Dr Janusz Korczak was Poland’s best-loved children’s author and the director of an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw. As the situation for Warsaw’s Jews deteriorated, Korczak’s Polish friends offered to hide him, but he refused to abandon the children. On 5 August 1942, Korczak and the children were marched through the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto to a waiting train, as witnessed by the writer Yehoshua Perle.

These 200 children did not cry, 200 innocent creatures did not weep, none of them ran away, none hid. Like sick swallows, they clung only to their teacher and mentor, their father and brother, Janusz Korczak, so that he might preserve and protect them.

He stood in the first row. He protected the children with his weak, emaciated body. The Hitlerite beasts showed no pity. The pistol in one hand, the whip in the other, they barked: “March!”

Woe to the eyes that had to watch this terrible scene.

Janusz Korczak – bareheaded, with a leather belt around his coat, and in high boots – stooped, held the hand of the youngest child and led the way. Several nurses in white aprons followed him, and then came the 200 clean and freshly combed children.

Korczak, the orphanage staff and the children were deported to Treblinka extermination camp. The orphans were among approximately 50,000 children from the Warsaw Ghetto who were murdered at Treblinka in less than two months. Yehoshua Perle was murdered in 1943.

Photo: Janusz Korczak with staff and children of his orphanage, pre-war; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Romuald Wroblewski & Shlomo Nadel

Diary extract: Tatiana Berenstein et al. (eds.), Faschismus – Getto – Massenmord. Dokumentation über Ausrottung und Widerstand der Juden in Polen während des zweiten Weltskrieges (Rütten & Loening, 1960)



The deportations to killing sites presented Jewish communities with agonising dilemmas, nowhere more so than in Łódź, where Chaim Rumkowski was the chairman of the ghetto’s Jewish Council. In September 1942, the Nazis demanded that the Jewish Council hand over all children under the age of 10 and old people over the age of 65 for deportation to Chełmno extermination camp. In response, Rumkowski gave the following speech to the residents of the ghetto.

The ghetto has been struck a hard blow. They demand what is most dear to it − children and old people. I was not privileged to have a child of my own and therefore devoted my best years to children. I lived and breathed together with children. I never imagined that my own hands would be forced to make this sacrifice on the altar. In my old age I am forced to stretch out my hands and to beg: "Brothers and sisters, give them to me! − Fathers and mothers, give me your children..."

Yesterday, in the course of the day, I was given the order to send away more than 20,000 Jews from the ghetto, and if I did not – "we will do it ourselves." The question arose: "Should we have accepted this and carried it out ourselves, or left it to others?" But as we were guided not by the thought: "how many will be lost?" but "how many can be saved?" we arrived at the conclusion – those closest to me at work, that is, and myself – that however difficult it was going to be, we must take upon ourselves the carrying out of this decree. I must carry out this difficult and bloody operation, I must cut off limbs in order to save the body! I must take away children, and if I do not, others too will be taken, God forbid.

Rumkowski has been criticised by many as a collaborator. However, his dilemma illustrated the choiceless choices faced by many Jews during the Holocaust. Had he refused to cooperate, the children would have been deported anyway. By working with the Nazis, he believed that he could save the adults who worked in essential war industries in the ghetto. This strategy almost worked: Łódź was the very last ghetto to be liquidated, in the summer of 1944 when its inhabitants were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau where most of them, including Chaim Rumkowski, were murdered.

Photo: Chaim Rumkowski; Yad Vashem

Speech: Yitzhak Arad et al. (eds.), Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union (Yad Vashem, 1981)



Jews in western Europe were not interned in ghettos but rather sent to transit camps, where they were held prior to their deportation to the extermination camps. Etty Hillesum, a young woman who was interned in Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands, described witnessing the departure of one deportation train to Auschwitz-Birkenau on 23 August 1943.

There was a moment when I felt in all seriousness that after this night it would be a sin ever to laugh again… I have told you often enough that no words and images are adequate to describe nights like these. But still I must try to convey something of it for you...

