The reality was much worse than whatever we imagined.
holocaust statistics and real numbers
The unspeakable crime of the 20th century, more than the triumph of evil, was the sin of the “innocent” bystander.
It wasn’t just the huge killing centers whose very names – Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Majdanek, Belzec, Ravensbruck, Sobibar, Treblinka – bring to mind the ghastly images by now so familiar to us. It wasn’t just the Warsaw ghetto. It wasn’t just the famous sites we’ve all by now heard of that deservedly live on in everlasting infamy.
Researchers at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have just released documentation that astounds even the most informed scholars steeped in the previously known statistics of German atrocities. Here is some of what has now been conclusively discovered:
There were more than 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe from 1933 to 1945.
There were 30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettos; 980 concentration camps; 1000 prisoner of war camps; 500 brothels filled with sex slaves; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm, performing forced abortions, “Germanizing” prisoners or transporting victims to killing centers.
The best estimate using current information available is 15 to 20 million people who died or were imprisoned in sites controlled by the Germans throughout the European continent.
Simply put, in the words of Hartmut Berghoff, Director of the German Historical Institute in Washington, “The numbers are so much higher than what we originally thought; we knew before how horrible life in the camps and ghettos was, but the actual numbers are unbelievable.”
And what makes this revelation so important is that it forces us to acknowledge a crucial truth about the Holocaust that many people have tried to ignore or to minimize – a truth that has profound contemporary significance: The unspeakable crime of the 20th century, more than the triumph of evil, was the sin of the “innocent” bystander.
For years our efforts to understand the Holocaust focused on the perpetrators. We looked for explanations for the madness of Mengele, the obsessive hatred of Hitler, the impassive cruelty of Eichmann. We sought answers to how it was possible for the criminal elements, the sadists and the mentally unbalanced to achieve the kind of power that made the mass killings feasible.
That was because we had no idea of the real extent of the horror. With more than 42,000 ghettos and concentration camps scattered throughout the length and breadth of a supposedly civilized continent, there’s no longer any way to avoid the obvious conclusion. The cultured, the educated, the enlightened, the liberal, the refined, the sophisticated, the urbane – all of them share in the shame of a world that lost its moral compass and willingly acceded to the victory of evil.
“We had no idea what was happening” needs to be clearly identified as “the great lie” of the years of Nazi power. The harsh truth is that almost everyone had to know. The numbers negate the possibility for collective ignorance. And still the killings did not stop, the torture did not cease, the concentration camps were not closed, the crematoria continued their barbaric task.
The “decent” people were somehow able to rationalize their silence.