Even decades after its end, World War 2 still strikes a chord in the hearts of people from all corners of the globe. For some, it was a time of epic heroism and a fight for morality and freedom. For others, it was a time when the darkest imaginations of the human soul came to life. Here, we’ve gathered a collection of rare World War 2 pictures that show both the depths of human evil, and the fierce goodness we can aspire to. More than anything, these pictures from the Second World War prove that greatness can be achieved when good men and women vow to fight against monstrosity.
In these stunning WW2 pictures, you’ll see the war through the eyes of people from all over the world. From the drawings of a young girl raised in a concentration camp, to the reactions of German POWs as they watch footage of what happened inside them, many of these incredible photos will leave you speechless. Though some of these images are graphic, those brave enough to face them will better understand the realities of a war far too important to be lost in time.
In a world that sometimes seems overrun by chaos, here you’ll find evidence that there is always hope, as long as those who stand for good continue to fight against the forces of evil. Though many are still stunned by the darkness that was revealed during the time, these WWII pictures will show you why it’s so important to remember history: it’s the only way to guarantee that some aspects of it are never repeated again.
A POW Stares Defiantly at Hitler’s Right Hand Man
This photo was taken in August of 1941 when Hitler’s right hand man, Heinrich Himmler, visited a Shirokaya Street POW camp in Minsk, USSR.
SS Prison Guards Being Forced to Load Their Victims onto Trucks for Burial
This photo was taken at a recently liberated concentration camp as British soldiers forced Nazi S.S. troops to load the bodies of their victims onto trucks for burial. It was later discovered that this was the camp where Anne Frank lost her life and was buried in an unknown mass grave.
Photo by: AP Photo/British Official Photo
The First Photo of Fallen Soldiers Released in America
This photo of three fallen American soldiers was taken in 1943 by Life Photographer George Strock, and was among the first true glimpses Americans got into the realities of war. The fallen soldiers had been killed in battle on Buna Beach in New Guinea.
Photo by: LIFE photojournalist George Strock
A Liberated Jewish Man Holds a Nazi at GunPoint
Wow! Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words!
A Concentration Camp Survivor Who Was Told to Draw “Home”
This heartbreaking photo was taken at a home for emotionally disturbed children in Poland right after the war. When asked to draw “home,” a young girl who grew up in a concentration camp responded with this drawing of the chaos she must have felt inside.
Photo by: Seymour, David
An Abandoned Boy Sitting Amid the Ruins of His London Home
An abandoned boy sits clutching a stuffed animal amid the ruins that used to be his London home. This image was captured by Toni Frissell after a German bombing in 1945.
Photo by: Toni Frissell
A Soviet Spy Laughing in the Face of Death
This photo was taken in November of 1942 in East Karelia and depicts a Soviet Spy laughing through his execution. It was declassified by the Ministry of Defense of Finland in the 2006, with the description: Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot, Finland, 1942.
German Prisoners Reacting to Footage of Concentration Camps
This photo was taken in 1945 and depicts German POWs being forced to watch footage of the horrors unfolding in Nazi run concentration camps.
A German Soldier Sharing Bread with Russian Boy
This photo was taken in 1942, somewhere in the Volkhov area of Russia and shows a German soldier sharing bread with an orphaned boy.
A 15-Year-Old German Soldier Crying
Towards the end of the war, the Germans became so desperate for recruits that many children were accepted into the Nazi military forces. Among them was 15-year-old Hans Georg Henke, seen here crying after being captured by the US Army in 1945. Both of his parents had died and the boy had joined the military to support himself.
A US Soldier Offering Help to a Japanese Woman Hiding in a Cave
During the Saipan battle of 1944, nearly 22,000 Japanese citizens lost their lives- many to suicide due to the Emperor’s command to kill themselves rather than be taken alive. This terrified woman who had hidden in a cave with her child was probably hesitant to accept help thanks to Japanese propaganda that told citizens that American soldiers were rapists and murders.
A German Soldier Offering Food to a Starving Mother and Child
This photo was taken in 1941 in a Nazi occupied territory of the Soviet Union. During this time, the Germans were enacting their “Hunger Plan,” which consisted of starving millions of Soviet citizens to death by plundering their food for Nazi soldiers. Though this German soldier’s act of kindness was probably much appreciated by this mother and her starving child, the actions of his army quite possibly led to her death.
Photo by: George Gundlach, Photographer of the 291st Division of the Wehrmacht
A German Soldier Returns Home to Find His Family Missing
This tragic photo, taken in 1946, shows a German POW returning home after the war, only to find that his Frankfurt home had been bombed. His family was nowhere to be found.
Photo by: Tony Vaccaro
The Architect of Auschwitz Right Before He Was Executed Next to Its Crematorium
Rudolf Höss was the architect and commander of Auschwitz concentration camp, the legendarily gruesome site of thousands of deaths. Though he was hung next to the death camp’s crematorium, guards who were present later commented that the execution hardly seemed enough to make up for the countless atrocities Hoss orchestrated during the war.
Photo by: Press Photographer Stanisław Dąbrowiecki
A Naked Gunman Resumes His Post After Rescuing a Drowning Pilot
The US Navy Crewman of your dreams? The young man photographed here was actually a hero. Before immediately reassuming his role as a machine-gunner, he stripped down in order to dive into Rabaul Harbor to rescue a Marine pilot who had been shot down by the Japanese.