But the babies, those tiny piercing screams of the babies, dragged from their cots in the middle of the night to be transported away. I have to put it all down quickly, in a muddle, because if I leave it until later I probably won’t be able to go on believing that it really happened. It is like a vision, and drifts further and further away. The babies were easily the worst. And then there was the paralyzed young girl, who didn’t want to take her dinner plate along and found it so hard to die…

One more piece of our camp has been amputated. Next week another piece will follow. This is what has been happening now for over a year, week in, week out. We are left with just a few thousand. A hundred thousand Dutch members of our race are toiling away under an unknown sky or lie rotting in some unknown soil. We know nothing of their fate. It is only a short while, perhaps, before we find out, each one of us in his own time. For we are all marked down to share that fate, of that I have not a moment’s doubt.

Etty and her family were transported to Auschwitz two weeks later; she died there in late November 1943. In total, almost 100,000 Jews were deported from Westerbork, mostly to Auschwitz-Birkenau or Sobibór extermination camps. When Westerbork was liberated in April 1945, there were only 876 people left alive in the camp.

Photo: Jews boarding a deportation train, Westerbork; Yad Vashem

Testimony: Etty Hillesum, Letters from Westerbork (Jonathan Cape, 1987)



Most of the almost three million Jews who were sent to extermination camps were deported by train. Journeys could range from a few hours in the case of transports from Poland to more than a week from Greece, but almost all were made in scarcely imaginable conditions. Helena Katz (later Helen Lewis) was deported from the Terezín Ghetto to Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944, in a cattle wagon similar to that shown in the photograph.

If we had ever thought that two years in Terezín had left us sufficiently tough to bear any hardship, the first few minutes on the train taught us otherwise. We travelled in conditions designed to inflict the greatest possible suffering. Old and young, invalids and babies were all crammed together so tightly it was impossible to move. There was no air, no light, no water, and one bucket. When the train moved out of Terezín station, many panicked, others wept, a few prayed, and most sank into silent despair. At night the train arrived in Prague and stopped there for a while, a long line of sealed cattle wagons, each with a tiny window behind a grille. There must have been people on the station platform, people who saw and heard. What did they think, what did they know, and how much did they care?

Another day and another night and there were few left in the wagons who were still in full possession of their physical and mental capacities. The dead were everywhere. Could one really pity them?

Many thousands of people died on these transports. Hard though it may be to believe today, arrival in the camp was thus often greeted with relief. Helena survived Auschwitz because she was selected to work and was transferred to Stutthof concentration camp. She escaped during the evacuation of Stutthof in January 1945. Following her liberation, she returned to Czechoslovakia, married and then emigrated to Northern Ireland.

Photo: Czech Jews boarding a deportation train, 1942; Yad Vashem

Testimony: Helen Lewis, A Time to Speak (The Blackstaff Press, 1992)




In our fifth weekly podcast, the Trust's Head of Education Alex Maws and Education Officer Martin Winstone discuss the round-ups and deportations which characterised the destruction of Jewish communities during the Holocaust.

Click here to read a transcript of the podcast.



Although knowledge of the Holocaust was fairly widespread by mid-1942, many of the Jews sent to extermination camps still harboured the faint hope of survival.  Rudolf Reder was deported to Bełżec from Lwów in August 1942. He later described what happened when his train arrived.

Several dozen SS men yelling “Come on” opened the trucks, chasing people out with whips and rifle butts... The sick, the old, and small children – in other words, all those who could not walk on their own – were thrown onto stretchers and taken to pits... As soon as the train was empty, all the victims were assembled in the courtyard... There was a deathly silence. Irrmann [an SS officer] stood close to the crowd. Everybody wanted to hear him. We all suddenly hoped that, if we were spoken to, then perhaps it meant that there would be work to do, that we would live after all... Irrmann spoke loudly and clearly: “You are going to take a bath now, afterwards you will be sent to work.” That was all.

The crowd rejoiced; the people were relieved that they would be going to work. They applauded. I remember his words repeated day after day – three times on average, during the time I was there. It was a moment of hope, of illusion. The crowd was peaceful. And in silence they all went forward.

Almost everybody on the transport, and on all others to Bełżec, was immediately sent to the camp’s gas chambers; only a small number of men, like Rudolf Reder, were selected to work and most of them were murdered after a few days. Bełżec operated for just nine months in 1942. During that time, approximately 434,500 Jews were deported there; Rudolf was one of only two who survived. The camp was then destroyed by the Nazis: the photograph shows the modern memorial at the site.

Photo: memorial, Bełżec; Holocaust Educational Trust

Testimony: Rudolf Reder, Bełżec (Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna w Polsce, 1946)




Jankiel Wiernik was deported from Warsaw to Treblinka extermination camp on 23 August 1942. On arrival, he was one of the very small number of prisoners selected to work in the camp, disposing of the bodies. He escaped in the Treblinka Uprising of 2 August 1943 and told his story in a pamphlet distributed by the Polish underground in 1944. This was the first detailed account of life in an extermination camp to be published.

I almost went insane on the day when I first saw men, women and children being led into the house of death. I pulled my hair and shed bitter tears of despair. I suffered most when I looked at the children, accompanied by their mothers or walking alone, entirely ignorant of the fact that within a few minutes their lives would be snuffed out under horrible tortures. Their eyes glowed with fear and still more, perhaps, with amazement. It seemed as if the questions: “What is this! What for and why?” were frozen on their lips…

Although our physical suffering surpassed the endurance of normal human beings, our spiritual sufferings were far worse. New transports of victims arrived each day. They were ordered to disrobe immediately and were led to the three old gas chambers, going past us on the way. Many of us saw our children, wives and members of our families among the victims. And, when on the impulse of heartache, one rushed to his kin, he was killed on the spot.

At least 780,000 Jews were murdered at Treblinka. More than 700,000 of them were killed in just five months in 1942: in other words, more people in a single calendar year than at any other place in any other year in the history of the world. The camp was destroyed by the Nazis in 1943: the photograph shows a memorial created in the 1960s.

Photo: memorial, Treblinka; Holocaust Educational Trust

Testimony: Jankiel Wiernik, A Year in Treblinka. An Inmate Who Escaped Tells the Day-To-Day Facts of One Year of His Torturous Experience (American Representation of the General Jewish Workers Union of Poland, 1944)



Unlike the other extermination camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau was also a slave labour camp. This meant that some Jews – mostly young people – were selected for work on arrival. The remainder were sent straight to the camp’s gas chambers. The reprieve of those Jews selected to work was only intended to be temporary, with prisoners confronted by disease, starvation, exhaustion, and brutality from their guards. The following testimony from Kitty Felix (today Kitty Hart-Moxon) demonstrates how conventional notions of status and decency were irrelevant to survival in Auschwitz.

Shifting shit was one of my happier jobs in the camp. It was a great step up in the Auschwitz world when I was drafted into the Scheisskommando… Each of the specially constructed lavatory blocks at the rear of the camp had a long row of slightly raised concrete with holes, like some sort of misshapen bagatelle board. They provided a wonderful new meeting-place. If you could find one of your friends during a roll-call commotion, you could sit sharing a hole and talk for as long as you dared. As a matter of course there was a guard at the door to hit you going in or out. But it was worth it. In the Scheisskommando, digging out the mess from underneath and carrying it away in buckets on a yoke across my shoulders to be dumped in the pits, I had the privilege of frequent access to the toilets. This meant twenty times the conversation and organising I’d been able to manage up till now.

By ‘organising’, Kitty was referring to the secret bartering between prisoners of items such as clothing, shoes or food which enabled them to survive. Kitty and her mother survived Auschwitz for almost two years. Following their liberation at Salzwedel concentration camp in 1945, they emigrated to the UK.

Photo: latrines in a women’s barrack, Birkenau; Holocaust Educational Trust

Testimony: Kitty Hart-Moxon, Return to Auschwitz (Quill Press, 2010)



The prisoners selected to work in Auschwitz-Birkenau lived under the constant threat of death. Nowhere was this truer than in the Sonderkommando, those prisoners forced to work in and around the gas chambers: as ‘bearers of secrets’, they knew that the Nazis would not let them live. The following letter, written by Chaim Herman in November 1944, was discovered buried by the gas chamber ruins after the war. It was addressed to his wife and daughter in France.

