The Second World War

Genocide and mass violence

The room dedicated to the Genocide of the Jews and mass violence, the biggest in the "World war - Total war" section, 400m² altogether, gives an idea of the unheard-of climate of violence at whose heart mass killings and innumerable atrocities were perpetrated in both Europe and Asia-Pacific between 1937 and 1945.

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The destruction of the Jews of Europe and the Holocaust with bullets

This part of the museum deals with the persecution of Jews before their mass extermination.

The first thing that comes to mind is the extermination of the Jews of Europe, necessary in the eyes of the Nazis for the biological survival and even the existence of the German nation. Once the shock of Hitler’s 30 January 1939 speech, announcing that a new World War will provoke the "destruction of the Jews", has passed, the first part of the room on the right goes back over the different stages of the persecution of the Jews in Europe leading up to their systematic murder.

In the territories of the East, using the war against the USSR as a pretext, between 1 500 000 and 2 000 000 Jews were shot. This is why, in the centre of the room, there is a place reserved for the "Shoah by bullets" or proximity extermination.

Amateur SS films, photographs, objects collected by the teams of Father Patrick Desbois in Ukraine and Byelorussia (objects abandoned by both victims and butchers), and video testimonies of those who saw this Shoah executed in broad daylight bear witness to this genocide, which took place away from the death camps from June 1941.

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The death camps

Death camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau are built to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

As part of the extension of these killings, generally carried out by the Einsatzgruppen, the organized extermination of the European Jews was then decided at the end of autumn 1941. After the Wannsee conference on 20 January 1942, during which the genocide was programmed, it became an industry of death and was methodically planned.

Six death camps, including the complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau, were then perfected to accelerate the "destruction" of all Jews in Europe to provide a "final solution" to the "Jewish question".

The Auschwitz-Birkenau table, touchable and in multimedia form, gives a better understanding of how the main death camp – in which more than 1 million Jews, men, women and children, were murdered – functioned.

The school bag and child’s shoe found at Auschwitz, presented together in the display, remind us that the murder of children bears the most undeniable stamp of the Nazi desire for extermination and genocide: in fact, more than 1,4 million children under 15’ were murdered.

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The fate of the Gypsies

Before leaving the first part of this room on the Holocaust, take some time to consider the fate of the Gypsy populations.

Various aspects of the persecution of the Gypsies are reminiscent of that of the Jews. But in Nazi ideology the Gypsy did not have the statute as the Jew. They were a "plague" from which Germany had to protect itself, but were not identified as the absolute enemy, a mortal danger to be annihilated. The extermination was not systematic, but the approximate result, with considerable gaps, has today been established: between 50 000 and 200 000 deaths.

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Mass violence

Mass killings and countless atrocities alter irreversibly the nature of the conflict.

The following room touches on the different manifestations of mass violence that occurred during the Second World War: the violence at the heart of the Nazism, the violence of the war in the East, the fate of the Soviet prisoners of war, the siege or bombardment of cities… Brutal markers of the barbarity that caused the annihilation of millions of men by other men, convinced that this slaughter was reasonable, legitimate, inevitable… in a word, necessary.

A large part of this sequence is devoted to the violence of the Japanese army, in particular during the taking of Nanking (now Nanjing) in 1937 (an early example of mass violence). The taking of the city gave rise to a horrendous slaughter: shootings, decapitations, drownings, executions by sword and firearm, innumerable rapes… The 300 000 deaths of the "Rape of Nanking" foreshadow the era of mass killings.

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