Between 1942 and 1945, the Nazis embarked upon the so-called ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’, a systematic program of extermination. In concentration camps across Europe, 6 million Jewish people were killed – around 78% of all Jews in occupied Europe.
The Holocaust was the most widespread and industrialised act of genocide the world has ever seen.
Today, that devastating moment in modern history is remembered in sites, museums and memorials across the globe. Here are 15 of the most significant, where visitors can learn more about the history of the Holocaust.
Yad Vashem in Jerusalem is a museum and a memorial of the Holocaust, in which over six million Jews, and at least five million from other ethnic groups, were murdered in an act of genocide perpetrated by the German National Socialist Party under Adolph Hitler.
Through exhibits including photographs, victims’ accounts, art installations and information panels, Yad Vashem offers a moving – and harrowing – account of the events of the Holocaust.
Anne Frank’s house was the site where German Jewish teenager and Holocaust victim Anne Frank, her family, the van Pels family and later a man called Fritz Pfeffer went into hiding from the Nazis during World War II. Tragically, the group’s whereabouts were betrayed to the Nazis and they were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps. Anne Frank died in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, but her diary was later discovered by her father and published to worldwide acclaim.
Anne Frank’s House is now a museum allowing visitors to see the moving bookcase, walk through the cramped secret annex and gain a true appreciation of the hardship this group endured in their fight for survival. The museum has collected and exhibits many original letters, photos and objects belonging to the Frank family as well as to the van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer. Anne Frank’s original diary is also on display.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC is dedicated to commemorating the Holocaust. Combining eyewitness testimony, displayed in films and documents, with over 900 artefacts including one of the railcars used to transport prisoners, the Holocaust Museum tells the story of this world event.
The museum also looks at the issue of genocide as a whole, displaying exhibitions about other atrocities around the world. On average, a tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum takes between 2 and 3 hours.
Auschwitz Birkenau was a concentration camp founded by the Nazis near the town of Oświęcim or ‘Auschwitz’ in Poland. It became the largest and most infamous camp of them all, central to Hitler’s campaign to exterminate the Jews. By the time Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet forces on 27 January 1945, the camp had claimed 1.3 million lives, the vast majority of whom were Jewish.
Auschwitz Museum is based at the original concentration camp site and offers visitors the chance to pass through the camp’s infamous arches bearing the chilling slogan of “Arbeit macht frei” or “Work will set you free”. Inside, visitors can tour Auschwitz Birkenau individually or in group tours.
The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is an installation commemorating the genocide of the Jewish people perpetrated under Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The Memorial is a monument to the six million European Jews who died in the Holocaust.
Made up of a vast dark granite maze and a subterranean information centre which has details about the victims, the memorial is a moving site.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was used by the Nazis between 1936 and 1945. Its primary function was for the imprisonment and execution – or extermination – of Jews and political dissidents, including many Dutch freedom fighters, Russian prisoners of war and even some political leaders from invaded countries.
Estimates put the number of Sachsenhausen casualties at between 30,000 and 35,000, many of whom were shot, hung or exterminated in a specially built room in its infirmary. Much of Sachsenhausen was destroyed during and after its liberation by Soviet and Polish troops on 22 April 1945, but was rebuilt as part of the project to turn it into a memorial and museum.
The Warsaw Ghetto was established by the Nazis to forcibly house the city’s Jewish population, with up to 400,000 people confined here from October 1940. In 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place, a dramatic rebellion which occurred when the Nazis attempted to liquidate the ghetto and one which saw it razed to the ground.
Very little of the Warsaw Ghetto survives today. There are fragments of the original ghetto wall and several memorials including the Mila 18 monument where the uprising headquarters were located and an inscription where insurgent leader Mordechaj Anielewicz and the last of the uprising fighters perished. There is also the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Monument and a monument at Umschlagplatz, the site from where Jews were transported to the death camps.
The Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz was the site of the infamous Wannsee Conference in which the Nazis planned how to carry out the “Final Solution”, the plan to murder the Jewish population of Eastern Europe.
