours and arrived over the Ruhr River immediately after first light. Photos were taken of the breached dams and the huge floods.[17] The pilot later described the experience:[16]

When I was about 150 miles from the Möhne Dam, I could see the industrial haze over the Ruhr area and what appeared to be a cloud to the east. On flying closer, I saw that what had seemed to be cloud was the sun shining on the floodwaters. I looked down into the deep valley which had seemed so peaceful three days before [on an earlier reconnaissance mission] but now it was a wide torrent. The whole valley of the river was inundated with only patches of high ground and the tops of trees and church steeples showing above the flood. I was overcome by the immensity of it.

After the raid

Memorial to Operation Chastise members at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire

Three aircrew from Hopgood’s aircraft bailed out successfully, but one later died from wounds and the others were captured. One of the crew in Ottley’s aircraft survived its crash. In total, therefore, 53 of the 133 aircrew who participated in the attack were killed, a casualty rate of almost 40 percent. Thirteen of those killed were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, while two belonged to the Royal Australian Air Force.[18]

King George VI speaks to Flight Lieutenant Les Munro while visiting 617 Squadron after the raid, 27 May 1943

Of the survivors, 34 were decorated at Buckingham Palace on 22 June, with Gibson awarded the Victoria Cross. There were five Distinguished Service Orders, 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses and four bars, two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, and eleven Distinguished Flying Medals and one bar.[19]

Memorial to the dead in Neheim, 7 kilometres (4 mi) from the Möhne dam

Initial German casualty estimates from the floods when the dams broke were 1,294 killed, which included 749 French, Belgian, Dutch and Ukrainian prisoners of war and labourers.[20][21] Later estimates put the death toll in the Möhne Valley at about 1,600, including people who drowned in the flood wave downstream from the dam.

After a public relations tour of America and time spent working in the Air Ministry in London writing the book which was later published as Enemy Coast Ahead, Gibson returned to operations and was killed on a Mosquito operation in 1944.

Following the Dams Raid 617 Squadron was kept together as a specialist unit. The squadron badge was chosen and a motto “Après moi le déluge” (After me the flood). According to Brickhill there was some controversy over the motto, with the original version Après nous le déluge (After us the flood) being rejected by the heralds as having inappropriate provenance (having been coined, reportedly, by Madame de Pompadour), and après moi le déluge having been used by Louis XV in an “irresponsible” context. The motto having been chosen by the King, the latter was finally deemed acceptable.[22]

The squadron went on to drop Wallis’s massive Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs, including an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz, using an advanced bomb sight which enabled the bombing of small targets with far greater accuracy than was routinely obtained with conventional bomb aiming techniques.

In 1977, Article 56 of the Protocol I amendment to the Geneva Conventions, outlawed attacks on dams “if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces from the works or installations and consequent severe losses among the civilian population”.[23]

Effect on the war

Tactical view

The two direct mine hits on the Möhnesee dam resulted in a breach around 250 feet (76 metres) wide and 292 feet (89 metres) deep. The destroyed dam poured around 330 million tons of water into the western Ruhr region. A torrent of water around 32.5 feet (10 metres) high and travelling at around 15 mph (24 km/h) swept through the valleys of the Möhne and Ruhr rivers. A few mines were flooded; 11 small factories and 92 houses were destroyed and 114 factories and 971 houses were damaged. The floods washed away about 25 roads, railways and bridges as the flood waters spread for around 50 miles (80 km) from the source. Estimates show that before 15 May 1943 water production on the Ruhr was 1 million tonnes; this dropped to a quarter of that level after the raid.

The Eder drains towards the east into the Fulda which runs into the Weser to the North Sea. The main purpose of the Edersee was then, as it is now, to act as a reservoir to keep the Weser and the Mittellandkanal navigable during the summer months. The wave from the breach was not strong enough to result in significant damage by the time it hit Kassel (approx. 35 km downstream).

