[Update, 25.11.2018: I corrected the information about the time at which Europe-wide genocide was decided upon according to Christopher Browning. Thanks to Sergey Romanov for bringing this to my attention.]
When running a Google search for information about non-Jewish victims of Nazi mass murder, one of the first pages to show up is this one, which is headed “Five Million Forgotten” and links to a site called “Non-Jewish Victims of the Holocaust • Five Milion Forgotten”, hosted by Terese Pencak Schwartz. This site is also linked to by The Holocaust History Project (link # 22) and referred to there as being “A site focusing on the 5 million non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust”.
According to Mrs. Schwartz,
”Eleven million precious human lives were lost during the Holocaust. Five million of these were non-Jewish. Three million were Polish Christians and Catholics.”
Under the subheading “Who Were the Five Million Non-Jewish Holocaust Victims?”, Mrs. Schwartz writes about Poles, Jehovah’s Witnesses (“For Their Religious Belief, They Stood Firm”), Rom[a] Gypsies (“For Their Race They Were Executed”), opponents of the Nazis on political, humanitarian or religious grounds (“Men and Women of Courage From All Nations”, “Priests and Pastors Died for their Beliefs”), homosexuals, disabled people, sterilized black children and spouses of persecution victims who chose death before divorce. A breakdown of the two million victims who, according to the above-quoted introductory statement, belonged to the categories other than “Polish Christians and Catholics”, is not provided here, but some partial figures are mentioned (“Half a million Gypsies, almost the entire Eastern European Gypsy population, was wiped out during the Holocaust”; “Between 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals died in concentration camps during the Holocaust”.) Regarding disabled people, it is stated that “During Hitler's ‘cleansing program’, thousands of people with various handicaps were deemed useless and simply put to death like dogs and cats”. Regarding non-Jewish Poles, there is a link to an article by Edward Lucaire, a freelance writer, mentioning “three million dead Polish Christians who, by the way, vastly outnumbered the combined number of dead Jehovah’s Witnesses (2,000), Gypsies (400,000), homosexuals (10,000 at the most, according to Peter Novick in The Holocaust in American Life), handicapped, etc., usually cited in Holocaust literature”. This statement, as well as the partial figures mentioned by Mrs. Schwartz herself, suggests that the combined number of victims from Mrs. Schwartz’s categories other than “Polish Christians and Catholics” is significantly lower than the two million implied by her above-quoted statement. Indeed it is, as will be detailed in Part 2 of this article, where I shall also refer to sources showing that the “three million dead Polish Christians” mentioned by Lucaire and Schwartz are an exaggeration, resulting from an improper calculation methodology.
So where did Mrs. Schwartz obtain the total of five million non-Jewish “lives lost during the Holocaust”?
This figure apparently goes back to Simon Wiesenthal, who “invented” it “in order to make the non-Jews feel like they are part of us” – at least this is what Wiesenthal, according to a lecture by Walter Reich about “The Use and Abuse of Holocaust Memory”, told Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer. Wiesenthal’s statement is also referred to in Michael Berenbaum’s obituary to Simon Wiesenthal, published in Forward in September 2005:
Actually, Wiesenthal's most well-known philosophical battle was with Wiesel. The two squared off indirectly in the late 1970s over the question of who were the true victims of the Holocaust; that is, was the Holocaust a Jewish event or a universal event? Wiesel argued that the Holocaust was a uniquely Jewish experience, settling the role of non-Jews in the Holocaust with the turn of a phrase: "While not all victims were Jews, all Jews were victims."
Wiesenthal, in contrast, argued that the Holocaust was the death of 11 million people, 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews. The figure was invented: If we consider all civilian non-Jewish deaths, then it is too small; if we consider only those who died at the hands of the Nazi killing apparatus, then it is too large.[emphasis mine – RM] But the central point was Wiesenthal's belief that the inclusion of non-Jews was essential to his postwar commitment. Nations had to feel that they had lost their own if they were to bring the war criminals to justice.
What is the meaning of the term “Nazi killing apparatus”, as used by the author of the above?
