Deaths in German Concentration Camps

English
Published: 
1997-09-23

The aim of this section is to present some numerical data pertaining to those "ordinary" deaths in German concentration camps of a sort that are not contested. That is to say, deaths which were documented by the Germans, even if some of those documents are now missing. The "Holocaust" allegation is that the millions "exterminated" were never documented. Since the documents are not complete, there will be some disagreement on the specific numbers of ordinary deaths, but nobody would put these numbers anywhere near millions.

This is not to imply that what is treated here is irrelevant to the "extermination" problem. It is very relevant, in ways to be explained below and elsewhere. For the time being, the reader should recognize that the camps in Germany, on the one hand, and the camps in Poland, on the other, play different roles in this study, not only in the sense that the legend claims exterminations only in the latter, but also in the sense of historical fact. From the present point of view, the main difference between the two is that the German camps (e.g. Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau) experienced catastrophic death rates only at the end of the war, mainly in the first four months of 1945, while the camps in Poland (e.g. Auschwitz, Majdanek) experienced them much earlier, in 1942.

The great killer in the German camps was of course typhus, spread by lice in the constant traffic with the east. In the rapid expansion of the camps in Poland, in 1941-1942, the Germans were able to anticipate this danger on account of the World War I experience. However their countermeasures largely failed and typhus epidemics broke out in summer 1942. The figure for the number of recorded male ordinary deaths at Auschwitz, in the period 1 June - 19 August, has survived; it was 11,920 [1].

As a result of the summer 1942 epidemic, the crematorium construction project at Auschwitz was greatly expanded. The Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler, visited Auschwitz on 17-18 July 1942; the epidemics must have been the major item on the agenda. The camp was quarantined on 23 July, probably by order, or with the consent, of Himmler.

Typhus epidemics being hard to combat, the unacceptable high death rates continued. On 28 December 1942 Himmler ordered that the death rate "be reduced at all costs" [2], and a renewed campaign to do so ensued. After several months the concentration camp administration presented Himmler with data to show progress; that data later became Nuremberg trial document 1469-PS [3] and is summarized below:

Death Cases in the Concentration Camps,
July 1942 to June 1943.
MonthInmatesDeathsPercent
July98,0008,3298.50
Aug.115,00012,21710.62
Sept.110,00011,20610.19
Oct.85,8008,85610.32
Nov.83,5008,0959.69
Dec.88,0008,80010.00
Jan.123,0009,8398.00
Feb.143,10011,6508.14
March154,20012,1127.85
April171,0008,3584.71
May203,0005,7002.80
June199,5005,6502.83

Death Cases for the Month of August 1943
CampInmatesDeaths%(Aug.)%(July)% change
Dachau17,300400.230.32-0.09
Sachsenhausen26,5001940.730.78-0.05
Buchenwald17,6001180.671.22-0.55
Mauthausen21,1002901.371.61-0.24
Flossenbürg4,8001553.233.27-0.04
Neuengamme9,8001501.532.14-0.61
Auschwitz (m.)48,0001,4423.002.96+0.04
Auschwitz (f.)26,0009383.615.15-1.54
Gross-Rosen5,000761.522.69-1.17
Natzweiler2,200411.871.63+0.24
Bergen-Belsen3,30040.120.39-0.27
Stutthof (m.)3,8001313.455.69-2.24
Stutthof (f.)50010.200.00+0.20
Majdanek (m.)11,5008827.674.62+3.05
Majdanek (f.)3,9001724.412.01+2.40
Ravensbrück (m.)3,100260.840.76+0.08
Ravensbrück (f.)14,100380.270.24+0.03
Riga3,00010.030.33-0.30
Herzogenbusch2,500
Summary224,0004,6992.092.23-0.14

Since the typhus was basically due to the traffic with the east, it was the case that as a general pattern, the further east a camp was, the higher the death rate. For example, Majdanek was the furthest east of the concentration camps in Poland.