The greatest impact on the Ruhr armaments production was the loss of hydroelectric power. Two power stations (producing 5,100 kilowatts) associated with the dam were destroyed and seven others were damaged. This resulted in a loss of electrical power in the factories and many households in the region for two weeks. In May 1943 coal production dropped by 400,000 tons which German sources attribute to the effects of the raid.[24]

According to an article by German historian Ralf Blank,[25] at least 1,650 people were killed: around 70 in the Eder Valley, and at least 1,579 bodies were found along the Möhne and Ruhr rivers, with hundreds missing. 1,026 of the bodies found downriver of the Möhne Dam were foreign prisoners of war and forced labourers in different camps, mainly from the Soviet Union. Worst hit was the city of Neheim (now part of Neheim-Hüsten) at the confluence of the Möhne and Ruhr rivers, where over 800 people perished, among them at least 493 female forced labourers from the Soviet Union. (Some non-German sources erroneously cite an earlier total of 749 for all foreigners in all camps in the Möhne and Ruhr valleys as the casualty count at a camp just below the Eder Dam.[21])

After the operation Barnes Wallis wrote, “I feel a blow has been struck at Germany from which she cannot recover for several years”, but on closer inspection, Operation Chastise did not have the military effect that was at the time believed. By 27 June, full water output was restored, thanks to an emergency pumping scheme inaugurated the previous year, and the electricity grid was again producing power at full capacity.[citation needed] The raid proved to be costly in lives (more than half the lives lost belonging to Allied POWs and forced-labourers), but was no more than a minor inconvenience to the Ruhr’s industrial output.[26] The value of the bombing can perhaps best be seen as a very real boost to British morale.[citation needed][dubious ]

In his book Inside the Third Reich, Albert Speer acknowledged the attempt: “That night, employing just a few bombers, the British came close to a success which would have been greater than anything they had achieved hitherto with a commitment of thousands of bombers.”[27] He also expressed puzzlement at the raids: the disruption of temporarily having to shift 7,000 construction workers to the Möhne and Eder repairs was offset by the failure of the Allies to follow up with additional (conventional) raids during the dams’ reconstruction, and that represented a major lost opportunity.[28] Barnes Wallis was also of this view; he revealed his deep frustration that Bomber Command never sent a high-level bombing force to hit the Mohne dam while repairs were being carried out. He argued that extreme precision would have been unnecessary and that even a few hits by conventional HE bombs would have prevented the rapid repair of the dam which was undertaken by the Germans.[29]

The effect on food production was more significant, with many square kilometres of arable land being washed away and effectively unusable until the 1950s. There was also a great loss of farm animals bred for food.

Strategic view

The Dams Raid was, like many British air raids, undertaken with a view to the need to keep drawing German defensive effort back into Germany and away from actual and potential theatres of ground war, a policy which culminated in the Berlin raids of the winter of 1943–1944. In May 1943 this meant keeping the Luftwaffe and anti-aircraft defence forces’ effort away from the Soviet Union; in early 1944, it meant clearing the way for the aerial side of the forthcoming Operation Overlord. The very considerable labour and strategic resources committed to repairing the dams, factories, mines and railways could not be used in other ways – the construction of the Atlantic Wall, for example.

The pictures of the broken dams proved to be a propaganda and morale boost to the Allies, especially to the British, still suffering under German bombing that had peaked roughly a year earlier.[16]

An associated, but equally major effect was that Barnes Wallis’s ideas on earthquake bombing, which had been rejected before, now became accepted by ‘Bomber’ Harris. Prior to this raid, bombing practice had been to ‘area bomb’ with many light bombs, in the hope that one would hit the target. Work on the earthquake bomb theory resulted in the Tallboy and Grand Slam weapons, which caused unprecedented damage to German infrastructure in the later stages of the war. They rendered the V-2 assembly building unusable, buried the V-3 guns, sank the Tirpitz and destroyed many bridges and other hardened installations. Notable amongst their successes were the U-boat pens at Brest, where they penetrated 20 ft (6.1 m) thick roofs of reinforced concrete, and the Saumur Tunnel.

Atomic Bombings – 6th & 9th of August 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This Thursday is the 70th Anniversary  of the Atomic Bombings

Featured image

Atomic Bombings –  6th & 9th of August 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Effects of a nuclear bomb  HD


HOW IT WORKS: The Atomic Bomb


On the 6th of August 1945, during the final stage of the Second World War, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the  Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The two bombings, which killed at least 129,000 people, remain the only use of nuclear weapons for warfare in history.


Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Aerial view of an atomic bomb explosion

In August 1945, during the final stage of the Second World War, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The two bombings, which killed at least 129,000 people, remain the only use of nuclear weapons for warfare in history.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb documentary

As the war entered its sixth and final year, the Allies had begun to prepare for what was anticipated to be a very costly invasion of the Japanese mainland. This was preceded by an immensely destructive firebombing campaign that obliterated many Japanese cities. The war in Europe had concluded when Nazi Germany signed its instrument of surrender on May 8, 1945, but with the Japanese refusal to accept the Allies’ demands for unconditional surrender, the Pacific War dragged on. Together with the United Kingdom and China, the United States called for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945; this was buttressed with the threat of “prompt and utter destruction”.

By August 1945, the Allied Manhattan Project had successfully detonated an atomic device in the New Mexico desert and subsequently produced atomic weapons based on two alternate designs. The 509th Composite Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces was equipped with a Silverplate Boeing B-29 Superfortress that could deliver them from Tinian in the Mariana Islands.

A uranium gun-type atomic bomb (Little Boy) was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by a plutonium implosion-type bomb (Fat Man) on the city of Nagasaki on August 9. Little Boy exploded 2,000 feet above Hiroshima in a blast equal to 12-15,000 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects of the atomic bombings killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima had a sizable military garrison.

On August 15, just days after the bombing of Nagasaki and the Soviet Union‘s declaration of war, Japan announced its surrender to the Allies. On September 2, it signed the instrument of surrender, effectively ending World War II. The bombings’ role in Japan’s surrender and their ethical justification are still debated.

Pacific War

Main article: Pacific War

A map of East Asia and the Western Pacific during World War II

Situation of Pacific War by August 1, 1945. Japan still had control of all of Manchuria, Korea, Taiwan and Indochina, a large part of China, including most of the main Chinese cities, and much of the Dutch East Indies

In 1945, the Pacific War between the Empire of Japan and the Allies entered its fourth year. The Japanese fought fiercely, ensuring that U.S. victory would come at an enormous cost. Of the 1.25 million battle casualties incurred by the United States in World War II, including both military personnel killed in action and wounded in action, nearly one million occurred in the twelve-month period from June 1944 to June 1945. December 1944 saw American battle casualties hit an all-time monthly high of 88,000 as a result of the German Ardennes Offensive.[1] In the Pacific, the Allies returned to the Philippines,[2] recaptured Burma,[3] and invaded Borneo.[4] Offensives were undertaken to reduce the Japanese forces remaining in Bougainville, New Guinea and the Philippines.[5] In April 1945, American forces landed on Okinawa, where heavy fighting continued until June. Along the way, the ratio of Japanese to American casualties dropped from 5:1 in the Philippines to 2:1 on Okinawa.[1]

As the Allied advance moved inexorably towards Japan, conditions became steadily worse for the Japanese people. Japan’s merchant fleet declined from 5,250,000 gross tons in 1941 to 1,560,000 tons in March 1945, and 557,000 tons in August 1945. Lack of raw materials forced the Japanese war economy into a steep decline after the middle of 1944. The civilian economy, which had slowly deteriorated throughout the war, reached disastrous levels by the middle of 1945. The loss of shipping also affected the fishing fleet, and the 1945 catch was only 22% of that in 1941. The 1945 rice harvest was the worst since 1909, and hunger and malnutrition became widespread. U.S. industrial production was overwhelmingly superior to Japan’s. By 1943, the U.S, produced almost 100,000 aircraft a year, compared to Japan’s production of 70,000 for the entire war. By the summer of 1944, the U.S. had almost a hundred aircraft carriers in the Pacific, far more than Japan’s twenty-five for the entire war. In February 1945, Prince Fumimaro Konoe advised the Emperor Hirohito that defeat was inevitable, and urged him to abdicate.[6]

Preparations to invade Japan

Main article: Operation Downfall