The term evokes the image of systematic mass killing carried out by specialized killers, such as practiced in the Nazis’ extermination camps and the mobile killing operations of the Einsatzgruppen and other German formations. The former, according to Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews, claimed “up to 2,700,000” Jewish victims, while around 1,300,000 Jews were killed in open-air shootings. Hilberg estimated a further 150,000 Jews killed by Nazi Germany’s Romanian and Croatian allies, 150,000 who died in “camps with tolls in the low tens of thousands and or below” (including “camps with killing operations” and concentration camps like Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Dachau, Stutthof) and 800,000 Jewish victims of “Ghettoization and general occupation”, his figures adding up to ca. 5.1 million victims of the Nazi destruction of European Jewry.
Which of these Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and mass murder could be considered to have died “at the hands of the Nazi killing apparatus” in the sense of Mr. Berenbaum’s above-quoted statement?
All of them, as Mr. Berenbaum, while stating that Wiesenthal’s figure of 5 million non-Jews is too high “if we consider only those who died at the hands of the Nazi killing apparatus“, does not make the same reservation in regard to the 6 million Jews he also mentions, thereby implying that he considers all 6 million to have “died at the hands of the Nazi killing apparatus”.
A significant part of the Jewish victims of what Hilberg calls “ghettoization and general occupation” died before the Nazis embarked on the systematic extermination of Europe’s Jews, known as the “final solution” of the “Jewish question”. Genocidal killing of Jews by the Nazis began at the earliest in August 1941, when, as pointed out by German historian Christian Gerlach on page 63 of his book Krieg, Ernährung, Völkermord, German SS and police units in the occupied Soviet territories started also killing Jewish women and children in large numbers and then progressed to wiping out entire Jewish communities. Christopher Browning makes a case that the decision to wipe out all of Europe's Jews was taken between 18 September and 25 October 1941 (The Origins of the Final Solution, 2004 Arrow Books, pp. 424-428), while Gerlach maintains that Hitler’s "go ahead" for genocide on a Europe-wide level was given on December 12, 1941 and Peter Longerich holds that “A further escalation of the extermination policy can be observed in the period between May and June 1942” and that ”in July 1942 a comprehensive programme to systematically murder the Jews in the areas under German control had been implemented”. Yet long before the earliest of these dates, and even longer before deportations to Treblinka extermination camp started in late July 1942, mortality from starvation and disease had been high in the Warsaw Ghetto:
In November 1940 the ghetto was sealed off. There were already 445 deaths in the ghetto. The death toll thereafter rose rapidly: in January 1941 to 898, in April to 2,061, in June to 4,290 and in August to 5,560. Then the monthly figure fluctuated between 4,000-5,000 for as long as the ghetto existed.
In other ghettos the situation was similar:
The intolerable population density, inadequate hygienic and sanitary facilities – in the Lodz Ghetto 95% of apartments had no sanitation, piped water or sewers – almost complete lack of medical supplies, absence of fuel for heating, and starvation rations, combined to produce conditions in which sickness and epidemics were inevitable. Lice plagued the ghetto population. In the Kutno Ghetto, which the Germans nicknamed Krepierlager ("Pegging out Camp"), between March and December 1941, 42% of all deaths were typhus patients. The overall mortality rate during that period in Kutno was almost ten times the pre-war rate, for other contagious diseases were also commonplace.
On page 96 of The Destruction of the European Jews, 1985 student edition (quoted on this HC forum thread), Raul Hilberg wrote the following:
The Jewish community of Poland was dying. In the last prewar year, 1938, the monthly average death rate of Lodz was 0.09 percent. In 1941, the rate jumped to 0.63 percent, and during the first six months of 1942 it was 1.49. The same pattern, compressed into a single year, may be noted for the Warsaw ghetto, where the monthly death rate during the first half of 1941 was 0.63, and in the second half 1.47. In their rise to this plateau, the two cities were almost alike, even though Lodz was a hermetically closed ghetto, which had its own currency and in which the black market was essentially the product of internal barter, whereas Warsaw was engaged in extensive smuggling "quietly tolerated" by the Germans. The birthrates in both cities were extremely low: Lodz had one birth for every twenty deaths, while in Warsaw at the beginning of 1942 the ratio was 1:45. The implication of these figures is quite clear. A population with a net loss of one percent a month shrinks to less than five percent of its original size in just twenty-four years.
