by Ayen Bior
There was a time when many thought the slaughter of millions in the 11-year reign of the Nazi regime was so egregious it could not get any worse. That time has passed.
Recent information from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum reveals well known and accepted numbers from the Holocaust are exceptionally conservative. According to the Museum’s 13-year investigation led by Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, the figure is closer to 15 million and ranges to 20.
“It is such a revolutionary finding,” said Sarah Abosch, director of education at the Dallas Holocaust Museum. “It will revolutionize the way the Nazi period is studied.”
This is the first time that the Holocaust has been documented at this scale — starting at the location of the camps and examining how they were run as well as their primary purpose.
According to the New York Times, the project uncovered 30,000 slave camps, 1,150 Jewish ghettos, 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps, 980 concentration camps, 500 sex-slave brothels and thousands of other camps. Various human rights violations occurred, including forced abortions, mandatory euthanasia of the elderly and ill, “Germanisation” and transportation hubs to murder sites.
Based on postwar estimates, Megargee’s initial prediction was 7,000 Nazi camps and ghettos. He was shocked at his findings, and he isn’t the only one.
“It’s a shocking number, it’s an amazing, horrifying and startling and number,” said Dr. Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University.
Halperin said, “Records will always be found to indicate that numbers are always likely to be higher than we think they are, no matter how high we think they are.”
Halperin, who calls the Holocaust “the crime of crimes,” will easily admit that Hitler’s reign is one of the worst eras in human rights history.
As a student of history and an SMU alumna of the Embrey Human Rights Program,
Shireen Tavakoli said she is not surprised that the project yielded high results.
“When studying human rights,” she said, “the numbers tend to become habitual. But with the Holocaust, the more you understand, the more you realize the depth of these horrific events and you begin to really understand what really took place and the degree of those consequences.”
“You absolutely have to understand your historical background,” agreed Abosch. “And you have to apply the lessons. Learn to fight prejudice and hatred through education.”
Echoing those thoughts, Halperin said, “We really have very little understanding at to how pervasive and how efficient and just how incredibly premeditative and bureaucratic it was.”
As one who spends most of his days thinking about human wrongs, the Holocaust Museums findings bring conflicting emotions to Halperin.
“I think it’s a very healthy thing that this report came out and what it shows is that the more we think we know, even about something that so publicized, the more we really don’t know and the more we need to know.”
Halperin said that he would not be surprised if the numbers continued to rise.
“You can’t really believe that 70 years has yielded every victim of the Holocaust,” he said, “And apparently now, it hasn’t.”