Some of the darkest moments in human history have happened during war. It seems ridiculous that generation after generation, people feel the need to settle conflicts by killing their fellow man. Instead of working with each other, we’re working against each other. We tend to focus on what makes us different rather than what makes us the same. If we did the latter, who knows how many needless deaths could have been prevented.
When we see photographs during times of war, we often forget that the men, women, and children in those photos are real people. For a moment we’re witnessing a snippet of what was once their life. We always see soldiers sitting with straight faces, nervous before a battle, or running for their lives. We rarely see photographs of the soldiers being themselves, relaxing, making jokes, or showing compassion towards their fellow man.
The following images highlight that even in mankind’s darkest hours, humanity has prevailed, and will continue to prevail. Even the most evil people to ever exist have traces of humanity in them.
15. The Christmas Truce
The Christmas truce is one of the most memorable moments of World War I. Around the time of Christmas 1914, there was an unofficial but widespread ceasefire along the Western Front. In some areas, French, German, and British soldiers crossed into their opponents trenches to wish them seasons greetings. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides of the conflict entered no man’s land to exchange food and souvenirs. Men from both sides of the conflict were photographed playing soccer with each other on Christmas Day, a touching moment of humanity during one of the most violent wars in human history.
The following year, few military units arranged ceasefires due to orders from high ranking officers prohibiting fraternizing with the enemy. By 1916, soldiers had become so bitter about the casualties of war (and the use of poison gas) that truces were far and few between.
14. Soviet POWs Hoist American Liberator In The Air
The German mistreatment of Soviet prisoners of war (POW) during World War II is a grossly under discussed topic. Over the course of the war, 3.3 to 3.5 million Soviet POWs died while in German custody, out of 5.7 million. In comparison, 8,300 out of 231,000 British and United States prisoners died while in German POW camps.
Any Soviet political officer that was captured was to be executed, according to a Commissar Order given before the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, any POW that could be identified as a Bolshevik was also to be shot.
Some of the things Soviet POWs had to deal with were: not having access to Red Cross packages (despite British/American soldiers having access), were regularly starved, a dysentery epidemic led to the murder of 6,000 prisoners (over 3,000 on the first day), suffered countless disease outbreaks during the winter, and 200,000 Soviets were literally worked to death, nearly half of all American casualties during WWII. Many were transferred to concentration camps where they were mass executed.
13. Afghani Serving American Solider Tea During Fight
Whether you supported or protested America’s involvement in Afghanistan over the past decade and a half, you can’t hold the decisions of political leaders against the troops fighting overseas. You can support the troops without supporting the war. The people of Afghanistan had different opinions about American intervention. Some people protested involvement from western nations and hated America, while others would regularly show their appreciation. Though America’s involvement in Afghanistan has dwindled, it seems that the war was for nothing. Many people are left wondering whether any good came out of the war.
In the photo above, you see an Afghani man serving tea to an American soldier during a patrol. The two men most likely could barely communicate at the time this photo was taken, but the Afghani man figured that the soldiers must be thirsty, and decided to make them a drink. It’s such a genuine act of kindness.
12. Dutch girls and their dates
The Netherlands stated that it wanted to remain neutral in World War II, as it had done in World War I. Regardless of that, Hitler decided to invade the country on May 10, 1940. Five days later, after the bombing of Rotterdam, the Dutch military surrendered and the German occupation began. During this occupation, 75% of the country’s Jewish population were killed.
It’s no wonder that when Allied forces began liberating the Netherlands, the people were more than thankful. In the photo above, American soldiers are taking their Dutch escorts to a dance to celebrate the liberation. You can see the happiness in the soldiers faces. Maybe some of them were reminded of their own daughters.
The Netherlands celebrates Liberation Day every year on May 5. This day is celebrated to thank the Canadian, British, Polish, American, Belgian, Dutch, and Czechoslovak troops that helped end the occupation from Nazi Germany.
