How to look for records of... Nazi persecution

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1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you identify records of Nazi persecution, including the Holocaust and other crimes committed against various ethnic, religious, political and social groups.

2. Getting started

Many records can be found using a keyword search of Discovery, our catalogue. See the later sections of this guide for details of the different records.

2.1 Useful information

Records of the Holocaust and other Nazi persecution can involve complex research. You may need to consult documents created by different government departments.

The records are likely to contain sensitive details, and you should be prepared to uncover upsetting information. Because of this, and for data protection reasons, some records held at The National Archives may be closed for up to 100 years and can only be opened through a Freedom of Information request.

Given the scale of the Nazi persecution across Europe, some of the records detailed below will be in other languages.

2.2 Searching Discovery, our catalogue

The best way to get started is often with a keyword search of Discovery, our catalogue.

The terms ‘Holocaust’ or ‘Final Solution’ aren’t very useful in conducting searches as they were rarely used at the time the records were created.

Select the advanced search option, enter the year range that you are researching and add search terms such as

  • persecution
  • concentration camp
  • atrocities
  • work camp
  • expulsion
  • resettlement
  • deportation

Use the keywords above to search within the records of government departments:

  • Foreign Office correspondence in FO
  • War Office in WO
  • German Foreign Ministry papers in GFM 33
  • Cabinet Papers in CAB
  • Prime Minister’s Papers in PREM
  • Government Communications Headquarters in HW

Bear in mind that records from before, during and after the Second World War can be useful. Some persecutions, such as those against the Jewish population of Germany and German occupied territory, began soon after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933; while records continue after 1945 as criminal processes and trials were carried out.

It is sometimes possible to search for religious, ethnic and other social groups where these are named in the catalogue descriptions. However, not all of the records are catalogued by keyword, and it may be necessary to consult published indexes to locate relevant records.

3. Foreign Office records (1933 onwards)

3.1 Foreign Office correspondence

Foreign Office correspondence includes many reports of the persecutions and atrocities which occurred in many countries before, during and after the Second World War.

These records may include information on the treatment of minority groups by Nazi governments and civilians, including anti-Jewish legislation and civil disorder. They may also indicate the extent of the British government’s knowledge of Nazi atrocities, including concentration camps, and how it planned to respond.

See our guide on Foreign Office correspondence for a more detailed explanation of how to search, including the use of the Index to the correspondence of the Foreign Office available at The National Archives.

3.2 Compensation to victims of Nazi persecution

Foreign Office records in record series FO 950 include both administration files and individual claims for compensation made by British victims of Nazi persecution under the Anglo-German Agreement of 1964.

These files include both those who received compensation and those who were refused compensation under this scheme.

These records vary in detail but can include:

  • an application form
  • supplementary letters of personal experiences of Nazi persecution which vary in length
  • medical assessments
  • letters of acceptance or rejection of the claim
  • responses of the individual of the rejection/acceptance

Use the advanced search function in Discovery, our catalogue to carry out a keyword search using the keywords such as ‘Nazi persecution’ within the record series FO 950. Where names are included, you could also search these files by name.

Please note that many of the claimants’ names have been withheld under the Data Protection Act.

This series currently consists of 900 files relating to compensation claims for victims of Nazi persecution. However, this is accruing and will be completed in 2017.

4. War Office records (1933 onwards)

War Office records such as war diaries include details of the discovery of concentration and labour camps by the British Army.

Search war diaries in our catalogue by unit name(s) and headquarters rather than by place. See our research guide on British Army Operations in the Second World War for more information on how to search these operational records.

War Office documents also contain information about war crime trials, particularly those held in the British occupied zone of Germany from 1945 onwards. These records cover investigations into individuals accused of war crimes and details of their prosecution. They include:

  • minutes
  • proceedings
  • outcomes of the trials
  • statements made by witnesses and the accused

They also contain descriptions and photographs of a particularly sensitive nature which readers are likely to find upsetting.

See our research guide on War Crimes 1939-1945 for further information.

5. German Foreign Ministry papers (1867-1945)

These papers were captured at the end of the Second World War. They contain information about German policy between 1867 and 1945, including racism and persecution by the Nazis. The key records series for information on the persecution of minority groups is GFM 33.

You can carry out an advanced search of Discovery, our catalogue using either English or German keywords, including those suggested in section 2.2 (searching Discovery our catalogue); but bear in mind that the majority of these records are in German.

Please see our guide on German Foreign Ministry and Italian documents 1867-1945 for further information.

6. Control Commission for Germany (1944-1958)

Control Commission records in FO 1060 contain a great deal of information about the policy and administration of the Control Commission in the British-occupied zone of post-war Germany. The records include details of:

  • concentration camps
  • the situation about former inmates, refugees and displaced persons
  • war crimes

Very few of these records are searchable by keyword. To identify the relevant record(s), use the published indexes Akten der Britischen Militärregierung in Deutschland: Sachinventar 1945-1955 (11 Volumes, Published by KG Saur 1993) available at The National Archives, Kew.

Search within the indexes for relevant keywords. Useful keywords include:

  • concentration camp (or name of a specific concentration camp e.g. Belsen)
  • displaced person
  • refugee
  • Jewish communities
  • Jews
  • nationality

7. Records in other archives

Many other archives and libraries have large collections of written and visual material relating to the Holocaust and Nazi persecution. Some of these are:

8. Further reading

Many books have been published about Nazi persecution and the Holocaust. Use our library catalogue to find a recommended list of those which are available to read in our reference library; you may also be able to find them in a local library. You can buy a wide range of history titles in our bookshop.

There are also some blog posts that may be useful to your research: