|German soldiers literally on the way to Stalingrad got a good laugh out of this.|
"Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war." Otto von Bismarck
These are some of the absolutely worst pictures from World War II.
They serve a purpose. "War," William Tecumseh Sherman said, "is Hell." It can also be as cold as that.
If you ignore the carnage and the blood and the pain and the suffering of war, and only portray heroic images and fancy, clean Generals doing derring deeds in immaculate uniforms, what do you get?
So, there is a point to this collection. If truly violent and disgusting images from combat and the reality of war disturb you, this is your chance to move along to another page.
I want to emphasize that this page is not for everyone. It shows the true barbarity of hate and savagery. If you don't think it could ever happen again, and even worse, you are living in a dream world. Beheadings exactly of the type shown on this page are happening today in certain parts of the world. Do you see pictures like these in the news? Probably not, because it is more likely you are shown antiseptic pictures of bombers and guys standing proudly with guns - but maybe you should. You cannot possibly understand anything about this or any other war without seeing the personal destruction that it causes.
This page is sensationalist. Just look at the title, I'm not hiding anything. If you come here, it is your choice. Let me reiterate - this is all about sensationalism and your choice to look at these pictures. The entire point of this page is to be sensationalist, because horrible sensationalism makes a point - about death, murder, and reality. If you don't want to see the truth of war and it offends you, I urge you to go somewhere else.
The Holocaust now has its own page, so there is only a sprinkling of pictures from it on here - most of the pictures there are as bad or far worse than any on this page, but that is a whole other universe of savagery. We could do this entire page solely with Holocaust pictures - but then it would be called "Holocaust," and that page is elsewhere. These are primarily battlefield/occupied territory incidents.
Some of the facts in the captions may be incorrect and some of the pictures may be fakes. The best sources are used, but there have been many post-war films, "re-creations" and outright propaganda that are manufactured to look authentic and thus are extremely hard to spot. These fakes sometimes find their way into the most reputable sources, including the German National Archives that serves as an official repository. If anyone can provide a better ID for any image, post a comment. Any likely fakes will be removed, but there must be some validation of that.
Incidentally, regarding comments, off-hand remarks that "the captions are wrong" or you don't like them or the pictures are too ghastly or you find something objectionable or it is wonderful that people were killed or any other spurious remarks (and this kind of page attracts them all) will be disregarded and discarded. Anything related to World War II draws visceral reactions from a broad spectrum of society. This page is for review and reflection, not debate. It is extremely sad that these victims died, and that is that. But we can learn from their sacrifice.
Everyone is tired of keyboard heroes who shout the loudest about how war is needed to solve this problem or that in the world. We're also tired of people shouting about how offended they are at real things as shown on here. So, don't bother commenting that you're offended for some reason or another, nobody cares. Anyone who thinks that war is an answer should be required to view this page and others like it and then tell us how necessary war is. The reality of war will not change. This is real war that is shown here, not tidy pictures of heroes.
|Some Germans having a grand old time at the hanging party.|
I know what you're probably thinking - these are all fakes, right? War isn't that bad, right? Well, let's just put up another similar photo, just for you. But, no, nobody expects you to be convinced of anything, this is one area where "it's obvious."
|Seventeen year old Maria Bruskina as the noose tightens. She and two others were hung by the neck until they were dead in Minsk, Belorussia on Oct 29,1941. The Germans believed them to be partisan accomplices.|
Fakes in fact are a real problem in this field. It isn't just post-war "revisionists" or "enhancers" or "re-creators" who are to blame for fakes. The Ministry of Propaganda was hard at work during the conflict itself, and even before. As an example, below is a famous shot that was widely distributed in Nazi Germany during Hitler's rise to power. It was released during a German election in order to make Hitler more popular (I know that sounds kind of odd to say now). It supposedly shows young Austrian Adolf Hitler delirious with joy upon the outbreak of World War I.
|"Hitler at the Odeonsplatz, 1914."|
The above photo is widely considered to be a fake. What is of interest here is that, if it is a fake (and if so, it is very good), it was manufactured or procured by Hitler's personal photographer Heinrich Hoffman in the early 1930s. Nobody can prove it to be a fake, it is that good - but the odds of a random (extremely talented) photographer just happening to capture Hitler at the front of a crowd celebrating the announcement of World War I, and then Hoffman just stumbling upon it two decades later just when it would come in handy, and all with crystal clarity... well, let's just say it's about as likely as being struck by lightning. So we are dealing with fakes prepared both after the events in question - and during them. There are other more obvious fakes, but hopefully I've made my point.
In summary, the intent of this page is to convey the reality of war itself, which is horrible, and not the special case of the Holocaust, which is like the Twilight Zone of brutality. A sanitized picture of war is not about war at all - there is nothing sanitary about war. And there are a couple of Holocaust pictures on here just as a reminder of that horror - because war is horror.
