Five Million Others?

Ralph Zuljan

Relatively recently it has become fashionable to speak of the 11 million victims of the Holocaust. Executive Order 12169 issued by President Carter is generally acknowledged as the source of this modern understanding of the Holocaust in which it is defined as the "'systematic and state-sponsored extermination of six million Jews and some five million other peoples by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II." It is clear that the goal of the inclusiveness provided by "other peoples" is to be fair to groups that were targeted by the Nazis for systematic extermination in the same manner as the Jews. But while there is general agreement on the death of 6 million Jews it is not at all clear who exactly is to be counted as the 5 million others that perished through systematic extermination.

As an initial indicator of who constitutes the others, consider the concentration camp badges that distinguished groups within the system. This ought to provide some guidance as to which groups were targeted. The camps identified the following groups: Jews, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexual males, political prisoners, criminals and asocials. Asocials and Roma (Gypsies) both wore black triangles. Other ethnic or national groups are not evident. Even so, while no one seems prepared to claim that western European casualties of war deserve inclusion, various eastern Europeans do make claims to having their civilian casualties included in the Holocaust death toll. These are disputed claims.

Several groups have a valid case for claiming to be systematically exterminated exist and should be addressed. Of course, the Gypsies have a valid claim for inclusion. Although estimates vary, there is some agreement that at most 500,000 Gypsies were systematically exterminated.(1) There is also broad agreement that mentally and physically disabled persons in Germany were systematically exterminated between 1939 and 1941. The estimates of the number of individuals killed range up to 250,000.(2) These killings took place in hospitals, and they are the only ones not accounted in the toll of Nazi camps and death squads. The number of Jehovah's Witnesses that died in the Nazi concentration camp system by all accounts did not exceed 10,000 people. Likewise, the number of gay men who died by all accounts did not exceed 15,000 people. Several thousand clergy are generally believed to have died in the concentration camp system, though estimates do not exceed 10,000. Given that this discussion is aimed at identifying millions of people, these groups cannot account for all the others unless there were many more such groups and by all accounts that is not the case. Rather there are a small number of groups that make massive claims.

One group that occasionally is offered up for consideration is that of Soviet prisoners of war (POWs). It is widely estimated that about 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity. Their inclusion in any non-Jewish Holocaust count however presents several issues: A) these individuals were combatants; B) the deaths are generally attributed to neglect and indifference rather than being systematic; and finally, C) Allied treatment of German prisoners was at times comparable suggesting this was a function of the type of war being waged rather than anything to do with a Nazi disposition towards the systematic extermination of Soviet POWs.

A subgroup of the Soviet POWs does deserve consideration for inclusion. Hitler's Commissar Order of 1941 specified that Soviet POWs identified as Commissars were to be killed. Formally Commissars were to be transferred to SS control but everyone understood that this was a death sentence. Furthermore, there were instructions to do the same with Soviet POWs identified as Jews. A definite value for the number of Soviet POWs killed outright as a consequence of being a Commissar or a Jew is not known. It is also unclear that the order was carried out systematically. However, the numbers are inclusive of the killings attributed to the Einsatzgruppen.

The real weight of the claim to 5 million other Holocaust victims comes from Poles, Ukrainians and Serbs. None are particularly convincing. The Nazis did not single out Poles, Ukrainians, Serbs or other Slavs. A Pole might be in a concentration camp as a political prisoner or even as a criminal but a Pole would not be there as a Pole. Likewise for Ukrainians and other Slavs. A Jew, however, might be there as a political prisoner or a criminal but a Jew would also be designated as a Jew. Being Jewish was a recognized reason for being in the concentration camp system. So was being a Gypsy. In fact, while Jehovah's Witnesses, gay men, political opponents, criminals and the catchall asocials were targeted groups, their ethnicity only mattered insofar as the persons were identified as Jewish or Roma.

It is easy to dispense with the most extreme case of Polish claims. What remains is a Polish claim to 1.5 million or less killed. Whether those non-Jewish Poles qualify to being systmatically exterminated seems open to debate. I would argue that one would have to demonstrate that Poles as a group were targeted for extermination and the evidence does not suggest that. At best one may claim that as many as 100,000 Polish intelligentsia were systematically exterminated.(3)

Ukrainian claims are slightly more absurd. Estimates of as many as 7 million Ukrainians killed can be found attributed to the Holocaust.(2) Such a high number would include all Ukrainians killed during World War II. Jews, soldiers fighting for and against the Nazis, partisans and non-Jewish civilians are all counted. Accepting such a figure would be unreasonable. Indeed the evidence does not suggest Ukrainians experienced anything like systematic extermination. The number of Ukrainians in the Nazi concentration camp systems seems to have been negligible, though there are many references to Ukrainian guard units. It is well known that the Germans managed to raise a significant number of military and paramilitary units composed of Ukrainians; that is in addition to the many Ukrainian auxiliaries to be found serving with the German army on the Eastern Front. Ukrainian claims to inclusion in the Holocaust are unfounded.

Serbian claims for inclusion in the Holocaust derive from the losses sustained in the partisan war, fought with Allied material assistance, that continued throughout the German occupation of Yugoslavia between 1941 and 1945. About 1.5 million killed is the highest death toll claimed.(2) This was among the most brutal theaters of war. However, again, the claim to inclusion is dependent on demonstrating systematic extermination and the evidence for that is lacking. 

