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Photo Archives

The Photo Archives is a rich and expanding collection of photographic images gathered from archives, libraries, museums, photo agencies, and private donors around the world. The collection spans the period from the end of World War I to the early 1950s. The broad subject areas covered in the collection are:

  • Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust
  • The rise to power of the Nazi movement in Germany and Austria
  • The flight of European refugees from Nazi Germany and refugee communities around the world
  • Nazi racial science and the propaganda campaign against Jews, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), and the mentally and physically handicapped
  • Nazi anti-Jewish policy in the 1930s, from the boycott through Kristallnacht
  • Nazi persecution of Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political dissidents, Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war
  • The invasion and occupation of eastern and western Europe
  • The roundup, deportation, and resettlement of European Jewry
  • The mass shootings conducted by mobile killing squads
  • Ghettos, concentration camps, and killing centers
  • Nazi collaborators and satellite states
  • Resistance, rescue, and life in hiding during the Holocaust
  • The liberation of Europe and the disclosure of Nazi concentration camps
  • The war crimes trials
  • The displaced persons camps
  • Legal and illegal immigration to Palestine
  • Postwar immigration to the Americas

Photo Catalog

Approximately 20% of the 85,000 historical photographs in the Photo Archives are available through this online catalog. More are being added each month. In general, only photographs belonging to the Museum or determined to be in the public domain are featured in this online catalog. However, in a few instances special permission has been obtained to include photographs belonging to other archives or collectors.

Approximately 600 of the 15,000 institutional photographs of the Museum (images of the Museum and its programs) are available through this online catalog.

A small sampling of photographs of the more than 10,000 artifacts in the Museum is available through this online catalog.

Search the catalog

Comprehensive Search of the Photo Archives

Those interested in conducting more extensive research in the Photo Archives are invited to contact the Photo Archives by mail, phone, or e-mail to set up an appointment. Staff is able to provide long distance photo reference service to those with limited research requests. Inquiries should be as specific and precise as possible. If an inquiry pertains to a photograph in the online catalog, please cite the five-digit photo number next to the image in your correspondence. For questions related to genealogical research, please contact the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center.

Terms and Conditions for Use of Photo Archives Images

Individuals and institutions downloading images from the online Photo Archives catalog must contact the Photo Archives regarding terms and conditions of use.

Reproduction Services

For information about reproduction services please contact the Photo Archives. Orders will be filled in the order in which they are received. Please allow three weeks to complete any order.

Donations of Original Materials

The Collections Division is actively soliciting donations of original prewar, wartime, and immediate postwar family photos. If you are interested in donating original materials, please contact Kyra Schuster at 202.488.2649 or by e-mail kschuster@ushmm.org.

If you would like to donate photographs documenting the liberation of concentration camps please read this article about liberation photography.

Temporary Loans of Original Materials

For those of you who are not ready to part with your collections of photographs, we ask that you consider lending them to the Photo Archives for a period of two to three months to allow us to make museum-quality copies of a selection of them and to include them in our database of photographs. Your original materials will be handled with care while they are here and returned to you promptly. To discuss the loan of original photographs to the Photo Archives, please contact Judy Cohen at 202.488.0429 or by e-mail jcohen@ushmm.org.

Our Interest in Copying Family Collections

The mission of the Collections Division is to save and preserve for future generations the photographic record of this fateful period in European and Jewish history. Much of this photographic record now lies in the hands of private individuals. Your collection of family photos and documents, when brought together with those of others who shared similar experiences, takes on an historical significance that may not be apparent when viewed in isolation. Placed in the larger context of people from a specific town, youth group, ghetto, children’s home, refugee center, concentration or labor camp, partisan unit, displaced persons camp, or refugee ship, your family photos become historical documents that can and should be used for educational purposes. They also become genealogical and communal records that can be used by fellow refugees, survivors and their children to recapture past experiences and identify loved-ones.

Types of Photographs Collected

The Photo Archives seeks to copy all types of photographs that document the prewar, wartime, and immediate postwar experience of people who were caught up in the events of World War II, be they as refugees, deportees, witnesses, relief workers, resisters, rescuers, or GIs.

How the Photographs are Processed

Each original image is re-photographed in order to create a quality negative for preservation purposes. An enlargement is printed and filed in the Photo Archives collection. Each photograph is then scanned onto a CD, so that it can be viewed on the Photo Archives database and be reproduced digitally, should it be ordered for exhibition or publication. Next, the caption information is entered into the Photo Archives database and a catalog record is printed out and stored with the photograph. The record includes the donor’s name, a credit line, the photographer, the date and location of the photo, the caption, a family biography, subject heading, and keywords. The images are then filed together with other photos depicting a similar theme.

How the Photographs are Used

Within the Museum, the Photo Archives provides images for all special exhibitions, publications, web displays, and educational materials produced by the Museum, as well as for the Wexner Learning Center. Outside the confines of the Museum, the Photo Archives collection is used on an ongoing basis by a variety of institutions and individuals, including all branches of the media, museums, government agencies, scholars and researchers, artists and filmmakers, educators and students, and, especially, survivors and their families.

Hours and Location

The Photo Archives is open to the public Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and is closed on all Federal holidays, Yom Kippur, and Christmas Day. The Photo Archives is located on the Fifth Floor of the Museum building and is accessible by the elevator near the 14th Street entrance. Appointments prior to visiting the Photo Archives are strongly encouraged due to limited space.

Contact us

Photo Archives
(For assistance with photographs in the Museum’s collection)
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW
Washington, DC 20024-2126
Tel.: 202.488.6111
Fax: 202.479.9726
E-mail: photoarchives@ushmm.org