While we learn about the Holocaust and the horrors of the Nazi regime as schoolchildren, it's hard to truly understand the Third Reich's evil quest to create a "master race."
These photos from the time period offer a glimpse into the disturbing realities of life under Adolf Hitler's regime.
Warning: Some of the photos in this story are disturbing.
1. The rubble of WW1
During the chaos of the first World War, Germany lost as much as 4% of its population, or 2.8 million people. As the country came to grips with its new reality, the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war had a devastating effect on the country's economy
As inflation and unemployment surged, Germans looked for a scapegoat for the country's humiliating loss. Conspiracy theories about Jews, and racist pseudosciences gained popularity.
2. The origin of an evil idea
Ideas about the superiority of one race over another were already popular throughout Europe. Many believed in fake sciences like phrenology - studying skull shapes - which claimed to reveal a person's racial background.
Writers like the French novelist Arthur de Gobineau used the name "Aryans" to mean a race of Germans who they argued were superior to all other races. German writers quickly took hold of the idea, including Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf.
3. The Aryans
The Nazi party saw humanity as a pyramid: Aryan races were at the top of the heap, and all others were "inferior" to them. To even be a teacher in Nazi Germany, you had to submit proof of your family's "pure" ancestry.
Nazis considered Aryans to include Germans, the Dutch, Scandinavians, and the English (as long as they were descended from Germans). They were said to be recognizable for their blond hair and blue eyes.
High-ranking Nazi official Erich Koch explained the regime's way of thinking:
“We are a master race, which must remember that the lowliest German worker is racially and biologically a thousand times more valuable than the population [of inferior races]."
While the Slavic people (Russians, Czechs, Bulgarians) were imagined to be "lower" than the Aryans, the Nazis believed certain people could be "re-Germanized" if they were "racially viable."
This involved passing a pseudoscientific test of your facial features and body. Many Slavic children were kidnapped from their families to be "re-Germanized" by Aryan parents during World War 2.
5. The bottom of the scale
The Nazis used their ideology to persecute and oppress members of the "lower races," including Jewish people, Poles, Serbs, Romani (sometimes called "Gypsies") and black people.
The Nazis tried to marginalize and deport members of these racial groups, before attempting to eliminate them altogether. Certain groups, like black people, were also forcibly sterilized by the Third Reich.
Germany wasn't the only country to embrace eugenics, or "selective breeding," but the Third Reich was well-known for their aggressive attempts to "cleanse" the German population of "undesirables" through marriage. Hitler called the Madison Grant's book about eugenics, The Passing of the Great Race, "my Bible."
Patients with conditions ranging from epilepsy to alcoholism, mental illnesses, and even deafness and blindness were sterilized to prevent them from having children. More than 100,000 disabled Germans were even killed in secret between 1939 and 1941.
7. Birthrate obsession
To increase the birthrates of the country's "racially elite," the Nazi party passed the Law for the Encouragement of Marriage. It promised every married Aryan couple a 1,000 Reichsmark loan, which they did not need to pay back if they had four children.
Women who had large numbers of children were even honored with a government award named the Mother's Cross.
8. Nuremberg Laws
There were as many as 500,000 Jewish people living in Germany when the Nazis took power in 1933. Before trying to wipe them out directly, the Third Reich used aggressive antisemitic laws to oppress Germany's Jewish population.
More than a thousand laws banned Jews from associating with Aryans, owning shops, working in government jobs, and eventually from being citizens altogether.
9. Concentration camps
As soon as the Nazis took power, they began to build large concentration camps for the state's enemies. At first, they were a dumping ground for political opponents of the Third Reich. Then, groups of Jews, criminals, Romani, and homosexuals were shipped to the camps. By 1945, more than 700,000 prisoners were held in Nazi concentration camps.
10. "The Final Solution"
The Third Reich's camps were meant to eliminate Germany's Jewish population, not just lock them up.
Prisoners in the many concentration camps were worked to death, neglected, or deliberately murdered. They were shipped to the camps in rail cars, going without food and water on journeys that sometimes took weeks.
11. Death by execution
A number of concentration camps were outfitted with gas chambers designed for mass executions. Prisoners were led inside specially designed chambers, which were flooded with gas. More than 2 million Jewish people were killed in gas chambers, along with disabled Germans and other "undesirables."
While the Nazis executed millions of their own citizens, they were also kidnapping children from across their territory. As part of the Lebensborn (or "youth fountain") program, suitably "Aryan" mothers in Nordic countries were recruited to have children with SS officers. Then, their children and other war orphans were sent to Aryan foster families in Germany.
13. Stolen Generations
By 1939, the Third Reich began to kidnap children from countries under their control. Children who qualified for "re-Germanification" were given new names and families. Older children were beaten and punished if they denied their new identities.
Unwanted children who failed to qualify were sent to concentration camps.
14. Erased history
Near the end of World War 2, nearly all the files on children kidnapped by the Third Reich were destroyed. Few children were returned to their birth parents when the war ended, and many grew up without realizing the truth about their "families."
The Polish government claims 10,000 Polish children were kidnapped, with just 15% returned to their rightful homes.
Hopefully humanity has learned its lesson, and will never repeat these terrible mistakes.