Can the Jews who died at this rate of starvation and disease be considered to have died “at the hands of the Nazi killing apparatus”, independently of whether (as Hilberg, who in the paragraph after the one quoted above stated that the pace of Jewish dying was “not fast enough” for the German decision-makers, seems to have believed) or not (as corresponds to the views of Browning, Gerlach and Longerich, who in my opinion have the evidence in their favor) the Nazis had already intended to wipe out the Jews of Europe long before they unleashed their mobile killing squads against all Soviet Jews and built extermination camps to which Jews from all of Nazi-dominated Europe were deported, rather than Nazi policies towards Jews having gradually become more radical until they reached the stage of genocide, in August 1941 at the earliest?
They can, if Mr. Berenbaum’s term “killing apparatus” is interpreted in a broader sense than that immediately suggested by its wording, to include not only systematic direct killing but also deaths due to living conditions deliberately imposed upon a population in the knowledge that they will lead to a huge increase of mortality, whether or not the purpose of this imposition is the eradication or reduction of the population in question.
Besides submitting them to deadly living conditions, the Nazis were actively killing Jews already before what I consider the earliest start date of their Europe-wide genocidal program, the one assumed by Browning. On page 10 of Krieg, Ernährung, Völkermord, translated in my article One might think that …, Gerlach mentions “several ten thousand Jewish and non-Jewish Poles” murdered by the Nazis until May 1941. A recent exhibition has shown documentation about crimes committed by the Wehrmacht in Poland in September/October 1939, including the following (my translation):
Polish Jews with their traditional clothes and hair and beard cuts became free game for German soldiers. Harassments and arbitrary shootings of Jews were the order of the day.
One such case is recorded in the official minutes of a meeting between the Army Commander-In-Chief and Reinhard Heydrich on 22 September 1939, quoted on page 63 of Helmut Krausnick’s book Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen. Die Truppen des Weltanschauungskrieges 1938-1942 (1985 Frankfurt a.M.): at Pulutsk, 80 Jews were “shot down by the troops in a bestial manner” (“niedergeknallt in viehischer Weise”). In another incident near Rozan on the Narew, 50 Jews, who during the day had been employed in mending a bridge, were in the evening pushed into a synagogue and shot down “without reason” (Krausnick, page 66). A report from the leader of an Einsatzkommando mentioned that the city of Bromberg was “completely free of Jews” because during the “mopping-up action” on 11 November 1939 all Jews who had not fled before had been “beseitigt”, i.e. “eliminated” (Krausnick, page 73).
Just like the victims of Nazi-imposed privation in the ghettos, the Jewish victims of these and other early massacres, which were not yet part of a program of systematic annihilation, are obviously considered by Mr. Berenbaum as having “died at the hands of the Nazi killing apparatus”, and this is arguably correct if the term “killing apparatus” is understood as also including murderous “ethnic cleansing” and/or random massacres resulting from race-hatred inculcated into their perpetrators by a state-controlled propaganda machinery. State responsibility for mass murder resulting from such indoctrination is pointed out in Matthew Cooper’s The Phantom War, as follows (emphases added):
The history of German rule in occupied Russia in general, and of its security measures in particular, also reveals much about Hitler’s responsibility for the immeasurable atrocities that took place during the war. Certainly, although he gave orders of great cruelty concerning the policies to be pursued towards the Russian people, they included no mention of any desire to commit genocide. Perhaps, therefore, it could be argued that he had no intention of allowing his political officials and soldiers to engage in the destruction of twenty million Russians, of whom at least 750,000 were Jews - the enormity of which figures becomes clear when it is realized that the number of Soviet soldiers and partisans killed in battle amounted to around one third of the total. Perhaps, even, it might be said that the Führer had no knowledge that such wholesale slaughter, initiated solely by subordinates such as Heinrich Himmler, was taking place. Perhaps. But what can be established beyond doubt is that it was Hitler, and he alone, who created the conditions whereby such evil could be done. He shaped the mentality of the invaders. Without his diatribes against the Slavs and the Jews - the Untermensch - and without his orders, or those emanating at his instigation and with his approval from his military staffs, the High Commands of the Wehrmacht and the Army, the atrocities perpetrated by his SS men and his soldiers would not have taken place. As Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, Chief of the SS Anti-Partisan formations, was to tell the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg after the war: If, for decades, a doctrine is preached that the Slav race is an inferior race, and the Jews not even human at all, then such an explosion is inevitable. For that, Hitler must bear responsibility.
