The New York Times website is running an article today by Eric Lichtblau unveiling new research from the US Holocaust Museum that drastically increases the number of slave labour, concentration camps and ghettos than previously recorded.
The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.
This is certainly a shocking statistic, but it’s not totally improbable. In Richard J Evans’ third work in his trilogy on the history of Nazi Germany, he takes note of all the killing figures and explains in detail how the bureaucratic system worked, and to a larger extent, didn’t.
As the grim story unfolds and the Nazis expand their empire over most of the European continent, Evans keeps track of the horrifying statistics: 1.7 million Jews killed at the “Reinhard Action” extermination camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka (out of the total of 3 million Jews murdered in camps); about 700,000 more murdered in mobile gas vans; and 1.3 million shot by SS Task Forces. The overall total of Jewish victims likely lies close to the often-cited figure of 6 million. At the same time, Evans is careful to show how much of a pan-European phenomenon the Holocaust was, as for instance when he notes that the 280,000 to 380,000 Jews killed by the Romanians constituted the largest number murdered by an independent European country apart from Germany itself.
When one considers the massive amount of rolling stock needed for such an industrialized mass slaughter, together with the competing buearcracy inside the Reich chancellory and between individual Gauleiters (regional party leaders), the picture becomes more understandable. What was not the case is that the movement of persecuted was always a coherent and well planned event. In their rush to simply move political and ethnic minorities out of Reich areas, expediency was often put above planning. In many cases this increased the number of deaths due to shortages and overcrowding.
When I was living in Salzburg I toured a number of areas where camps had previously been erected. Many were small labour camps filled with political or social ‘undesirables’ by the Reich administrators. Interestingly, a number of these men and women were actually Spanish Civil War veterans transferred by Franco’s government to German and Austrian administered camps. Mauthausen is a good example of a large camp, with many smaller satellite camps nearby, that was indicative of a larger administrative policy.