Holocaust Photos That Reveal Heartbreaking Tragedy Only Hinted At In The History Books

Published January 23, 2017
Updated June 10, 2020

These Holocaust photos reveal what perhaps history's greatest tragedy truly looked like for those who experienced it firsthand.

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Holocaust Photos That Reveal Heartbreaking Tragedy Only Hinted At In The History Books
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On January 19, 1942, Szlama Ber Winer made his escape. During transport from the Nazis' Chełmno extermination camp to the Rzuchów subcamp, the 30-year-old Polish prisoner slipped out of the lorry and into the forest.

From there, Winer made his way to the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, where he rendezvoused with the underground Oneg Shabbat group, which had made it their clandestine mission to chronicle the horrors that the Nazis had recently begun perpetrating upon the fellow Jewish residents of their city.

At the time, of course, the group had no idea of the full extent of what they were actually chronicling.

Before Winer escaped and contacted Oneg Shabbat, the Jewish underground in Nazi-occupied Poland, let alone the outside world, had received only scattered bits of information about what was now happening inside the newly completed camps in the forests outside Warsaw — not to mention Krakow, Lublin, and much of eastern Poland.

But in his reports to Oneg Shabbat, Winer began to fill in the gaps. He spoke of Jewish deportees, including his own family, arriving at Chełmno en masse, enduring beatings at the hands of Nazi officers, then dying in gas chambers before being dumped in mass graves — step by step, like clockwork.

Under the pseudonym Yakov Grojanowski and with the help of Oneg Shabbat, Winer documented this revelatory testimony in what would become known as the Grojanowski Report, likely the first eyewitness account of the Nazis' extermination programs to make it beyond the walls of the camps and into the halls of power in Europe.

The report never traveled far enough.

While Oneg Shabbat placed one copy in the hands of the Polish government-in-exile in London and published another batch for the German people (in hopes that it would inspire in them some sympathy for the Jews), Winer's findings never seemed to have made it onto the desks of decision-makers in either Britain or the U.S.

Those two governments, on behalf of the Allied Powers, wouldn't release their first official report on Nazi extermination efforts in Europe until the very end of 1942. By that time, Winer had been dead for six months, recaptured by the Gestapo in Warsaw then shipped to Bełżec extermination camp sometime just after his last communique on April 10.

In the two and a half years that followed, some 6 million Jews and at least 5 million ethnic Poles, Soviet prisoners, Romani, homosexuals, disabled people, and others would join Winer as the casualties of the largest genocide in human history. It would be another two to three decades before most of the Western world would more or less agree to refer to that genocide as the Holocaust.

And today, thanks in large part to the pioneering efforts of people like Szlama Ber Winer and groups like Oneg Shabbat (responsible for one of the world's richest archives of firsthand Holocaust photos and documentation), we can at least attempt to make sense of what likely remains the most tragically surreal episode in history.

Aided as well by countless Holocaust photos culled from government, military, and civilian sources (see gallery above), the world can now bear witness to an event that can never be forgotten. Thankfully, these photos and others like them can be seen by far more people than Winer's pivotal yet under-read report ever could.

After viewing the Holocaust photos above, read up on Stanislawa Leszczyńskac, the woman who delivered 3,000 babies inside Auschwitzbb, and Ilse Koch, "The Bitch of Buchenwald." Then, take a look at the forgotten holocaust with these Armenian Genocide photos and see some of the most stirring World War 2 photos.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Kuroski, John. "Holocaust Photos That Reveal Heartbreaking Tragedy Only Hinted At In The History Books." AllThatsInteresting.com, January 23, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/holocaust-photos. Accessed June 25, 2024.