When in late 1941 German occupation forces in Serbia launched a campaign of murderous reprisals against the civilian population to quash the emerging resistance movement, Jews and Gypsies were frequent, and at a certain stage even preferential targets of reprisal killings. The following is an excerpt from Christopher Browning’s article Germans and Serbs: The Emergence of Nazi Antipartisan Policies in 1941; emphases are mine:
While the Serbs received a partial reprieve from German terror, this was no help to the Jews and Gypsies. If the Germans could conceive that not all Serbs were Communists and that the random shooting of innocent Serbs would damage German interests, they had no doubt at all that Jews were anti-German and that the Gypsies were no different from the Jews. And if more care had to be exercised in selecting Serbian hostages, the pressure to find hostages elsewhere to meet the 100:1 quota was that much greater. The new German policy stated succintly: As a matter of principle it must be said that Jews and Gypsies in general represent an element of insecurity and thus a danger to public order and safety. That is why it is a matter of principle in each case to put all Jewish men and all male Gypsies at the disposal of the troops as hostages. The fate of the male Jews and Gypsies in Serbia was sealed, and their execution by army firing squad was completed by early November.
At the same time the tide of battle in Serbia turned in the Germans favor, and by December the partisans had retreated to the mountainous regions of Bosnia and Croatia beyond the Serbian border. They would continue their struggle against the Germans elsewhere but would not return in force to Serbia until 1944. With the first phase of the partisan war in Serbia at an end, the reprisal body count stood at about 15,000, of which some 4,500 5,000 were Jews and Gypsies.
Also in the Soviet Union after 22 June 1941, Jews were targeted by retaliations for attacks on German troops, before systematic mass killing by the Einsatzgruppen and other formations made them unavailable for these purposes. The following are my translations of diary entries from German soldiers, quoted in Hannes Heer, Tote Zonen. Die Deutsche Wehrmacht an der Ostfront., page 101:
From the diary of Corporal Werner Bergholz:
(…)2.7. In the night two of our guards were shot. A hundred people were executed for this. They were probably all Jews.
From the diary of Major Reich:
2.7.1941. Shot Jews. 3.7. We get going. 22 Russian soldiers, some of them wounded, are shot in a peasant’s yard.(…)9.7. Commissar liquidated by MG-detachment.(…)12.7. Neat, orderly houses. A grazing shot on my helmet from the back. Three villagers must die for this.(…)13.7. A German air force soldier killed, 50 Jews shot..
Like the previously mentioned victims of privation in ghettos and random brutality in occupied Poland, the Jewish victims of reprisal killings in Serbia and the Soviet Union were targets of Nazi violence against non-combatants that was not (yet) aimed at extermination, not part of the “final solution” of the “Jewish question”. Yet all these victims are obviously considered by Mr. Berenbaum as having “died at the hands of the Nazi killing apparatus”, just like the Jews killed in extermination camps or in the systematic mobile killing operations of the Einsatzgruppen and other SS and police formations. This understanding is correct under a broad definition of the term “killing apparatus” that includes not only victims of an extermination program, but also other non-combatants killed deliberately (in that their deaths were intended or at least foreseen and not minded) by violence that was not part of military actions, not meant to achieve military objectives or not justified by military necessity, i.e. by actions or omissions that were criminal and considered to be criminal under the domestic laws and international law in force at the time of their perpetration.
Now, how many non-Jews actually died at the hands of the “Nazi killing apparatus”, as defined above? While a more or less exact number is difficult if not impossible to establish, the order of magnitude demonstrably exceeds the five million “invented” by Simon Wiesenthal. In the next part of this article I shall attempt a country-by-country tabulation of non-Jews who perished through criminal violence by Nazi Germany and its allies, covering all countries that either belonged to or were at least partially occupied by the Axis powers.