In reviewing a variety of sources, it is clear that the proponents of the "five million other" victims of the Holocaust are unsure of where to derive the bulk of the numbers. Different sources propose different groups for inclusion. Nationalist sources sometimes count all or all civilian casualties begging obvious questions. However, fairly wide agreement exists on the inclusion of Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, gays, clergy and the disabled. There is also a sound basis for the inclusion of Soviet Commissars and Polish intelligentsia. In total, these groups probably account for less than 1 million killed.

Claims to systematic extermination most often seem to be justified on the basis of a group's presence in the Nazi concentration camp system or claims to mass executions by the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile death squads the Nazis employed. Of all the groups discussed here, only the disabled would not be expected to have been killed in the camps or mass shootings. Therefore, finding a reasonable estimate of the numbers killed in the camps combined with those murdered by the Einsatzgruppen should account for the number of people systematically exterminated by the Nazis. A number of sources provide estimates of the number of persons killed in the camps and by the Einsatzgruppen.

There seems to be general agreement that the Einsatzgruppen killed about 1.25 million people in the period 1941-42, during which this mobile killing units were active.(6) They operated in Nazi occupied Poland and the USSR. Only one source claims a higher figure of 1.5 million. (9)

There is less clarity about the numbers of persons killed in the camps. A low estimate of deaths in the extermination camps is 3.5 million. Specific estimates for the number killed in extermination camps range between 4.8 million (7) and 4.9 million. There are problems with all the estimates available. They are not completely consistent and disputable weight is attached to certain camps. The Majdanek death camp claim, for example, varies from 360,000 to 1.38 million. Claims for those killed at Auschwitz range from 1.5 million to 2.5 million; the only breakdown of the groups killed at Auschwitz tallies to only 1.2 million.(7) It is noteworthy that at the core dispute seems to some 1 million deaths that is attached to Majdanek in one source and Auschwitz in another. Otherwise, there is fairly solid agreement on the numbers killed in the extermination camps. A further 1.1 million deaths may be attributed to the concentration camps.(8)

Based on the information available, between 5.85 and 7.5 million people were systematically exterminated by Einsatzgruppen and in the extermination camps and concentration camps. Notice that this range would be expected to account Jews killed as well as almost all of the others who were systematically exterminated by the Nazis. Including the disabled claim of 250,000 deaths, which has been explicitly excluded up to this point because these deaths took place in hospitals, the number of people systematically exterminated ranges between 6.1 million and 7.75 million. That figure is well short of the 11 million expected.

There is a final issue to raise, that is, determining the number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust accounted for with the information on deaths presented here. The reason for considering this question is that if it can be shown that there are many unaccounted Jewish deaths within this analysis, then it may be reasonable to claim a comparable number of unaccounted other deaths. The total number of Jewish victims is fairly well established so this presents a reasonable cross check for the data available.

It is unclear what percentage of Einsatzgruppen victims were Jews versus others. It is known that the killed total is not exclusively Jewish lives. Soviet commissars would have probably been among the victims and possibly other groups singled out by the Nazis for systematic extermination. From what is known about this mobile killing squads, however, it is likely that a great many of the victims were Jews.

It is also clear, that the estimated 1.1 million concentration camp deaths claimed include everyone, not only Jews killed. Specific information about the groups systematically exterminated cannot be established with the data available. Jews were not the only group that were singled out, on some objective basis, in the concentration camps and all these groups have a legitimate claim to having been systematically exterminated by the Nazis.

However, the only available source that breaks down the deaths in a given camp by group, Auschwitz to be specific, does not support such a low percentage of Jews killed and so many others.(7) Of those "gassed on arrival," 98% were Jews. Of "total deaths" recorded, 81% were Jews. The latter percentage may be consider minimal since all of the weight of unaccounted for deaths is allotted to the claim of others. The Auschwitz analysis supports a claim to roughly 1 million Jewish deaths, but it provides no basis for a claim to 1 million others. This analysis does not support a low claim to the percentage of Jews killed. It would seem conservative to say that 80% of death camp victims were Jews if the percentages at Auschwitz holds true.

Oddly enough, if it is assumed that 80% of Holocaust victims were Jewish, and a range of 6.1 to 7.8 million is accepted for the total number systematically exterminated, then Jewish deaths account for 4.9 to 6.2 million killed which correlates with known estimates of the number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Others account for 1.2 to 1.6 million killed. Adjusting the various values to account for variations between death camps and concentration camps and details like the disabled does not significantly alter these conclusions. Perhaps equally important is that this analysis of death statistics seems to correlate rather well with the analysis of groups targeted for systematic extermination presented earlier and the numbers estimated to have been killed.

This exercise then begs the question: Where are the roughly 3 or 4 million others? Perhaps the obvious answer is that they were never targeted for systematic extermination in the manner that Jews and some other groups were. Most of these others were simply casualties of one of the most destructive wars in history. They were not victims of Nazism's policies of systematic extermination, but the brutal warfare unleashed by the Nazi German state. They were victims of war. Attempting to broaden the definition of the Holocaust to include them as victims only serves to muddle the meaning of the Holocaust.



(2) Overlooked Millions: Non-Jewish Victims of the Holocaust



(5) Directive No. 46 Instructions for Intensified Action Against Banditry in the East



(8) The Holocaust Frequent Asked Questions

(9) The Camps

Originally published in "Articles On War" at on February 1, 2007.

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