Top 10 Horrific Cases Of Hell On Earth


Whatever terminology you’re partial to using — Sheol, Gehenna, Hades, Diyu, Jahannam, Naraka or just Hell — history is littered with depictions of a brutal afterlife. However, these depictions almost seem trivial compared to the devastating experiences of reality. These hellish, tragic moments in history would expose the luckless individuals involved to pain, torture, suffering, and unspeakable terror. We speak of …

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Now and then we like to dig back into the archives and re-share some of our best content as TopTenz Classics. Please enjoy this classic list from 2013.)

10. The Swamps of Ramree

The Crocodile Massacre of Ramree Island

WWII’s Asian theater saw a truly horrifying battle in the February of 1945, an adaptation of which could rival Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. The Japanese soldiers garrisoned in the island fortress of Ramree in southern Burma were forced to retreat into the mangrove swamps, after being overrun by a Royal Marine contingent. Had the estimated 1000 soldiers who entered the swamp known the Hell they’d find themselves in, they would surely have surrendered to the British.

The fleeing Japanese, many of whom were already wounded and low on ammunition, were set upon by the swamp’s overwhelming population of Salt Water Crocodiles, averaging 15 feet in length. Their man-eating capabilities are well documented, and the glut of blood from the battle only catalyzed the feeding frenzy. British naturalist Bruce Wright, who was attached to the Marine squadron, observed that “of about 1,000 Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about 20 were found alive.”

9. The Great Revolt Of The Jews


The Great Revolt of the Jews in 66 CE against the Romans, who had for so long been their oppressors, saw the former masters come back to make an example of the protesters. For a long time the anti-Roman sentiment held among Jews had been mounting, severely catalyzed by the radical actions of the crazed Roman Emperor Caligula. Even years after the death of Caligula, the dissent remained among the Jews. In 66 C.E, after Romans relieved the Jewish Temple of vast quantities of silver, the oppressed Jews rioted, annihilating the small Roman garrison stationed in the city.

Wanting to swiftly stifle this insurrection, Rome dispatched 60,000 heavily-armed, hardened legionnaires. The Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, finally overcoming the city’s defenses in 70 C.E. The incensed Romans killed, raped and pillaged indiscriminately; to them, all Jews were to be considered a party to the original uprising. One shudders to think of the Hell experienced by the Jews once the Roman’s siege was triumphant. Many of the city’s inhabitants were killed, crucified, or sold into slavery. Though records vary, the Great Revolt is thought to have killed over one million Jews, and led to the well-documented destruction of the sacred Temple.

8. Colonization of the Aztec Empire


To be an Aztec in the 16th century was to truly experience Hell on Earth. Prior to the Spanish invasion of Central America, led by the unerring Hernán Cortés, the Aztec people had only been used to warring against their primitive rivals such as the Totonac and Tlaxcaltec peoples. Now they faced the Spanish invasion force, sporting guns which the Aztecs had never encountered or indeed imagined. It’s not surprising that the Spanish overwhelmed the Aztec people. However, the violent methods they used against the whole populace, rather than just the fighting men, was what made the invasion truly hellish. The startling fact that there was a Papal debate as to whether the inhabitants of Central American were human explains this cruel treatment.

Alongside the invasion, the Spanish invasion force’s introduction of Smallpox killed countless more Aztecs as, having never encountered the disease before, they had developed no immunity.

7. Disaster on the K-19


The ordeal the crew of the Russian nuclear-submarine K-19 endured can only be described as Hell underwater. On July 4th 1961, while conducting exercises near the coast of southern Greenland, there was a major leak in the reactor coolant system, which threatened to kill everyone on board. Making matters worse, the ill-fated submarine’s long-range radio facility had malfunctioned, preventing them from making contact with Moscow. Thus, the crew found themselves several hundred meters below sea level, nuclear radiation slowly contaminating the entire ship, and no means of requesting help. Imagining a more devastatingly isolated scenario is a difficult task. Surrendering themselves to a nearby American warship was out of the question for Zateyev, the ship’s captain. He feared that, by surrendering themselves to the Americans, they would uncover all the confidential documents on the submarine. To prevent a mutiny, he confiscated all of the ship’s small arms except for 5 pistols, distributed to his five most trusted officers.

In a desperate bid to rescue the ship from full nuclear contamination, a team of 8 crew members were tasked with entering the highly contaminated section of the ship and welding a new water-supply pipe to the damaged coolant system. The temporary fix bought the crew enough time to be evacuated by a diesel submarine. All eight members of the repair team died shortly after; in the ensuing years, 15 more of the crew would fall to radiation poisoning.