This also is not a "Tsk, Tsk, bad, bad Germans" page, though of course they did more than their share of evil acts. There were ghoulish acts performed by all the combatants during World War II. Bombing cities with 2000-bomber raids, cities that were defenseless and full of women and children, and causing firestorms - that's pretty ghoulish. But this particular page is about personal, in-your-face ghoulishness. Bomber raids were impersonal, push-a-button killing, and this page is intended to get real personal.
Atomic bombs of then-unknown intensity used on large cities full of people - ghoulish. The Russians were notorious for booby-trapping buildings in towns they had abandoned. The British beached and left a destroyer behind during one raid on a French port, and the curious Germans naturally boarded to inspect it, perhaps to see if there were any survivors. The British, though, thoughtfully had loaded it with time bombs that exploded the next morning. Dozens dead. That's pretty nasty, and nastier because of the obvious sneaky intent.
Hey, there's a war on!
|Dead Germans, Breslau, 1945. On the bright side, the street sign survived quite nicely.|
But the Germans were pretty much the champs in terms of systematic killings during World War II, no question about it. Everybody else in comparison... rank amateurs.
There are a couple of points to bear in mind when viewing these photos. First, things often are not what they appear. There may be dead people and guys with guns standing over them - but that does not mean that they murdered anyone. Somebody else may have done the deed, and the guys in the picture who appear to be forcing others to dig the graves in fact may be blameless (or not). Pictures have intrinsic rules and create their own reality that may not reflect actual events. There isn't any "explanation" or "mitigating factor" in a photograph.
Sometimes killings are legally justified by the rules of war, but that does not make them any less ghoulish. Other times, the savagery is not justified in any way, shape or form. However, legality is beside the point - the killing can be ghoulish regardless. Just be aware that pictures don't always tell the story that we think or assume they do, so be careful about blanket assumptions.
The reality is that there was ghastly brutality on both sides, and I am subtle about it, but the observant will notice that some of the shots below were of Allied actions. Sure, I can hear the angry voices justifying this country's or that country's brutal reign of terror. "That's all just part of war." "Absolutely necessary." "It actually saved a lot of lives in other ways." "Well, they weren't supposed to do that, it was illegal, but they did it without our knowing it." "You have to fight fire with fire." "They did it first." "This is nothing compared to what they did." "It shortened the war!" "It was necessary in order to win and stop their crimes." Yes, and much more like that.
The response? Precisely. That's what war is.
♪♫ "Whatever gets you through the night, it's all right, it's all right." - John Lennon ♫♪The truth is that the reality was 10x worse than these photos make it look. The pictures don't capture the stink of burning corpses - or the stench of still living ones melting away from starvation. They don't include the wailing of motherless children crawling over their dead mother's bodies. They can't quite convey the reality of the rats and vultures approaching your fallen comrade's body as you, with a broken leg and shattered arm, have bigger problems to worry about - such as that they'll get you next.
If you feel nothing when looking at pictures like this, you're really tough and jaded. Hooray for you. They are, after all, old and grainy - that means they're just, you know, old pictures, like ancient Roman ruins with nothing to do with your life. Or maybe the pictures just don't register, they mean nothing, just images without meaning or context. Then why are you looking?
They do mean something. Maybe you just don't realize it or feel it. Yet.
Oh, and this is directed at you, the one that thinks that war is glorious and winning battles is beautiful and conquering territory is lovely.
All right, you've had your chance to move on. This is a page of pure evil. Here goes.
|Some Japanese soldiers. No, that is not a doll. Why did they take a picture of this?|
|The Rape of Nanking, 1937.|
|Drohobycz, Poland, A girl beside the body of her mother.|
The above picture usually has the caption "Hostage execution in Pancevo, 1941." That may well be precisely what it is. However, what was actually going on there has been called into dispute by at least one source. It undoubtedly shows an execution by German troops (ordinary Wehrmacht) in April 1941 in the town of Panchevo in the Vojvodina region. Perhaps this was a merciless, unjustified slaughter of innocent civilians.
However it is claimed elsewhere that this in fact was an execution of 18 Yugoslav army fighters who, disguised as civilians, had been involved in shootings of German soldiers. The claim is that they were sentenced to death by a military court and legally executed. It is contended that, as grim as it was, this execution was entirely in accord with internationally-sanctioned military law practiced by all sides, such as the Americans who shot Operation Greif spies out of hand, within days of capture, during the Battle of the Bulge.
