How to look for records of... Nazi persecution and the Holocaust
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
1. Why use this guide?
This guide will help you to identify records documenting the Nazi regime in Germany held at The National Archives. These are largely British records, though they do include some captured German records. They contain details of Nazi persecution and policy, including records created during and following the liberation of the concentration camps.
2. An introduction to what we hold
The records we hold documenting Nazi persecution, including of the Holocaust, are, like everything held at The National Archives, records collected and created by central departments of the UK Government, including the War Office, Foreign Office, Cabinet Office and so on.
Of course, these records date from before and after the Second World War as well as from the war itself. The UK had an embassy in Nazi Germany right up until the declaration of war and there is much correspondence shared between the British diplomatic mission in Germany and the Foreign Office now preserved in the archives.
Some of the records contain sensitive and potentially upsetting details and because of this, as well as for data protection reasons, some are closed for up to 100 years. These records can only be opened and seen via a successful Freedom of Information request.
Given the scale of Nazi persecution across Europe, some of the records are in other languages.
3. How to search for records
The simplest way to get started is to try a keyword search of our online catalogue. Every record we hold is represented in our catalogue by a title, a date or date range, a reference and a brief description. When you use our catalogue to search for records you are searching across these titles and descriptions, rather than the contents of the records themselves. By clicking on any item in catalogue search results you can see what the options are for viewing that record.
The terms ‘Holocaust’ or ‘Final Solution’ aren’t very useful when conducting searches as they were rarely used at the time the records were created. You should, instead, try words or combinations of words like:
- Nazi persecution
- Nazi and/or German atrocities
- Nazi activities
- National Socialism
- concentration camp, or the name of a specific concentration camp
- war crimes
- expulsion AND Germany
- resettlement AND Germany
- deportation AND Germany
- names of Nazi leaders including ‘Hitler’ or ‘Himmler’
It is possible in some cases to search for records of Nazi treatment and policy towards specific religious, ethnic and other social groups where these are named in the catalogue descriptions. For example, you can combine some of the keywords above with ‘Jewish’ or ‘Jews’.
Sometimes it helps to narrow your search to specific record departments by using the advanced search of our catalogue and one or more department codes. Record departments correspond to the central government departments which originally collected and created the records or, in some cases, the predecessor or successor departments. Some departments, naturally, were more involved in the creation of records documenting Nazi persecution than others. Among those that produced the largest number of records on Nazi atrocities and other elements of the Nazi regime, and therefore particularly worth targeting when searching, are:
- The Foreign Office – department code FO. Foreign Office correspondence includes many reports of the persecutions and atrocities which occurred in many countries before, during and after the Second World War. See our guide on Foreign Office records for a more detailed explanation of how to search.
- The War Office – department code WO. These are largely records created by the British Army and military staff, ranging from War Office meetings and reports created by administrators and politicians in London to records from the field written by Army officers.
- German Foreign Ministry papers – department code GFM. German Foreign Ministry papers were captured at the end of the Second World War. They contain information about German policy between 1867 and 1945. They are written in German and there are no translations.
- Cabinet Papers – department code CAB. Recording British government strategy and decision-making at the highest level. See our guide to records of the Cabinet and its committees for detailed search advice.
- Prime Minister’s Office – department code PREM. The records of the Prime Minister’s Office include official correspondence of the Prime Minister and much on Second World War policy and operations.
4. Records of persecuted individuals and holocaust victims
In general, you are more likely to track down a record of an individual who was imprisoned in a Nazi labour or concentration camp among the records of other archives and organisations, covered later in this guide. Furthermore, of the records of individuals held at The National Archives, it is often not possible to use our catalogue to search for them by name.
4.1 Records of compensation claimed by and paid 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 FO 950 series search, using keywords such as ‘Nazi persecution’. Names are included in some catalogue descriptions so it is worth trying a search by name. However, some records are closed and the claimants’ names have been withheld under the Data Protection Act.