When I write today with great risk and danger, I do it in order to tell you that this is my last letter, our days are numbered and if one day you receive this missive, you will have to include me among the millions of our brothers and sisters who had vanished from this world. I am taking this opportunity of assuring you that I am leaving calmly and perhaps heroically (this will depend on circumstances), with one sorrow only that I cannot see you once more, not even for one moment…

I ask your forgiveness, my dear wife, if there had been, at various times, trifling misunderstandings in our life, now I see how one was unable to value the passing time; I constantly thought here that, should I by some miracle get out of here, I would begin a new life... but alas, this is impossible, nobody gets out of here, all is over…

I am sending you my last farewell for ever, these are my last greetings, I embrace you most heartily for the last time and I beg you once more, do believe me that I am going away calmly, knowing that you are alive and our enemy is broken...

Farewell my dear wife and my dear Simone, accept my wishes and live in Peace, may God keep you in His care.

Thousands of kisses from your father and husband.

Chaim Herman was murdered three weeks after writing this letter.

Photo: Crematorium III, Birkenau; Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu

Letter: Jadwiga Bezwińska & Danuta Czech (eds.), Amidst a Nightmare of Crime: Manuscripts of Members of the Sonderkommando (Państwowe Muzeum w Oświęcimiu, 1973)




Not all Jews were sent to extermination camps or other killing sites. Some, mainly younger adults, were selected for forced labour camps, such as Poniatowa – shown in the photograph – where it was intended that they would die from overwork. However, following growing Jewish resistance in Polish ghettos and camps in 1943, the SS leader Himmler decided to accelerate the killings. 14,000 Jews were shot in Poniatowa on 4 November. There were only three survivors, all women who were wounded by the shooting and pretended to be dead. One of them was Ludwika Fiszer.

We lay down quickly to avoid looking at the dead bodies. My daughter asked me to cover her little eyes, because she was afraid, so I put my left hand around her head, and with my right hand I held her right hand and so we lay, faces down. In a moment, shots were fired in our direction; I felt my left hand burn... The hours dragged slowly; each hour seemed a century. When twilight came, the Ukrainians returned and covered us with spruce twigs, I thought they might be planning to burn us. I was scared and wanted to shout I was still alive, but could not make a sound. I heard the steps receding in the distance, and only then did I whip up the courage to raise my head; the leaves of the branches covered me, so I was able to look around a little. It was nearly dark. My first glance was at my daughter. She always had an oval face, but now her face was round and was deadly pale. I touched her hair and back with my lips and her hand slipped out from mine.

The Poniatowa massacre was one part of the Erntefest (‘Harvest Festival’) Aktion in which 42,000 Jews were shot in just two days in camps in and around the city of Lublin. 

Photo: Poniatowa forced labour camp; Yad Vashem

Testimony: Andrzej Żbikowski (ed.), ‘Texts Buried in Oblivion: Testimonies of Two Refugees from the Mass Grave at Poniatowa’, Holocaust. Studies and Materials, 1 (2008)



The murder of millions of people in the camps was accompanied by plunder on an unprecedented scale. All of the possessions of victims were exploited, either for the personal enrichment of the perpetrators or for redistribution amongst the German population. When Majdanek concentration camp in Poland was liberated by the Red Army in 1944, thousands of pairs of shoes were discovered, prompting this reflection from the Yiddish poet Moses Schulstein.

I saw a mountain
Higher than Mt. Blanc
And more Holy than the Mountain of Sinai.
Not in a dream. It was real.
On this world this mountain stood.
Such a mountain I saw — of Jewish shoes in Majdanek.

Such a mountain — such a mountain I saw.
And suddenly, a strange thing happened.
The mountain moved…
And the thousands of shoes arranged themselves
By size — by pairs — and in rows — and moved.

Hear! Hear the march.
Hear the shuffle of shoes left behind — that which remained.
From small, from large, from each and every one.
Make way for the rows — for the pairs,
For the generations — for the years.
The shoe army — it moves and moves.