I don't know. I wasn't there (honest!). I put the explanations there for your consideration. Much in this field becomes a question of how much you trust the sources (apparently Soviet in this case). This may strike you as quibbling over nothing, but it is important to some folks because the standard line is that ordinary Wehrmacht troops did not engage in genocide. I have my doubts about that, too, but an open mind. There is so much other damning evidence that one photo doesn't make much difference, but it provides a window into hidden battles that continue to this day. There are people who want the truth out, and others who like to, shall we say, tailor it in a certain direction. And they live on both sides of the aisle.
Sometimes pictures lie. Sometimes they tell the truth. You decide.
|Mussolini and his mistress, Dongo, Italy, April 29, 1945|
|"Hey, look over there for me, would you?"|
|I looked around, and did not see anyone else calling this shot into question. However, the commentary is primarily in Chinese, and translations are poor. We'll call it questionable, but leave it up for you to decide.|
|Here is another Japanese beheading of a Chinese. Really, there are quite a few to choose from.|
|This baby was left without a mother, somewhere back in the USSR.|
|This American just wanted a drink of water, France, June 1944. The fountain was booby-trapped. His thirst is gone.|
|Dead civilians, Volokolamsk, Russia. Their bodies? Frozen solid. Impossible to bury them until the spring thaw (the "rasputitsa") anyway. Besides, it sets an example for others. So, just leave them. They aren't going anywhere.|
|A notorious concentration camp guard. What she did was far worse.|
|Russian prisoners left to die of hunger and exposure near Stalingrad as the Germans steadily retreated inside the ruined city, December 1942.|
|Dead Russians soldier, stood up by the Finns as a warning during the 1939/40 Winter War. The Soviets won, but they left a lot of guys behind.|
|Dead soldier used as a signpost. Notice how his boots are missing? Warm boots were very prized during the Russian winters. This guy didn't need them any longer. Were they taken by the enemy or... his friends. Hey, warm is warm.|
|Dead Waffen-SS on the road to Moscow. The middle of nowhere, probably buried right there without any markings, and there they stay.|
|Outside Moscow, December 1941. The birds have to act fast, the corpses will freeze solid within hours. Some things can't be staged, vultures and crows is one of them.|
|All right, we have a pictures of a teenage boy standing beside some dead bodies. Not so bad, right? Well, they are his murdered family. He's next. Zboriv, Ukraine, 5th of July 1941.|
|Dead Russian soldier in the road. When tank after tank runs over you - that's how you look.|
|Japanese soldiers "taking care of business" in Nanjing, 1937.|
|An Einsatzgruppe going about its normal business. It appears the condemned are being made to face the wall, or perhaps that is just a show of defiance. Just another day at the office. Is that a woman third from the left?|
|Germans executing Polish civilians in 1939. Note the pile of bodies. The real problem with mass killings? Disposing of the bodies. Such a chore for the Hitlerites.|
|Dead civilians in Kharkov. Partisans? Perhaps. Maybe the local German commander just wanted their houses.|
|This is a two-parter, the second part below.|
|"Major Martin," the corpse used by the British in Operation Mincemeat. "He's dead, Jim." They think they know who owned that body in life, but they're not absolutely sure. Just another dead guy they picked up to do a job.|
|Japanese Bomb hits the flight deck of USS Enterprise, costing the photographer of this picture his life. August 24, 1942. Incidentally, if you scroll down quickly as you view this, it appears to move as an optical illusion.|
|Remains left on Guadalcanal, 1951. Eight years later!|
|Japanese bayoneting Chinese in Nanking. The usual crowd of onlookers. Looks like another one being led in to take his turn and watching what is happening. Look at the poor guy in the foreground putting up his leg in self-defense.|
|Chinese Boy Beheaded - his only crime was being a member of a household suspected by the Japanese of aiding Chinese guerillas (the Japanese called them "Bandits"). He appears to be praying. Ca. 1938. Corbis photo.|
|Oradour sur Glane massacre, France, 1944. These folks got in the way. The Germans were in a hurry. Look, don't get in the way next time. K?|
|American GIs in the South Pacific.|
|Another German summary execution. They probably made him dig the hole. No shirt, note the snow on the ground, they probably had him working so hard he didn't need it anyway.|
|Just to hammer home that the previous photograph was not an isolated incident|
|And a third.|
|The fate of millions of men during the war, this one happened to be in the Ukraine 1943. Not wise to be standing up straight when there are snipers around. He learned his lesson. This is a famous shot that is not a recent fabrication.|
|Russia 1943. Helmets were good for pistol shots, but rifle bullets were a whole other deal.|
|Brandenburg Gate 1945. RAD Unteroffizier.|
|I know, this isn't horrific. But it is human, and we can relate. A Russian woman's reaction to losing her home in 1942. Who knows what - or who - was inside.|
|This fine Soviet soldier worked straight through dinner - for 70 years. The PPsh sub machine gun is a bit rusty, though, won't pass inspection like that.|
|This is one creepy picture. Hitler at Christmas|