6. The Black Death


Peaking between 1348-50, the Black Death is thought to have killed up to 200,000,000 people in Europe: a staggering 60% of the total European populace. The summer of 1348 was particularly wet across Europe; sodden grain lay rotting in the fields, and there was widespread unrest at the impending food shortages. This issue was to be dwarfed, however, by the outbreak of bubonic plague across Europe. The epidemic spread like wildfire, particularly in cities were the overcrowding and terrible sanitary conditions only hastened the rate at which ill-fated city dwellers succumbed to the fatal illness.

Someone infected would find bulbous, fist-sized boils, most commonly found around the groin, armpits or neckline. These intensely painful swellings would at first be red before turning black, giving the epidemic its name. Once you developed these boils, you were expected to be dead as quickly as two days later. Such hell was just as harsh on the survivors; to witness the painful death of all your friends and family, seeing corpses rotting in the streets, and living in fear of contracting the disease yourself may have been a fate worse than succumbing to the plague.

5. The Battle of Stalingrad


Though those involved were to find themselves the victim of extreme cold, as opposed to the traditional heat of Hell, there can be little debate that the experience of the German 6th Army at the Battle of Stalingrad was utterly hellish. The Germans assaulted the city on August 23rd, 1942, and found themselves embroiled in a dogfight with the Russians, which only ended with the Nazis finally surrendering on February 2nd, 1943. Between these dates, both warring factions endured the full force of the bitter Russian winter, though it is irrefutable that the underprepared, ill-supplied Germans truly went through Hell on earth.

A two-pronged pincer movement by the Red Army meant some 230,000 German troops found themselves trapped and surrounded in the city’s center; this site would become the frozen tomb for many. Not wanting to concede the strategically-invaluable city, the German high command forbade retreat. Instead, they attempted to supply the 6th Army by air, though providing supplies to such a large number proved impossible. Lacking adequate supplies of food and winter clothing, the Germans who didn’t perish by starvation were forced to endure Hell. Accounts reveal that some men’s fingers were so swollen from the cold that they were unable to enter the trigger guards of their rifles.

4. Great Chinese Famine


In 1949, some ten years after the Communists took power in China, arguably one of the most catastrophic disasters of the 20th century befell the already-impoverished Chinese populace. Even to this day – over half a century later – many of the Chinese people struggle to come to terms with their memories of the hellish famine, referring to it euphemistically as the “Three Years of Difficulties.” The cause of the famine is widely believed to be a result of the combined effects of the radical agricultural changes implemented by Mao’s communist party, a series of widespread droughts, and China’s unfettered population growth.

The largely agrarian nature of mid-20th century Chinese society makes estimating the total death toll a difficult task – most scholars agree the figure to fall somewhere between 20-40 million. As well as the unimaginable death toll, the famine gave rise to a number of hellish stories. A small village of 45 inhabitants had 44 people perish from the lack of sustenance. The only survivor, an elderly woman, was plunged into madness due to the Hell she was forced to endure. Another account tells of a starving teenage girl in an orphanage killing and eating her four-year-old brother.

3. Transatlantic Slave Trade


Though the remnants of race hatred still remain in some pockets of society today, it is indisputable that humanity has come a long way since the despicable hell that was the Transatlantic Slave Trade, where countless people were forcibly ripped from their home, driven to undergo the Middle Passage across the Atlantic (a voyage which often resulted in starvation for those unlucky enough to endure it) and forced to work for free, in terrible conditions, for a thankless master.

We were reminded very bluntly of the hellish reality faced by slaves in the United States last summer, thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s painfully candid film Django Unchained. Tarantino’s vision of American slavery regrettably does not deviate far from the truth. Indeed, there have been many terrible accounts from the slave era which even rival Django in their hellish nature. Perhaps the worst is that of Margaret Garner who – having briefly escaped her oppressors with her young child – decided to kill her child rather than risk seeing her sucked back into the hell that was slavery.

2. Rwandan Genocide


The violent struggle between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups in Rwanda had taken place long before its catastrophic escalation in 1994 in the Rwandan Genocide. The Hutu, the group to which the majority of Rwandan citizens belonged, had seized power in 1962 from the Tutsi. Over the next 30 years, the racial tensions between the two groups would mount, finally spiraling out of control in 1994 when the assassination of Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana led to the mass killing of Tutsis, as well as Tutsi-sympathizers. Over the next 100 days, the Hutus would attempt a genocide of their age-old rivals, resulting in the death of nearly one millions Tutsi.