You can request the opening of closed records in FO 950 under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by filling out our Freedom of Information enquiry form or by writing to our Records Enquiry Service at The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU. In your request please specify the series reference FO 950 and the full names of the claimants you are researching.
4.2 Records held by other archives and organisations
See section 9 below for better places to go to trace records of individuals.
5. Records of Nazi policy and of Nazi occupied territories
For records of the treatment of minority groups by Nazi governments and civilians, including anti-Jewish legislation and civil disorder, the best place to start is Foreign Office correspondence. These records 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 records for a more detailed explanation of how to search.
German Foreign Ministry papers, captured at the end of the Second World War, 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 our catalogue using either English or German keywords, including those suggested in section 3; but bear in mind that the majority of these records are in German. See our guide on German Foreign Ministry and Italian documents 1867-1945 captured by the British for further information.
6. Records of the liberation of the camps
British forces liberated concentration camps in northern Germany, including the camp at Bergen-Belsen but also Neuengamme. It is these camps for which the largest number of records exist at The National Archives. Search the catalogue using ‘concentration camp’ or the name of a specific camp.
Details of the discovery of concentration and labour camps by the British Army are often contained in war diaries, among War Office records.
Search for 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.
Control Commission records in FO 1060, documenting British-occupied post-war Germany include details of concentration camps as well as the handling of former inmates, refugees and displaced persons.
7. Records of Allied occupied Germany
The Foreign Office inherited the records of a number of the organisations through which the Allies administered what are now Germany and Austria after the Second World War. These were:
- The Control Offices, based in London
- The Control Commissions, based in Germany and Austria
- The Civil High Commission, which instigated de facto self-government in West Germany from 1948 until 1955 (when normal diplomatic relations were resumed)
For the greatest concentration of material on the policy and administration of the Control Commission in the British-occupied zone of post-war Germany target Control Commission records.
7.1 What kinds of records are held at The National Archives?
The surviving records of the Control Commission for Germany (British Element) are held at The National Archives but are incomplete as only a small percentage of the files were selected for permanent preservation. The overwhelming majority of these are administrative in nature and rarely contain personal details.
In addition to the above, there are numerous files and material on denazification generally including:
- policy and applications
- some name lists
7.2 How to search for records
For a breakdown of the record series relating to the Allied Administration, see the FO Division 14 page.
The file descriptions used by the Control Commission were very broad and this is reflected in the record descriptions in our catalogue. A keyword search of our catalogue is therefore of limited value but it may be worth completing the following fields in the advanced search with the terms provided:
- All of these words: a keyword relevant to your search e.g. censorship
- Exact word or phrase: Control Commission for Germany
- Within references: FO
- Date: 1945 to 1950
You should also consult Akten der Britischen Militärregierung in Deutschland: Sachinventar 1945-1955 (11 Volumes, published by KG Saur 1993). These volumes, available from The National Archives library, provide brief details (in English and occasionally German) of the Control Commission documents for Germany (the “G documents”) as well as the associated National Archives references.
Search within the indexes for relevant keywords. Useful keywords include:
- displaced person
- Jewish communities
In addition, the records of the Allied Kommandatura, the four power body that administered Berlin until the end of the Cold War, are in FO 1112.
8. Records of war crime trials
Records of war crimes and war crimes trials, particularly those held in the British occupied zone of Germany from 1945 onwards, are held primarily in Foreign Office and War Office departments. These records cover investigations into individuals accused of war crimes and details of their prosecution. They include:
- outcomes of the trials
- statements made by witnesses and the accused
They contain descriptions and photographs of a particularly sensitive nature which you might find upsetting.
See our research guide on War Crimes 1939-1945 for further information.
9. 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:
- The Wiener Library for the Study of Holocaust and Genocide
- Imperial War Museum
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Yad Vashem
- Simon Wiesenthal Center Library and Archives
- German local archives
10. Further reading
Many books have been published about Nazi persecution and the Holocaust. Use our library catalogue to find a recommended list of books 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.
We have published several blogs on The National Archives website on this subject: