Advanced Search Filters

In addition to or instead of a keyword search, use one or more of the following filters when you search.

Skip to main content
Bookmark this Item

Photograph of Prisoners Forced to Exercise

Soviet prisoners of war are forced to exercise while imprisoned in a camp.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Because Nazi ideology placed a high value on physical strength, exercise became an important part of the Nazi regime’s public health programs. Nazi public health officials urged the entire German nation to exercise regularly, declaring that "wholesome life is a national duty."1 Nazi propaganda films depict young men hiking mountains and performing military-style physical exercises. Young women are often shown performing graceful movements and assisting children with their gymnastics training.2 Nazi ideology valued strength and athleticism. Nazi propagandists often exploited German athletes’ achievements to demonstrate the supposed superiority of the so-called "Aryan" race.3

The Nazi regime used physical exercise as a way to increase the strength and overall health of the so-called "Volksgemeinschaft" (German racial community). However, Germans in different positions of power also used exercise as a form of humiliation, punishment, and torture. Camp guards used physical exercise to punish concentration camp prisoners and forced laborers.4 Because Nazi ideology claimed that "re-educating" people required physical work and exercise, concentration camp guards also used forced exercise and physical labor to "rehabilitate" gay men and other Germans imprisoned for supposedly "degenerate" behaviors.5 Throughout occupied Europe, German forces made Jewish men publicly exercise to the point of exhaustion in order to humiliate them and demonstrate their supposed inferiority.

In the featured photograph, a group of Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) is forced to perform exercises in an internment camp in occupied Poland.6 Waging a war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, German military and security forces systematically neglected, abused, and murdered Soviet POWs. Roughly 3.3 million Soviet soldiers died in German captivity during the war.7 Although the photographer is unknown and this image is undated, the rags tied around the mens' heads and feet suggest that the weather is cold. What other details might be revealed through a close examination of the men’s clothing and facial expressions?

See the related item in Experiencing History, "Nazis Hit Alcohol, Tobacco."

According to Nazi propaganda, young men were to become soldiers while young women were expected to aspire to motherhood. To view examples in Experiencing History, see the Hitler Youth Training Film and "Healthy Woman: Healthy Nation."

For more in Experiencing History on the Nazi myth of "Aryan" physical superiority, see the Program for the 1936 Schmeling-Louis Bout.

In violation of the Geneva Convention, German forces subjected Soviet POWs to brutal treatment due to their supposedly "racially inferior" status.

For more on the Nazi regime's persecution of gay men and lesbian women, see Günter Grau, Hidden Holocaust? Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany, 1933-45, translated by Patrick Camiller with a contribution by Claudia Schoppmann (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1995); and Gregory Woods, "The Pink Triangle," in A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998): 247–56.

The camp was located in the small town of Rymanów.

For more on the experiences of Soviet POWs in German captivity during World War II, see Gerhard Hirschfeld, ed., The Policies of Genocide: Jews and Soviet Prisoners of War in Nazi Germany (London: German Historical Institute, 1986); Jacek Lachendro, Soviet Prisoners of War in Auschwitz, translated by William Brand (Oświęcim: Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2016); and Aron Shneyer, Pariahs among Pariahs: Soviet-Jewish POWs in German Captivity, 1941–1945, translated by Yisrael Cohen (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2016). For more in Experiencing History on the treatment of Soviet POWs, see the related item, Labor Deployment of Soviet Prisoners of War.

Close Window Expand Source Viewer

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: .

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Source Number 060705
Date Created
1941 to 1945
Rymanów, Poland
Still Image Type Photograph
How to Cite Museum Materials

Thank You for Supporting Our Work

We would like to thank The Alexander Grass Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for Experiencing History. View the list of all donors and contributors.


Learn more about sources for your classroom