Ask a Historian

Several of you asked historical questions at the conference. We gave these questions to education staff and historians to answer:

Concentration Camps:

Some of the tattoos in the exhibit displayed inverted triangles under the number – what did that mean?/ The triangle symbol – was there a purpose/meaning behind this means of identification?

Who was the intended audience for Terezin films?

“Aim was to deceive foreign audiences”

“SS creators intended to refute allied allegations of mass murder”

More on film here:


How did the Jewish population develop after emigrating to Shanghai?

An estimated 17,000 German and Austrian Jews first immigrated to Shanghai following the start of the Nazi persecution of Jews in 1933. After the Kristallnacht attacks in 1938, Jews fled to Shanghai in droves. Because of the massive wave of refugees, the country began requiring visas for entry after August 1939. Adjustment to a new culture and a new way of life was difficult, but Jews prospered in Shanghai. They opened shops and restaurants, and established relief aid for the expanding refugee population.

German and Austrian Jewish Refugees in Shanghai

[About 2100 Polish Jewish] refugees also found an established community of some 4,000 Russian Jews to assist them, and more than 17,000 struggling German and Austrian Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi persecution in 1938 and 1939. Most of Shanghai’s German and Austrian Jewish refugees lived in crowded, dilapidated housing. The most economically vulnerable of them lived in barracks funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Still, these earlier arrivals were managing to survive and even thrive.

Polish Jewish Refugees in the Shanghai Ghetto

Why did the Nazis make it hard for Jewish emigrants to leave after 1939? Didn’t they want them out?

The Nazis didn’t make it hard for Jews to leave. The policy simply changed once WWII began. After 1939, the Nazi policy of expropriation and emigration shifted to mass deportation.

From the HE article on Adolf Eichmann – “During the war, German policy regarding the Jewish population shifted from one of expropriation and Jewish emigration to forced deportation. Systematic mass deportations of the Viennese Jewish population began in the autumn of 1939 when, on Eichmann’s orders, SS and police officials deported some 1,500 Jews from Vienna to a detention camp in Nisko, Poland. In late winter 1941, the Germans deported approximately 4,500 additional Viennese Jews to occupied Poland (primarily to Izbica and other ghettos in the Lublin region), where most were later murdered. In the autumn of 1941 and the spring of 1942, the Germans deported thousands more Jews from Vienna to cities in the occupied Soviet Union (Riga, Kovno, Vilna, and Minsk). Locally stationed SS and police officials then murdered these Jews, mostly in mass shootings. Thousands of Viennese Jews were also deported to the Lodz and Theresienstadt ghettos.”

Jewish Life/Oppression:

Were Aryans forbidden from seeking treatment for their pets if the veterinarian was Jewish?

The April 3, 1936 Reich Veterinarian Law completely expelled Jews from the profession

Could Jewish lives have been saved if they changed their religion?

Simply stated — No.

Though anti-semitism existed long before the Nazi rise to power—commonly rooted in religion—Nazi ideology was centered in racial anti-semitism. Within Nazi ideology, Jews were distinguished as a race, not a religious or ethnic group. There was a racialization of negative stereotypes about Jews and Jewish behavior. Under this ideology, a group of people had a fixed set of characteristics- physical, emotional, intellectual, and behavioral. For the Nazis, the pure German inherited certain “superior” characteristics, thus Jews, by blood, had inferior characteristics.

In the eyes of Nazi ideology: 1) each race had a biologically determined direction of expansion. 2) If Jewish race was allowed to exist, expand, and procreate with Germans, it would forever dilute the superior characteristics of “Aryans.”

See the Nuremberg Laws –


  • The laws defined Jews as someone having three or four grandparents who were members of the Jewish religious community.
  • The state denied that Jews residing in Germany were in any way German. Their ethnicity, individual identity, or nationality did not matter.
  • The state assumed Jews were hostile to Germany and therefore needed to be watched, controlled, and eventually removed from the country.



Students often remark that Hitler didn’t fit the typical Aryan model. Students often ask or remark that this is hypocritical. How do you respond to this remark?

“Nazi racist antisemitism is based on a lie, and trying to make sense of it will hurt your brain.”


