The New York Times
reports that even experts in the subject are shocked at the latest revelations.
According to Eric Lichtblau
writing in The New York Times
, the researchers say they have cataloged a total of 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps across the German-controlled areas at the height of the Nazi occupation from France to Germany and Russia between 1933 and 1945.
One of the lead editors in the project Geoffrey Megargee
, said when he began the study in 2000, he had assumed they would find, based on previous estimates, about 7,000 camps and ghettos. But as their work continued and they discovered more and more camps, the numbers skyrocketed beyond anything they had anticipated to 11,500, "then 20,000, then 30,000, and now 42,500."
These numbers are unbelievable by the standards of expectations based on previous documentation. Megargee and his colleagues found "30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettos; 980 concentration camps; 1,000 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 researchers said that in Berlin alone, about 3,000 camps and "Jew houses," were found, and in Hamburg, 1,300 sites.
One of the more disturbing conclusions, according to Martin Dean
, a co-researcher, is that the findings challenge the widespread claims that the general German population was unaware of the existence of the camps and the fact of the ongoing Holocaust. Dean said: "You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps. They were everywhere."
Holocaust scholars were shocked into disbelief by the astronomical figures the researchers unveiled at an academic gathering at the German Historical Institute
in Washington, January.
The New York Times
reports that Hartmut Berghoff, director of the Institute, said in an interview after learning of the new data: "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 numbers are unbelievable."
Lichtblau, however, notes that the camps included in the documentation were not only the major extermination facilities such as Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka and the Warsaw Ghetto that have dominated public attention, but also thousands of less well known but collectively significant facilities and centers that form a massive network of the Nazi holding facilities for inmates, including forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; "prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named 'care' centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel."
The figures and the maps the researchers created to identify the camps and ghettos paint a picture of Nazi Europe as one continuous stretch of a landscape centered in Germany and Poland, in which the Nazi industriously set out to stamp out entire groups they had somehow come to believe were the cause of everything that was wrong with their world, just as today we find people still obsessed with the notion that immigrants are the problem.
Dr. Megargee, the lead researcher, said the project was deepening the understanding of the evolution of the camps and ghettos during the Nazi regime.
According to Lichtblau in 1933, the Nazis had established about 110 camps for political prisoners numbering about 10,000. After the war began, the camps evolved from their use as centers for holding political prisoners to facilities for holding all that the Nazis hated in Europe: "Homosexuals, Gypsies, Poles, Russians and many other ethnic groups in Eastern Europe."
And perhaps the reason why the extent of the distribution of the camps in Europe remained for so long unrealized is that they varied greatly in size, with some as large as the Warsaw Ghetto that held 500,000 people and some, such as the Munchen-Schwabing site in Germany, holding only about a dozen people.
Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, who lead the study, estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died and were imprisoned at the sites they have identified in a multivolume encyclopedia
The researchers brought together previously fragmented data from more than 400 contributors to give a stretching overview across the regions with details of where the facilities and camps were located, what the camps were used for and how they were run
A Holocaust survivor and volunteer at the Holocaust museum Mr. Greenbaum, 84, and one of many who helped in the latest study shares his experience during the war, including the months he spent in Auschwitz
. He recalls the exact location of the camps where the Nazi imprisoned him. He recalls his concentration camp number A188991 tattooed on his left forearm
He recalls the Starachowice ghetto
in his hometown in Poland, where his family and other Jews were held in 1940, when he was only 12.
He recalls a slave labor camp outside his hometown where he and his sister were relocated after the rest of his family were sent off to the Treblinka extermination camp
from where they never returned.
He recalls how the Nazis forced him to join other prisoners digging trenches that were used for dumping bodies of victims.
He was later moved to Auschwitz, then to a chemical manufacturing plant in Poland. He also recalls a slave camp in Flossenberg
near the Czech border where he suffered severe starvation.
Greenbaum was liberated by American troops in 1945 at the age of 17 after he had served as a slave in five separate camps over a period of five years. He said: "Nobody even knows about these places. Everything should be documented. That’s very important. We try to tell the youngsters so that they know, and they’ll remember."
points out that the documentation may also find legal uses for survivors who have outstanding claims.
Sam Dubbin, a Florida lawyer who represents survivors who plan to bring claims against European insurance companies, wondered: "How many claims have been rejected because the victims were in a camp that we didn't even know about?"