11. Taking Comfort In Animals
As allied forces pushed their way through European cities, small villages, and farmland, they would have seen their fair share of animals. Unfortunately, many of the animals that they would have seen would have been dead, either in crossfire, or because they were euthanized. In Britain, 750,000 domesticated animals were euthanized in one week near the start of World War II.
When soldiers stumbled upon something alive that wasn’t trying to kill them, it must have been a breath of fresh air. The soldiers seen above are taking care of a baby farm animal that they must have found nearby. Though they were simply passing through, they must have spotted the animal and felt a need to care for it, similarly how any of us would do the same if we found a stray puppy or cat. Despite all of the horrible things that they’ve seen, these men seem to take pleasure out of caring for something so small and helpless.
10. Dressing Up Dogs As Soldiers
There are a few things that will always be funny: other people’s minor misfortune, a clever insult, and dressing up dogs to look like people. It’s almost surreal to look at the photo a dog of war dressed up as a Soviet soldier because even today, we see people dressing their dogs like a person.
The dog in this photo is most likely a military trained dog. Maybe he’s trained to kill, sweep minefields, deliver messages, or maybe he’s destined to be strapped with explosives and ordered to run at the enemy. It’s horrible how mankind has treated animals in times of war. But, for the moments leading up to this picture, there were just a few people having fun with their dog in the same way that we have fun with our own dogs today.
Imagine how long it took the soldiers (who must not have had anything better to do) to get one of their uniforms on the dog, how many photos they tried to take but they dog moved, and how many people are standing on the other side of the camera laughing hysterically.
9. Women Paying Respect To The Dead Soldiers That Liberated Them
You may find it hard to imagine how thankful these women must have felt for the soldiers that gave their lives to liberate their city. Though the men weren’t alive to be thanked, these women still went and lay flowers by their bodies to show appreciation for what they had done. The women didn’t need to do it — just like the men didn’t need to enlist — but they did.
You can only wonder what was going through the head of these women, and if they lived their lives, constantly reminding themselves of the young men that sacrificed themselves for their freedom. Surely, they woke up every morning and lived their life in respect of those men.
8. Soldiers Comforting Each Other
During World War II, there was little known about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At the time, PTSD was referred to as battle fatigue, and some people, including United States General George S. Patton believed that battle fatigue didn’t exist. Since we didn’t really know about PTSD, there aren’t many hard facts about how many soldiers were impacted by it.
The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder estimated that one out of every 20 World War II veterans suffered symptoms of PTSD including irritability, flashbacks, and bad dreams.
Studies suggest that the root cause of soldiers PTSD stemmed from the fact that they were in a position where they had to kill someone they did not know. It wasn’t the things they saw that haunted them — it was the things that they had to do.
7. French Boy Introducing Himself To Indian Soldiers
During World War I, India sent a number of troops to fight alongside British and French forces in Europe. In the photo above, a French boy is introducing himself to some of the Indian soldiers that were sent to Marseilles. The boy would have never seen Indian men before and in this photo he is being introduced to an entirely new culture, from a part of the world that the boy may have never heard of.
It’s photos like this that remind us that racism is something that is taught, it isn’t something that we are born with. The men, before arriving in France, may have worried that they would have been treated poorly by some of the locals or other soldiers. Instead, they were treated with the same respect that everyone else had.
6. Relaxing With A Few Drinks
Unopened booze would have been like finding the holy grail for a lot of soldiers. After days, maybe weeks, of patrolling, fighting, sitting around doing nothing, fearing for your life, soldiers needed to find a way to relax. Although drinking alcohol isn’t the best way to deal with your stress, you can’t blame these guys for wanting to hang out and have a few drinks. Photos similar to this one highlight the sense of comradery that many soldiers would have had with the other men in their unit. They had to trust each other with their lives, spend every minute of the day together for months at a time, and support each other when someone was feeling homesick or scared.
If it weren’t for the guns, rubble, and military uniforms, you might guess that the men in this photo are a friends hanging out and having a few drinks. The man on the far right, maybe known for his powerful liver, chugs a bottle of wine while his friends sit back in amazement that he can tolerate so much alcohol.