As if this relentless killing of their fellow Rwandans wasn’t hellish enough, Hutu extremists added a despicable, sickening weapon to their arsenal. Having murdered the husbands of many Tutsi women, the Hutu would ensure that these women were not able to ever replenish the Tutsi numbers. There are numerous accounts of women being sexually mutilated with knives, machetes, boiling water, and acid, nullifying their child-bearing capabilities. Equally as horrifying, the Hutu enlisted many HIV-infected males to rape the widowed Tutsi, often gloating at their denying the women a quick, painless death.

1. The Holocaust


Considering that this was the darkest episode in human history, there was no way the Holocaust could’ve been anything but #1. To say the experience of the Jews, Poles, gypsies, and homosexuals (among others) in mainland Europe was hellish, is to somehow understate the true horror of the Holocaust. No religious description or artistic imagining of Hell adequately captures the terror of the systematic, industrialized attempt by the Nazis to eradicate the existence of Jews and other non-Aryan Germans in Europe.

The statistic that six eleven million people were murdered in the Holocaust doesn’t begin to describe the terrifying logistics and machinery behind the Nazi killing machine. At first, the Nazis used the rather primitive method of filling a large building with captive prisoners and sealing all windows, before starting several fuel building engines around the site, slowly poisoning those inside with carbon monoxide. The Nazis would refine and develop this idea into their Zyklon-B gas chambers used in the extermination camps like Auschwitz, Belzec, and Chelmno. If they weren’t put to death immediately, the prisoners were subjected to excruciating slave labor, to fuel their enemy’s floundering war effort.

Though there are a plethora of horror stories from the Holocaust, perhaps the most disturbing are the accounts of Josef Mengele, “The Angel of Death.” Mengele, a graduate in Anthropology and Medicine, conducted a number of human experiments on the captives of Auschwitz, including attempting to change eye color via various injections to the iris, amputations of limbs, and conjoining two people to become “twins.” Even Satan, on his best day, could not hope to match such atrocities.

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  1. Good list. The Guatamalan genocide would be another important addition. What the indigenous people suffered truly was hell on Earth.

    Also there is the whole war between Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. Specifically what happened in Srebrenica.

    And the genocide of the Native Americans, or whatever you want to call it.

    I also would say the battlefronts of WWI, which are often talked about as hell on Earth.

  2. Josef Stalin killed many more than died in the holocaust but history seems to have forgot that fact.

    • And Stalin actually pretty much succeeded in wiping out entire peoples, like the Gypsys for example. I know that technically there *are still some but not enough to count. Most of the world doesn’t even realize they were an actual culture/people…

  3. John Henderson on

    I’m not sure what to make of the entry about the Chinese famine. The entry lists the year of the famine as 1949 and claims that the Chinese communists had been in control for 10 years, which is nonsense because the Chinese Civil War that brought the communists to power did not happen until 1949. 10 years prior much of China was under occupation from Imperial Japan and the portion of China still controlled by Chiang Kai-Shek was allied with the western forces of World War II. In fact it’s not really clear just which famine the article references at all. The closest I can come is the famine that the communist government called “The Three years of Natural Disasters” or “The Difficult Three Year Period” that occurred during the years from 1958 to 1961, which would have been 10 years after the communist take-over of China in 1949.

    And I can’t help but get the notion that the movie referenced to in the article on slavery and the Middle Passage was the “painfully candid” “10 years a Slave” rather than the almost cartoonish “Django Unchained”.

    All in all this list is interesting, if a bit untidy. I’d have at least made a nod in the directions of the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turks early in the 20th Century, the horrific genocide of the Pol Pot regime against its own people in Cambodia in the 1970s and the systematic elimination of the Kulaks in the Soviet Union by the artificial famine of 1932-33 caused by forced collectivization.

  4. So your saying that what Europeans did was not genocide? Its like saying it was the Natives fault for putting up a fight. Yet again, your wrong Evan Welch. Your saying that what Europeans did was NOT intentional? It was every bit as intentional as Hitler putting Jews in the furnace. Theres a quote that white people used to say “In order to save the Man, we need to kill the Savage.” Whats that saying? They wanted to kill who we were. Plus considering the fact that they used to attack villages of >5,000. THEY WOULD KILL WOMEN AND CHILDREN. They were innocent, yet they murdered them just the same. Genocide is Genocide.
    Bloody Hell sounds like your from Europe. Maybe thats why your so naive about whats happening clear on the other side of the world.
    Of course Whites are the only racists out there. They are the only people without color, so of course their going to hate other people who do have color. And you sound pretty monotone, so I cant ‘note my sarcasm’.
    Israelis? I said nothing about them. What are you talking about with the Israelis?