Today, the site provides a moving memorial to the Holocaust as well as an in-depth history of the rise of the Nazi party, the growth of anti-Semitism and the atrocities committed against the Jews.
Dachau Concentration Camp was one of the first of many concentration camps set up by the Nazis to imprison and murder certain groups as part of their campaign of genocide.
Today, Dachau houses a memorial to those who suffered and perished under the Nazis. Visitors can tour the grounds and the remains of the camp and audio guides are available as are guided tours. There are several exhibitions detailing the history of the camp as well as a documentary shown at various times.
The Jewish Museum in Berlin in Germany chronicles the history of German Jews over the course of two millennia. Housed in an incredibly modern building, the Berlin Jewish Museum displays historical objects, documents, photographs, multimedia presentations and even computer games relating to different periods of Jewish history and culture.
The exhibitions are arranged chronologically and cover various themes such as the living conditions of German Jews over the centuries, the role of Jewish women, tradition and change and the meaning of emancipation. The museum also looks at the issue of persecution, in particular during the Nazi era and the Holocaust, offering an insight into both the overall historical context and the lives of individual victims of the atrocities.
Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in Terezin in the Czech Republic was a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust. Theresienstadt was originally an 18th-century stronghold known as Terezin Fortress. It was taken over during the Nazi occupation of the then Czechoslovakia in World War Two. Some 30,000 prisoners died at the camp, despite Nazi attempts to portray it as a humane institution.
Today, Theresienstadt Concentration Camp is open to the public and includes a museum as well as the possibility of visiting the former ghetto.
Krakow Ghetto Wall is a stark reminder of the Krakow Ghetto, established by German Nazi forces in March 1941 as part of their campaign to persecute the Jews. Much of the Jewish population had already been conscripted to carry out forced labour since 1939, when the Nazis occupied Poland. In 1942, Krakow Ghetto was closed and all of its inhabitants were sent to concentration camps.
Some inhabitants of Krakow Ghetto were saved during the War by Oskar Schindler, whose famous Schindler’s List was made into a film by Hollywood director, Stephen Spielberg. Now, the Ghetto Wall, flanked by a former ghetto home, is the last remaining wall of those which once bordered Krakow Ghetto. The Ghetto Wall bears a plaque commemorating Krakow Ghetto.
Mauthausen Concentration Camp or ’KZ Mauthausen’ was a vast Nazi concentration camp in northern Austria. First established in 1938, Mauthausen Concentration Camp was built through the slave labour of prisoners from another such camp, Dachau. Over 119,000 of the almost 200,000 prisoners at Mauthausen Concentration Camp had died there by the time it was liberated by American forces on 5 May 1945.
Today, Mauthausen Concentration Camp is open to the public, who can see the original camp and the terrible conditions to which prisoners were subjected. There is a visitor centre and many memorials to the different national, ethnic and religious groups who suffered at Mauthausen.
The Burgkloster (Castle Monastery) in Lubeck is considered to be one of the most important medieval monasteries in Germany. Established in 1229, the Burgkloster served as a monastery until the Protestant Reformation, after which it was used as a poorhouse until the 19th century. Under the Third Reich, the Burgkloster was used as a Nazi prison, bearing witness to terrible atrocities, particularly against Jews and those who formed the resistance movement.
Today, the Burgkloster is a museum of Lubeck’s history. Visitors can tour the building as well as viewing exhibits on the history of Lubeck’s Jewish community and about Lubeck’s time as an important member of the Hanseatic League. This was a medieval trade block which controlled much of the North Sea and Baltic Sea.
The Tolerence Center is one branch of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. A permanent exhibit operates at the Tolerance Center featuring the historical cultural and artistic heritage of the Litvaks, the Jewish community in Lithuania.
The displays include unique relics of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius and Jewish folk and professional art. The non-permanent exhibits, thematic events and projects are oriented toward themes including the cultural education of society, social dissemination of culture, unique cultural heritage and fundamental human rights.