“We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers.
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam.
And because we are only made of stuff and leather
And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.

We shoes — that used to go strolling in the market
Or with the bride and groom to the chuppah,
We shoes from simple Jews, from butchers and carpenters,
From crocheted booties of babies just beginning to walk and go
On happy occasions, weddings, and even until the time
Of giving birth, to a dance, to exciting places to life…
Or quietly — to a funeral.
Unceasingly we go. We tramp.
The hangman never had the chance to snatch us into his
Sack of loot — now we go to him.
Let everyone hear the steps, which flow as tears,
The steps that measure out the judgment.”

I saw a mountain
Higher than Mt. Blanc
And more Holy than the Mountain of Sinai.

Approximately 59,000 Jewish men, women and children were murdered in Majdanek. Their shoes survived because they were valued more highly by the Nazis than the lives of their owners.

Photo: piles of victims’ shoes at Majdanek, discovered after liberation, 1944; Yad Vashem

Poem: Michael Berenbaum (ed.), From Holocaust to new life : a documentary volume depicting the proceedings and events of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, Washington, D.C., April 1983-Nissan 5743 (American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, 1985)




In the sixth of our weekly podcasts, the Trust's Head of Education Alex Maws talks to archaeologist Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls about her pioneering research on Nazi camps and its implications for our understanding of the Holocaust. 

Click here to read a transcript of the podcast. 



One of the most challenging questions raised by the Holocaust is that of what made someone a perpetrator. The SS leader Heinrich Himmler, shown here with his daughter Gudrun, was the chief organiser of the Holocaust. In October 1943 he delivered a speech to senior SS officers in Poznań in Poland.

I also want to speak to you here, in complete frankness, about a very grave matter. We can talk about this openly amongst ourselves, yet we will never talk about it in public...

I mean the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people... Most of you will know what it means when 100 corpses lie together, when 500 lie there or when there are 1000. To have seen this through, and – except for cases of human weakness – to have remained decent, that has made us hard. This is an unwritten and never to be written page of glory in our history, since we know how difficult it would be for us today if – with the bombing raids, the burdens and deprivations of the war – we still had the Jews in every city as secret saboteurs, agitators and troublemakers…

Overall, we can say that we have fulfilled this most difficult of tasks for the love of our people. And we have suffered no harm to our inner being, our soul, our character.

The fact that Himmler and other leading Nazis who orchestrated the Holocaust genuinely believed that they were serving the cause of humanity through mass murder is one of the most challenging and troubling aspects of the history of the Holocaust.

Photo: Heinrich Himmler with his daughter Gudrun, 1932; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of James Blevins

Speech: Trials of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, XXIX (International Military Tribunal, 1947)



The murderers of the Holocaust were not simply ideological fanatics or uneducated thugs. Dr Johann Paul Kremer was a professor of anatomy who served with the SS at Auschwitz-Birkenau in late 1942. He performed selections of prisoners, choosing who was fit to work and who would be sent straight to their death. Alongside these Sonderaktions, he extracted organs from victims. He recorded these activities in his diary alongside descriptions of everyday events. The diary offers a powerful insight into the psychological mentality of a perpetrator.

6 September 1942
Today Sunday, excellent luncheon: tomato soup, half a chicken with potatoes and red cabbage (20 g fat), dessert and wonderful vanilla ice-cream. After the meal the new medical officer, Obersturmführer Wirths, who comes originally from Waldbröl was welcomed. Sturmbannführer Fietsch in Prague was his former regimental doctor.

I have now been in the camp for a week but I still have not completely got rid of the fleas in my hotel room despite all the counter-measures with Flit (Cuprex) etc…In the evening at 8.00 went to another Sonderaktion outside.

9 September 1942
This morning received excellent news from my lawyer in Münster, Prof. Dr Hallermann: from the first of this month I am divorced from my wife. I can now see life in all its colours again. A black curtain has risen from my life! Was later present at corporal punishment of eight prisoners and an execution with a small-bore rifle.

Kremer was captured after the war, as shown in the photograph. He was sentenced to death for his crimes in Auschwitz by a Polish court in 1947 but this was later commuted to life imprisonment. He was released in 1958 and died peacefully of natural causes in 1965.