5. Soviet Soldier Enjoys The Piano
Have you ever found yourself alone in someone’s home with access to the piano? Have you ever walked over to that piano and been tempted to touch the keys, make up a tune, or play a famous tune that everyone knows? We can only imagine what this Soviet soldier decided to play on the piano, surrounded by nothing. Did he even know his photo was being taken, or was he lost in thought of a happier time as his fingers danced along the keys?
The way the soldier is delicately playing the piano implies that he has a talent for music, or a passion for playing an instrument. The photographer may have heard the soldier playing a sad song in the rubble of a familiar town or village while other troops searched the area or took some time to relax. You often forget that the men and women that serve in the military have hobbies, passions, and an entire life outside of fighting for their country.
4. A Smiling German Soldier Surrenders
The older you get, the more you realize that the people that served their country during World War II weren’t men. Most of them were just boys.
The German soldier above must have surrendered to either the Allied forces fighting from the west, and not the Soviet Union. If he was surrendering to the Soviets, he wouldn’t be smiling. Many Soviet troops were looking to get revenge after how German soldiers acted towards their women, children, and soldiers through the duration of the German invasion. During the Battle of Berlin, many German units were trying to push themselves as far west as possible so that they could surrender to the Western Allies, like the British or Americans.
The soldier in the photo is showing more than relief in his face when he knows that his time fighting in the war has come to an end. He doesn’t have to worry about his own life, or taking the life of someone else and he couldn’t be happier.
3. German Soldiers Having A Little Fun With A Camera
You should remember that our enemies in war are people too. Often times, they are young men trying to protect their country in the same way that our soldiers are trying to protect ours. Of course, that isn’t an excuse for the horrible acts that soldiers from both sides commit, but you shouldn’t think of the German soldiers in World War II as the ‘bad guys.’ Do you really think the German artillery soldiers in this photo are a bunch of terrible people? They are all posing with their pants down, pretending to poop in a line while smoking pipes. Maybe these guys aren’t even pretending. Maybe the cameraman wanted to play a practical joke on them by taking a photo of them during an embarrassing morning ritual. He’s the type of friend that takes a photo of you while you’re passed out at a party.
2. German POWs Watching Footage From A Concentration Camp
People continuously make the mistake that all of the German troops that fought against the allied forces were Nazis, and that simply isn’t true. A Nazi was someone that was part of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, headed by Adolph Hitler. While some German soldiers would have been Nazi’s, a vast majority would have been men, similar to the ones in the Allied forces, that enlisted to serve their country.
Many German soldiers that were captured by Americans became prisoners of war (POW) in camps located in the United States. Around 425,000 German soldiers were located in 700 different prison camps around the United States. The camps were said to be firm, but fair, and many prisoners were given the freedom to leave the camp for brief periods of time.
Many people believe that concentration camps were widely known about throughout the entire war — but they actually weren’t discovered until 1944. After the discovery of concentration camps, Allied forces photographed and videotaped what they had found because they thought that if they didn’t have evidence, nobody would believe what was happening inside of these concentration camps.
1. Hitler Tells Frostbitten Soldier To Not Salute Him
Some people will find the inclusion of this photo unsettling but that is exactly why that it needs to be concluded. Adolf Hitler was responsible for the massacre of six million Jewish men, women, and children. The images we’ve seen from concentration camps are horrific and one of the darkest points in human history and Adolph Hitler is at fault for the creation of those concentration camps. Many people would call him one of the most evil men to have ever existed which is why it’s so scary when you see photos of Hitler smiling, playing with animals, or caring for one of his soldiers.
In the photo above, Hitler is telling a frostbitten soldier to rest and not to worry about saluting him. The soldier most likely became frostbitten while fighting against the Soviet Union, an invasion that Hitler launched early in the year that he figured would never last until the winter. But it did. German troops were forced to fight in the winter wasteland known as the Soviet Union with little to no protective clothing.
So yes, Hitler was a terrible dictator that brought out the worst in people, but seeing this act of compassion towards one of his troops gives me hope that even the most evil men have a conscience.