The Second World War

Genocide and mass violence

This room is dedicated to the Genocide of Jews and mass violence, the biggest in the "World war - Total war" section. It covers 400 m² altogether, providing an idea of the unparalled climate of violence, rooted in mass killings and innumerable atrocities 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 European Jews, 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 would provoke the "destruction of the Jews" is over, the first section of the room on the right looks back over the phases of Jewish persecution in Europe leading up to their systematic extermination.

In the Eastern regions, using the war against the USSR as a pretext, between 1.5 and 2 million Jews were shot. In the centre of the room, there is a display reserved for the "Holocaust by bullets" or close-up killings.

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

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The death camps

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

Carrying on from these killings, generally carried out by the Einsatzgruppen, the organized extermination of European Jews was edicted in late autumn 1941. At the Wannsee conference on 20 January 1942, the genocide became an industry of death and was methodically planned out.

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

The Auschwitz-Birkenau table, touchable and in multimedia form, offers deeper understanding of how the main death camp operated. This is the place where over a million Jews - men, women and children alike - were murdered.

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, over 1.4 million children under the age of 15 were slaughtered.

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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 Gypsies are reminiscent of that of Jews. But in Nazi ideology Gypsies did not have the same status as Jews. They were a "plague" against which Germany had to protect itself, but were not identified as the absolute enemy or a mortal danger to be annihilated. Their extermination was not systematic, but an estimate has been produced today with some considerable gaps: between 50,000 and 200,000 deaths.

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Mass violence

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

The following room touches on some of the manifestations of mass violence that occurred during the Second World War: the violence at the heart of Nazism, the violent war in the East, the terrible fate of Soviet prisoners of war, the siege or bombardment of cities, to name a few. 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 Nanking massacre - now Nanjing - in 1937. An early example of mass violence, the capture of the city resulted in a horrendous slaughter: shootings, decapitations, drownings, executions by sword and firearm, innumerable rapes and looting. The 300,000 deaths resulting from the "Rape of Nanking" were a precurser to the era of mass killings.

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