Photo by: Horace Bristol
Two Soldiers with the Best Easter Present Ever
Technical Sergeant William E. Thomas and Private First Class Joesph Jackson had an extra special Easter egg for Hitler in 1945.
The Sky Over London After a 1940 Battle
This photo was taken in London in 1940 and shows the city skies after an air fight between British and German pilots.
American Tank Crews Talking to Man Liberated from the Camp of Santo Tomas, Philippines
This photo shows American troops listening to US Citizen Bernard Herzog, who had just been liberated from a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines. Herzog lost 78 pounds while in the camp and was suffering from a vitamin deficiency illness called beriberi, which probably also explains the swelling in his legs.
Photo by: US Army
Allied Soldiers Mocking Hitler from His Famous Balcony
This photo was taken in 1945, about a month before Hiroshima and the day after the Phillipines had been liberated. It features Allied soldiers mockingly impersonating Hitler from his famous balcony at the Chancellery in Berlin.
Photo by: Fred Ramage
Aleksandra Samusenko, a Female Tank Commander
Aleksandra Samusenko was one of the only female tank officers of the Soviet Armed forces and served as a tank commander from 1943-1944. Samusenko rose to fame both for her heroic performance during the Battle of Kursk and for leading her forces out of an ambush when her commander fell during a later battle.
Victims of the Dresden Firebombings Waiting to Be Buried
The firebombing of the German city of Dresden during WW2 remains one of the more controversial moves on the part of the Allied Forces. The February 1945 bombings resulted in the deaths of anywhere from 22,000 to 40,000 people, many of them civilians.
A Japanese Plane Shot Down During Battle
This 1944 photograph captured the sight of a Japanese aircraft falling from the sky after being shot down during the battle of Saipan.
Japanesse Soldiers Using Sikh POWs for Target Practice
This disturbing image shows Japanese soldiers using Sikh POWs for target practice. The captured soldiers, who fought with the allied forces, are blindfolded as they sit roughly 20 meters away.
Soldiers from the French African Colonies Holding Position at Boucle du Doubs
These Soldiers from the Senegalese Free French troops are pictured serving near Besancon, France during the winter of 1944. They used a variety of Allied equipment, ranging from their British weaponry to American helmets, emblazoned with the anchor emblem of the French Colonial forces.
The Soviet Flag Being Raised Over Berlin
On May 2, 1945, Soviet soldiers raised their flag over the Reichstag in Berlin. The victory was an important one for many Soviet soldiers who considered the building a symbol of their enemy.
Photo by: Red Army photographer Yevgeny Khaldei
A Line of Men About to Be Executed on Bloody Sunday
This 1939 photo depicts of a line of men about to be executed on what would later become known as “Bloody Sunday.” Bloody Sunday took place in Bromberg, Poland on September 3, two days after the Nazis invaded the country. The gruesome day saw the deaths of many members of the city’s sizable German minority. Upon the town’s later capture, the Germans used the killings as an excuse for the massacre of countless Polish inhabitants.
An Alarmed Reindeer Startled by Enemy Bombers
In 1941, this alarmed reindeer was photographed as bombs were dropped over Russia behind him.
Crash Landing of a Pacific Aircraft Carrier
An airplane crashes on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific due to gear failure in 1944.
The Last Known Picture of Hitler
This photo was taken approximately 2 days before Hitler committed suicide on April 30,1945 by biting down on a cyanide capsule while shooting himself in the head. Here he looks over ruins outside his Berlin bunker as all of Germany lies in shambles.
A US Soldier Eating Dinner on Ammo Shells
In this rare color WW2 photograph, an unidentified soldier enjoys dinner on a makeshift table of ammunition shells in 1944 England.
Photo by: LIFE photographer Frank Scherschel
Athens Captured by the Nazis
When the Nazis captured Athens in the early 1940’s, they decided to celebrate by flying their flag above the Acropolis. The banner didn’t last long, however. It was torn down by two 19 year old students a month later. This was one of the first acts of what would become known as the Greek Resistance.
German Soldiers Looting Fallen American GIs
This photo was taken during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, and depicts German soldiers stripping boots and other supplies off of dead U.S. Soldiers. The red pen marks that can be seen on the signs are due to later Army censorship.
The Eiffel Tower During Nazi Occupation, 1940
During the Nazi occupation of France in 1940, Hitler originally ordered the Eiffel Tower destroyed. Luckily, his orders were never carried out. Later, French resistance fighters cut the cables to the towers elevators so that any Nazis who wished to see the view from the top would be forced to climb the stairs.
One of the First Photos of Hitler’s Abandoned Bunker
A photo taken in1945 of the inside of Hitler’s decaying bunker.
Photo by: LIFE photographer William Vandivert
A German Soldier Posing His Dog in 1940
Research now shows that the Nazis attempted to create a whole army of speaking dogs who could communicate with their masters. Hitler even built a special school in an attempt to teach the dogs to talk and tap out signals with their paws.
A German Soldier Lighting His Cigarette with a Flamethrower
A German soldier lights his cigarette with the pilot light of a flame thrower on an unknown date during the war.