So one of our readers asked us this question the other day. There were 6 million victims of the holocaust. That is a huge number. I’m probably wrong here and I DO NOT doubt the facts of the holocaust but I’m struggling with the number. 6 million from 1938 to 1945 is around 100 per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for 7 years. That’s staggering!
Your question is one of the reasons why education about the holocaust is so important because you’re right, it is staggering. It’s difficult to even comprehend let alone believe for those who didn’t see it first hand and as history wears on it would be easy to say ‘Oh no, that surely cannot be. It must be exaggerated, that many is not even possible.’ Thankfully the Allies had the foresight to painstakingly document everything that they found, as they found it, rather than only going back to do so after the war was won.
In terms of just how such a thing is possible, it would be wrong to imagine the Nazis as gassing 100 people every hour of every day for years and years. In fact, much of their work was done through simple starvation, and working their captives to death. Many more would have been killed in mass exterminations on the Eastern Front, never having made it to a camp.
The most notorious of these was probably at Babi Yar, where over 30,000 Ukrainian Jews were killed over a period of just two or three days in mass shootings where people were machine-gunned, thrown into ravines and buried, in some cases still alive.
There’s also the Rumbula Massacre, where 25,000 Latvian Jews were killed in only a couple of days and then the killings in Budapest towards the end of the war, where the Germans and Hungarians had so many people to exterminate that, in order to save bullets, they would tie several Jews together, shoot one, and then throw the whole lot into the Danube river so that the dead one dragged the others down and they drowned.
Here is an article about a memorial commemorating the massacres that occurred on the banks of the Danube. The sculptures are in reference to the fact that the killers would make their victims take their shoes off before shooting them, because the shoes were becoming a valuable commodity which could then be sold or worn by the killers themselves.
And then there’s Aktion Erntefest, which translates cheerfully to ‘Operation: Harvest Festival’ where in a single day over forty-thousand Jews were liquidated throughout the Nazi Concentration Camps located in Eastern Poland, in anticipation of a Russian offensive.
These are just a few of the massed killings of thousands of people, often carried out by small numbers of men with little more than automatic weapons in their hands and hatred in their hearts. With these mass killings you can easily begin to understand how the Nazis managed to average out to your 100 per hour figure.
Just to add a little more context of how it all went down, in mid-1942, 75% of all Holocaust victims were still alive. About 10 months later in early 1943, 75% of all Holocaust victims had been murdered. Of the millions that died (more than the 6 million Jews), most of them were killed in less than a year.
Keep in mind how frighteningly sophisticated the killing operations of the Nazis were. Death camps were run like the most effective slaughterhouses. Trains carrying repurposed box and cattle cars stuffed to the absolute brim with prisoners would roll up to the camps, where prisoners would be filed out, processed, stripped down, and forced into gas chambers. Once the execution was complete, workers (often times prisoners themselves) would salvage things like gold fillings from the bodies, which would be burned in industrial furnaces.
About 11 million people died in the Holocaust not 6 million. 6 million is just the number of Jewish people killed. The other 5 million in that 11 million is attributed to the murder of mainly Slavic peoples on the Eastern Front, mainly Poles, Russians, Baltic slavs, and Ukrainians, and other people like Gypsies, the disabled, Homosexuals, mentally impaired, etc. The reason why some people include the casualties of Slavs in the statistics of the holocaust, raising the number closer to 11 million, is because Nazi ideology branded Slavs as inferior just like Jews, with figures like Hitler despising Slavs; Russians in particular, because of their connections to Communism and because Slavs were perceived as backwards, and because the Germans captured incredible amounts of Slavs during the war and killed them in similar fashions as they killed Jews, largely through summary executions, firing squads, and starvation.
The 6 million vs 11 million figure debate however is heated among historians, and there is a split on whether or not the Holocaust should be defined as the exclusive mass murder of Jewish People, or a broader definition of the mass murders of the Nazi Regime of Jewish people and other victims.
Now all this begs an important question, how the Holocaust was possible from a material standpoint? The answers is that from a material standpoint, the Nazis wasted an immense amount of resources, besides reducing their population of more workers, soldiers and scientists, through the Holocaust, especially towards the end of the war, when fuel and transporting weaponry became a large issue, yet they continued sending trains full of Jews to their deaths. The Nazis did manage to finance themselves to a degree through confiscated goods and wealth, but by the time the Jews (and any others) would have gotten to the camps, the majority of their possessions, i.e. everything they couldn’t take with them, would have already been confiscated. The ones in villages in Eastern Europe, which were machine gunned in place, tended to not be particularly wealthy, due to being rural peasants.