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HS 359: The Holocaust: Primary vs Secondary

Welcome! This guide supports research on the Holocaust.

Auschwitz

Entrance to main camp of Auschwitz. Motto "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work makes one free)

Picture from the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.
 

Primary Sources

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or evidence about a topic under investigation. Primary information comes from people who witnessed an event or got their information from others who did. They are characterized by their content, regardless of their format.

This evidence can be original manuscripts, photographs, drawings, letters, diaries, documents, books, films, interviews, eyewitness accounts, public records, posters, play scripts, speeches, songs, sheet music, and first-person accounts. A primary source can also be a report of original research or original data.

Oftentimes, primary documents are created as an event takes place, but they can also be autobiographies or memoirs written at a later time.

 

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are information sources created by someone either not present when the event took place, or removed by time from the event. Secondary sources usually describe, summarise, analyse, evaluate, derive from, or are based on primary source material.

Examples of secondary sources are: biographies, encyclopedias, writing about literary or philosophical texts , political or historical events, discussions of scientific data, or studies of issues.