Photo: Johann Paul Kramer following his arrest, post-war; Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu

Diary extracts: Ernst Klee et al. (eds.), “The Good Old Days”: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders (Konecky & Konecky, 1991)



The majority of those who murdered Jews were regular German policemen, such as those shown in the photograph. After the war, many claimed that they would have been shot if they had refused to take part. However, this was not true. As the following post-war testimony from Werner Schwenker, a low-ranking detective who took part in the shooting of Jews in Kołomyja in Poland, makes clear, other factors influenced their decision to become murderers.

The reason I did not say to Leideritz [his senior officer] that I could not take part in these things was that I was afraid that Leideritz and others would think I was a coward. I was worried that I would be affected adversely in some way in the future if I allowed myself to be seen as too weak. I did not want Leideritz or other people to get the impression that I was not as hard as an SS man ought to have been...

I carried out orders not because I was afraid I would be punished by death if I didn’t. I knew of no case and still know of no case today where one of us was sentenced to death because he did not want to take part in the execution of Jews... I thought that I ought not to say anything to Leideritz because I did not want to be seen in a bad light, and I thought that if I asked him to release me from having to take part in the executions it would be over for me as far as he was concerned and my chances of promotion would be spoilt or I would not be promoted at all.

Schwenker’s testimony is one of many which reminds us that the perpetrators had choices and illustrates how eminently human motives, such as ambition and peer pressure, could lead someone to become a murderer.

Photo: German policemen in Poland, 1941; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Michael O’Hara/Bernhardt Colberg

Testimony: Ernst Klee et al. (eds.), “The Good Old Days”: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders (Konecky & Konecky, 1991)



The perpetrators of the Holocaust were not only Germans. For example, the nationalist governments of two allies of Germany, Romania and Croatia, both murdered Jews themselves without any prompting from the Nazis. In the case of Romania, Mihai Antonescu, the foreign minister and deputy prime minister, set out the ideology behind the terror at a cabinet meeting in July 1941.

At the risk of being misunderstood by certain traditionalists who may be among you, I am all for the forced migration of the Jewish element of Bessarabia [Moldova] and Bukovina [now in Ukraine], which must be dumped across the border... You must be merciless to them... I do not know how many centuries must pass before the Romanian people shall again encounter such total freedom of action, such opportunity for ethnic purification and national revision... This is a time in which we are masters of our territory. Let’s use it. If necessary, fire the machine gun. I couldn’t care less if history remembers us as barbarians... I take formal responsibility in telling you there is no law... So, no formalities, complete freedom.

In the months and years which followed, more than 200,000 Jews, including those shown being deported in the photograph, were murdered by the Romanian army and police in modern Moldova and Ukraine through a combination of mass shootings, use as slave labour and starvation.

Photo: Moldovan Jews are deported to Transnistria by Romanian forces, 1941; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Speech: Jean Ancel (ed.), Documents concerning the fate of Romanian Jewry during the Holocaust, VI (Beate Karlsfeld Foundation, 1986)



Although only the governments of Germany, Romania and Croatia murdered Jews as state policy, other states actively participated in the Holocaust. On 16-17 July 1942 more than 13,000 Jews without French citizenship were arrested by French police in Paris; the victims included more than 4,000 children. Most of the arrestees were held at the Vélodrome d’Hiver, an indoor cycling stadium, before being transferred to transit camps. The idea of arresting the children came from the French Prime Minister Laval, as this telegram sent by Theodor Dannecker, the SS representative in France, a few days before the round-up makes clear.

6 July 1942
The negotiations with the French government have so far yielded the following results:
All stateless Jews from the occupied and unoccupied zones will be readied for deportation.
Premier Laval has proposed that, in the process of deporting Jewish families from the unoccupied territory, children under 16 years of age should be included. The question of Jewish children remaining in the occupied zone does not interest him
I therefore request that an urgent decision be made by telegram whether, perhaps beginning with the 15th transport from France, children under 16 should also be deported.

