Photos from the Nazi Archives

Please Note:  This post contains images of sensitive content

The National Archives has a large collection of seized foreign records. Within the Still Photos Branch, the vast majority of these records pertain to Nazi Germany. Notable series include photographs taken by Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler’s official photographer, and a number of albums from Eva Braun, Hitler’s long-time girlfriend.   In recent months, the Still Photos Branch added another small, yet important, series of seized foreign records: Photographs Obtained from the National Socialist German Workers’ Party Archives.

Negative Jacket from Nazi Archives, 242-NA

Negative Jacket from Nazi Archives, 242-NA

In 1934, the Nazionalsozialtische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, better known as the Nazi Party, established a central records center. Called the NSDAP Hauptarchiv, the archives collected records created by Nazi officials, as well as Nazi organizations such as the SS and Hitler Youth.   Under direct orders from Rudolf Hess, the Hauptarchiv also collected documents from other institutions that documented the rise of Nazism.  As such, the Hauptarchiv contained a significant number of records from the first four decades of 20th century Germany.

When the war ended in 1945, Allied troops confiscated many records of the Hauptarchiv. These records, along with others related to the Nazi party and affiliated associations, were eventually moved to the Berlin Document Center (BDC).  The BDC kept records in order to facilitate the denazification proceedings, prosecute war criminals, and govern post-war Germany.  The BDC remained under American control until 1994, at which point the German Federal Archives, Bundesarchiv, took legal custody of the records.

In May of 1995, the records were shipped from the Bundesarchiv to NARA.  While the vast majority of these records were textual documents, a single box of photographs was later transferred to the Still Picture Branch and remained relatively unknown until a recent project to re-house and describe the material.

The photographs in this series reflect the original holdings of the NSDAP Hauptarchiv. Some images date back to 1915 and document the German role in WWI. Other photos document Nazi leadership, including numerous photographs of Hitler at the Nuremburg Rallies. The most striking photographs, however, show prisoners at Dachau concentration camp and children with disabilities. The National Archives only received contact sheets of these photos, some of which can be viewed below.

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-3

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-3

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-2

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-2

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-1

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-1

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All photographs from this series are now available upon request in the Still Photos Research Room.  See our catalog for more information.

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2 Responses to Photos from the Nazi Archives

  1. Stew Ross says:

    This is very interesting. Readers of my books know how much I rely on photos and images. My new book, “Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters? – A Walking Tour of Nazi Occupied Paris,” is no different. Except that photos are hard to come by. Photos that I need come from only two sources: German and French (only those approved by the Germans). Spontaneous photos are difficult to find since the Germans considered anyone taking photos to be a spy and would likely be shot. The Bundesarchiv has been releasing photos to Wikimedia Commons now for about a year. But there is still a huge treasure chest full of wartime photos that we’ve never seen.

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  2. Annette Holmstrom says:

    Thank you for making me aware of this photographic record. These photographs complement a lesson I’m working on, based on the Shoah Foundations’ lessons for secondary students, on how bias can be a stepping stone to genocide – first, we make someone look different, mock, etc., developing the hateful idea of the ‘other’. I will return here in search of more valuable resources, which I will use to help students understand how to intervene and prevent discrimination – thanks again.

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