Why Raoul Wallenberg in Soviet gulag?

Wallenberg was last seen in the company of Soviet officials on January 17, 1945, as the Red Army besieged Budapest. He was presumably detained on suspicion of espionage and subsequently disappeared. A Soviet government report in 1956 suggested that Wallenberg had died on July 17, 1947, while imprisoned by Soviet authorities at the infamous Lubyanka Prison in Moscow. Subsequent eyewitness sightings of Wallenberg in the Soviet penal system after 1947 have called this statement into question, and the exact date and circumstances of Wallenberg’s death may never be clarified. In October 2016, 71 years after his disappearance, Swedish officials formally declared Wallenberg legally dead.

Do we know or can we find out what American troop units liberated a camp?


Infantry Divisions:

1st Infantry Division Liberated Falkenau an der Eger (Flossenbürg subcamp)

2nd Infantry Division  Liberated Leipzig-Schönefeld (Buchenwald subcamp) Spergau (labor education camp)

4th Infantry Division Liberated Dachau subcamp

8th Infantry Division Liberated Wöbbelin (Neuengamme subcamp)

26th Infantry Division Liberated Gusen (Mauthausen subcamp)

29th Infantry Division Liberated Dinslaken (civilian labor camp)

30th Infantry Division Liberated Weferlingen (Buchenwald subcamp)

36th Infantry Division Liberated Kaufering camps (Dachau subcamps)

42nd Infantry Division Liberated Dachau

45th Infantry Division Liberated Dachau

63rd Infantry Division Liberated Kaufering camps (Dachau subcamps)

65th Infantry Division Liberated Flossenbürg subcamp

69th Infantry Division Liberated Leipzig-Thekla (Buchenwald subcamp)

71st Infantry Division Liberated Gunskirchen (Mauthausen subcamp)

80th Infantry Division Liberated Buchenwald; Ebensee (Mauthausen subcamp)

83rd Infantry Division Liberated Langenstein (Buchenwald subcamp)

84th Infantry Division Liberated Ahlem (Neuengamme subcamp); Salzwedel (Neuengamme subcamp)

86th Infantry Division Liberated Attendorn (civilian labor camp)

89th Infantry Division Liberated Ohrdruf (Buchenwald subcamp)

90th Infantry Division Liberated Flossenbürg

95th Infantry Division Liberated Werl (prison and civilian labor camp)

99th Infantry Division Liberated Dachau subcamps

103rd Infantry Division Kaufering subcamp

104th Infantry Division Liberated Dora-Mittelbau

Armored Divisions:

3rd Armored Division Liberated Dora-Mittelbau

4th Armored Division Liberated Ohrdruf (Buchenwald subcamp)

6th Armored Division Liberated Buchenwald

8th Armored Division Liberated Halberstadt-Zwieberge (Buchenwald subcamp)

9th Armored Division Liberated Falkenau an der Eger (Flossenbürg subcamp)

10th Armored Division Dachau subcamp

11th Armored Division Liberated Gusen (Mauthausen subcamp); Mauthausen

12th Armored Division Liberated Dachau subcamp

14th Armored Division Liberated Dachau subcamps

20th Armored Division Liberated Dachau

Airborne Divisions:

82nd Airborne Division Liberated Wöbbelin (Neuengamme subcamp)

101st Airborne Division Liberated Dachau subcamp

Museum Exhibits and Resources:

Why are none of the resources online in German?

There is an abundance of Holocaust related material available in German from other institutions and sites. We have sought to prioritize online resources in other languages based on countries that have little information about the Holocaust available to them.

Where did the Torah on the fourth floor come from?

How do I find the list of rescuers and info from the second floor?

The list comes from Yad Vashem’s “Righteous Among the Nations” list. You can find it here. The website has a more updated list than the wall, because the wall has sometimes not been updated with the latest names that have come out.

Why are some sentences blacked out on some of the display boards throughout the Museum?

This happens when there are updated/more accurate figures, or a correction is needed to an outdated term. It is a temporary fix to correct misinformation in the exhibition as we prepare for the revitalization of the Permanent Exhibition