Whilst the Nazis decided whether or not to agree to Laval’s request to deport the children, their parents were sent to Auschwitz. Eventually, approximately 3,500 children, some of them so young they could not even remember their names, were deported on seven transports with unrelated adults; not a single child survived. The photograph shows a modern memorial at the site of the Vélodrome d’Hiver. 

Photo: memorial to the victims of the Vélodrome d’Hiver round-up, Paris; Holocaust Educational Trust

Report: Joseph Billig, Le Commissariat Général aux Questions Juives (1941-1944), I, (Éditions du Centre, 1955)




The non-German perpetrators of the Holocaust included not only governments and policemen but also ordinary citizens who volunteered to assist the Nazis. On 29 July 1941, Lithuanian nationalists working for the Germans murdered 125 Jewish men working in a forced labour camp in Kelmė. One of the few survivors from Kelmė, Yakov Zak, described what happened next.

That same night, at about 9 p.m., the eight men were again removed from the camp and forced to carry beer from a nearby warehouse and bring it up to the second floor in the hall of the Lithuanian gymnasium [school], where the killers had organised a ball in honour of the shooting of the Jews.

In the hall, long tables were set decoratively, with the best of everything, in the style of a lavish wedding. At the table the drunken killers sat with their families, dressed in the clothes of those who had been shot to death. The entire Lithuanian intelligentsia of the town arrived at the ball, led by the mayor, Česnys. The stench in the hall was foul and thick with smoke. Everyone sang Lithuanian songs and kept on drinking and gorging. The hall was filled with drunken voices and the playing of the phonograph and radio. The Jews were required to bring beer to the murderers and shooters of those who were near and dear to them. One of the drunken partisans, upon seeing the Jews coming, cried out, “Look there are still Jews!” He grabbed his revolver. His friends calmed him down and forced the local Jews to drink a big glass of beer. Tears poured from the eyes of the eight Jews. At this the drunken crew roared with laughter.

It is possible that a majority of victims of the Holocaust in the Baltic states of Lithuania and Latvia were murdered by local people, such as the Lithuanian men escorting Jews to their deaths in the photograph, rather than the Nazis.

Photo: members of a Lithuanian militia unit prepare for a mass shooting action, 1941; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/Instytut Pamięci Narodowej/Lietuvos Nacionalinis Muziejus, courtesy of Saulius Beržinis/Mrs. Bukowska

Testimony: David Bankier (ed.), Expulsion and Extermination: Holocaust Testimonials from Provincial Lithuania (Yad Vashem, 2011)



It has often been asked why Jews did not resist the Holocaust. Although there were indeed many obstacles to armed resistance – including the demoralisation and deprivation caused by ghetto life, an overwhelming imbalance of military forces, lack of advance knowledge of German intentions, and fear that loved ones could be victims of reprisals – there was in fact significant Jewish resistance. The most prominent example was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April-May 1943; this was the last letter of its leader Mordechai Anielewicz.

It is impossible to put into words what we have been through. One thing is clear, what happened surpassed our boldest expectations. The Germans fled twice from the ghetto... I feel that great things are happening and that what we have dared do is of enormous significance...

It is impossible to describe the conditions under which the Jews of the ghetto are now living. Only a few will hold out. The remainder will perish sooner or later. Their fate is sealed. In almost all the hiding places in which thousands are concealing themselves it is practically impossible to light a candle for lack of air…

The fact that we are remembered beyond the ghetto walls encourages us in our struggle. Peace go with you, dear friend! Perhaps we may still meet again! The dream of my life has been fulfilled. Jewish self-defence in the ghetto has become a fact. Jewish armed resistance and revenge have become a reality. I have been a witness to the magnificent, heroic fighting of Jewish men in battle.

Mordechai died two weeks after writing this letter. The poorly armed rebels knew that they could not defeat the Nazis but they managed to resist the Germans for a month in what was the first major civilian uprising anywhere in Nazi-occupied Europe. In the months that followed, there were revolts in dozens of ghettos across Poland and the Soviet Union.

Photo: Mordechai Anielewicz; Yad Vashem

Letter: [Maria Kann], Na oczach świata (KOPR, 1943)