    • I was with you until your claim of only whites being able to be racist. Racists exist in every shade and its obvious you are one of them.

  5. Bloody hell…I know I run the risk of sounding like a racist white person (note my sarcasm) as they are obviously the only racists out there. Them and the Israelis (sarcasm again). I hate the massacre of Native Americans in the U.S. but let us watch the when we use genocide. Once again, not saying it is ok and it DOES deserve a spot on this list. All these others though were genocides to the letter meaning: an intentional elimination of an entire ethnic group. The issue with Native Americans was not genocide as the goal was to move them off land we wanted. (STILL NOT OK)

  6. Okay. The Holocaust is number one on this list… that’s cool, I guess.
    I dont want to get anybody mad here, but SERIOUSLY! What about what the White People did to the Native Americans? Sure, list the Aztects, but NOT list Native Americans?!
    6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, thats horrible
    50 million African Americans (according to were murdered during the Slavery Era, even worse
    However, 80-100 MILLION native americans were murdered when Europeans ‘founded’ America. So why isnt the Genocide of Native Americans number one on this list? Why isnt it even included? Yes, I see the Aztecs, but where are the Olmec, the Mayans, and all the other peoples of South America? There is NO mention of Native Americans of North America on this list and I am appalled. The Holocaust doesnt even seem so bad when one compares it to what Pilgrims did to Native Americans JUST FOR BEING HERE FIRST.
    I understand that some people will take this the wrong way. I am NOT saying that what the Jews had to experience was not so bad. I wouldnt wish that on my worst enemy, but seriously no one even MENTIONS this! I really wont understand why Native Americans are NEVER thought of. Millions of us are slaughtered, but we still fall short. THE DISASTER AT K-19 BEAT THE AZTECS! WTF?! The history books we were taught in school makes no mention of how Native peoples gave food to the starving pilgrims, of how we took them in and showed them how to survive. And then the Whites murdered us with inpunity and sold our scalps. No where in the text books do they make that a FACT. I want this list rewritten, not for my happiness, but for this TRUTH to finally BE KNOWN.

    Sorry if I offended anyone reading this, but I get very passionate about my people. Lets say that you (the person reading my comment) are a Jew and no one even talks about the Holocaust, its never in the news and is buried. Would’nt you be so angry about this? Or if you were an African American and no one talks about Slavery.
    Along with the African Americans, I truly believe we are the most despised and least talked about peoples in the USA (daresay the world?). Its because we are an embarassment to these white people. Not because we are still the same proud people before, but because we are living PROOF of how evil white people can be. They are the most destructive race on this planet. Look at what they do (And I am counting Germans as white people, who wouldnt?) and look at what they still do. Their trying to sweep us under the carpet.
    I dont mean to sound like a preacher, but the truth hurts. Now, reply to my comment, white people. Show me how insensitive you can be. But know that I have heard everything you said already. How you try and say “well I didnt steal your land and kill your people, Its not my fault, I couldnt control it”. Thats my favorite excuse. So why won’t you give us (when I say ‘us’, I mean Native Americans AND African Americans) compensation? Why havent we (this time I just mean native americans) EVER been conpensated for the lands your ancestors took? I mean REAL compensation. your forefathers paid us almost $2 dollars an acre. How about paying us 100,000$ dollars an acre now? Or even more? Dont try and excuse yourself from this, you can make it right today. But you wont. You’ll keep on making excuses for the atroucities that you AND your forefathers have done.

  7. Could not agree more. By basically making it a contest of who had it worse, it seems to discredit the fact that in all these cases, many innocent good people were killed and they are all travesties.

  8. 1. The eastern front of wwii saw FAR worse things than the holocaust itself, and the number 6 million is proven to be grossly inflated
    2. The Irish had it FAR worse than the blacks during the slave trade-both in transit, and after arrival. Many know this easily verifiable fact, but they refuse to see anyone white in line with them at the atrocities payable office if the rediculous idea of reparations ever came to fruition.
    Go ahead and call me a racist but at least go look these things up after your all-knowing rant please

  9. Ok I’ll point out the elephant in the room.

    The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    • Very good comment! While these bombings didn’t kill as many as some of the others all one has to do is read some of the stories of survivors to know that they truly went through hell on earth.

  10. Seriously? So a dozen years or so of work camps tops four HUNDRED years of extreme genocide against people of African descent?? when are they gonna stop whining that they had it worse than EVERYBODY in history??

