While you probably don’t need any more reminders about the extent of Nazi brutality during World War II, a new study by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shows that there’s still a lot to learn about the Holocaust.
Historians Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean initially set up the grueling task of documenting all the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories that the Nazis set up throughout Europe 13 years ago.
Based on post war estimates, the researchers expected to find a few thousand Nazi camps and ghettos. The current figures, however, far exceed those estimates and have shocked Holocaust scholars.
Dr. Megargee said he expected to find about 7,000 camps and ghettos throughout the continent when the experiment began in 2000. The final number they found was a staggering 42,500 locations. Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard the numbers correctly when the researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.
The Director of the Institute, Hartmut Berghoff, told the New York Times that, “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.”
The camps spanned an area extending from France to Russia and included not only “killing centers,” but also thousands of forced labor camps, POW camps, brothels, and so-called “care” centers where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or have their babies killed after birth.
The existence of the individual camps and ghettos was previously known only on a fragmented, region-by-region basis. The researchers have been documenting the entire scale for the first time, studying where they were located, how they were run, and what their purpose was using data from nearly 400 contributors.
And the research could have legal implications as well by helping a small number of survivors document their continuing claims over unpaid insurance policies, looted property, seized land, and other financial matters.
The sheer number of camps and ghettos show that eliminating Jews and other undesirables was at least, if not more important to the Nazis as the their battles on the Eastern Front.