    • A few points:
      1) As much as I believe that the Holocaust has been used as an excuse for far too long to do morally questionable actions, the Holocaust was extraordinarily awful in terms of how much damage was done to a civilian population in such a small amount of time. Dozens of work camps? I believe you are missing the Einstatsgruppen, the murder of gypsies, Poles, Russians, gays and handicapped individuals, not just the Jews. The figure is roughly 6 million Jews killed, albeit a contested number, and since the fall of the Soviet Union there have been reports of 10 million Slav civilians being murdered. An astonishing rate for a mere 8 years or so. Meanwhile the Atlantic Slave Trade had taken the lives of roughly 10 million Africans over 400 years, this includes the slave raids by African tribes against one another. It’s still a large and gruesome death toll, but pales in the speed and efficiency of the Nazi war machine.
      2) Arguably, Slavery was not uncommon till about the 1890’s (which surprised me that the Belgian Congo was not on here). Genocide and slavery, although both are horrific in nature, are not the same. Belgian Congo, however, could be probably classified as a genocidal case, but nobody, of all races, really seems to remember it sadly.
      3) Its never a good idea to have to fight about “whose group had it worst”. It defeats the purpose of healing the scars of time, and it makes everyone look like self victimizing troglodytes.

        • Historians debate things of this nature all the time, why is the Holocaust immune to this idea? It is better to know the truth, be it higher or lower, no?.

          I am not a Holocaust denier, I just seek the closest thing we can get to the truth.

  11. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 the death toll at Auschwitz was lowered from 4.1 million to 1.1 million. Why did the 6 million number stay the same? Was the 6 million figure just more wartime propaganda?

    Can someone answer this question without going berzerk?

    • Because it was very hard to estimate how many jews were killed because of the way the camp was structured and the way the body was disposed.

      While it was the Soviet government who initally quoted the figure of 6m, you are wrong in saying that the figure dropped to 1.1 million after the collapse of the soviet union. Adolf Eichmann initially said that the number of jews killed was 2.5m total and then later said that the number would have been lower.

      It was in 1983 that George Wellers used German documentation to come up with the accepted figure today of 1.5 million.

  12. The Black Death was worse than the holocaust.. With the holocaust you were shot or gassed to death. While with The Black Death, you coughed up blood, had fever, had disgusting buboes, and were dead within a few days, entire villages were left empty. and slavery is still around today..

    • Well that wasn’t the case for everybody.

      Many Jews were separated from their families who were gassed and had to work as Slaves under the Germans. The Prisoners were also not fed properly and grew weaker and weaker due to starvation while they worked in coal mines etc, while being abused by the guards who executed some jews for no reason; for most of the day only to come back to camp and be further abused further and killed by the guards.

      All this pain of course without even going into the deeds of Dr. Josef Mengele.

      Now im not saying either was worse than the other, both were horrible events in the history of man but this statement (“With the holocaust you were shot or gassed to death”) seemed to play down the situation.

  13. Nice List ,,

    But i wounder why didn’t you mention the massacres Israel did in Palestine and Lebanon since 1948 till today ??!!

    • Or the Palestinian massacres and attempted massacres of the Jewish people, which is also ongoing?

      • Dear ,

        Before you say something please do a research ,,

        -129 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians and 1,519 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis since September 29, 2000.
        -1,104 Israelis and at least 6,829 Palestinians have been killed since September 29, 2000.
        -9,104 Israelis and 50,742 Palestinians have been injured since September 29, 2000.
        -During Fiscal Year 2013, the U.S. is providing Israel with at least $8.5 million per day in military aid and $0 in military aid to the Palestinians.
        -Israel has been targeted by at least 65 UN resolutions and the Palestinians have been targeted by none.
        -0 Israelis are being held prisoner by Palestinians, while 4,900 Palestinians are currently imprisoned by Israel.
        -0 Israeli homes have been demolished by Palestinians and 27,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel since 1967.
        -The Israeli unemployment rate is 5.6%, while the Palestinian unemployment in the West Bank is 23% and 30% in Gaza.
        -Israel currently has 269 Jewish-only settlements and ‘outposts’ built on confiscated Palestinian land. Palestinians do not have any settlements on Israeli land.

        Source :

    • I’m sure it’s only a few more than how many strapped bombs to themselves to massacre others in their cowardly suicide.

      • Good Lord, People need to stop misusing the word cowardly. Blowing yourself to bits to kill others may be pure evil, but isn’t cowardly, in fact, its pretty daring.