As ordinary deaths in catastrophically high numbers, these conditions had precedents since the circumstances that cause them, disparate people thrown together in hastily constructed camps in wartime, are so easily attained. During the U.S. Civil War, the POW camps in the North such as Rock Island and Camp Douglas experienced death rates of 2%-4% per month. These figures were even exceeded in camps in the South such as Florence, where diarrhea and scurvy caused 20 to 50 deaths per day. Conditions at Andersonville were even worse, and 13,000 of the 50,000 Union POWs who were interned there perished [4]. During the 1899-1902 Boer War in South Africa about 120,000 non-combatant white Boers and 75,000 black Africans were placed in British concentration camps. For about a year, the Boer mortality rate ranged from 120 to 340 deaths per thousand per year (1.1% to 3.4% per month) while the Boer infant mortality rate, due chiefly to epidemics of measles, was as high as 600 per thousand per year (7.35% per month). About 20,000 Boer women and children died in these camps [5]. During World War I the Germans mixed Russian POWs with those of other nationalities, resulting in typhus epidemics in their POW camps that were strikingly similar to those experienced in the World War II concentration camps [6].

It is possible to get a useful idea of the total numbers of deaths in the various camps, although there remains a lack of complete and formally documented information on ordinary deaths at Auschwitz, despite the widely publicized release of Auschwitz death books by the Soviet Union in 1989. Coincidentally with that release, I published a review in which I gave figures that had been given to me by the International Tracing Service in Arolsen when I visited there in 1977: 45,575 recorded deaths in 1942, 36,960 in 1943, death books for 1940, 1941, 1944, January 1945 (when the camp was evacuated) missing. My information was not complete but it is satisfactory for the present purpose. Another problem is the status to be accorded to the figure of about 73,000 reported by the documents supplied by the Soviets in 1989. That documentation is incomplete but Pressac has used it to arrive at figures for Auschwitz very similar to those offered here. Thus I shall maintain my assumption that the Auschwitz total of ordinary deaths for 1940 through January 1945 was "in the range 100,000 - 150,000, probably closer to the former, since the camp population was small in 1940-1941 and by 1944 the Germans had made some progress against typhus" [7] (the Auschwitz camp population expanded to well over 100,000 in 1944). We shall see that this total is not the crucial point. The figures are:

YearAuschwitzBuchenwaldDachau
1940?1,7721,515
1941?1,5222,576
194245,5752,8982,470
194336,9603,5161,100
1944?8,6444,794
1945?13,05615,384
Totals?31,40827,839
Totals?125,000?37,000?32,000?

The totals for Buchenwald and Dachau, camps in Germany rather than Poland, are fairly well established. The International Tracing Service report of 1977 specified 36,550 for Buchenwald and 31,951 for Dachau, both figures lacking an undetermined number of "persons who died shortly before the liberation and during the evacuation transports" in the spring of 1945 [8]. The breakdown by years is done with the assistance of other documents [9].

Some comments on the relations between these figures and the "Holocaust" claim are in order. The orthodox Holocaust historians would generally accept the figures for Buchenwald and Dachau, since they do not claim exterminations at those camps, but they would hold that, beyond those I have taken into account for Auschwitz (i.e. the "ordinary" deaths that were recorded, even though some of the records are now lost), there were about a million additional deaths that were never recorded. Almost all of the latter were, the legend claims, Jews who went directly from trains to gas chambers with no corresponding records or documents created by the Germans. Based on past statements and publications it is safe to say that the International Tracing Service, from which some of my data comes, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which administers the ITS, also take this "orthodox" position, except that they might be reluctant to offer a specific figure.

Revisionists hold that the ordinary deaths that were recorded at Auschwitz were essentially all the deaths there. One way to evaluate our claim is to consider the cremation capacities at the camps in relation to these death rates.


Notes

Last modified: 23 September 1997.

[1]
Danuta Czech, ed., Auschwitz Chronicle 1939-1945, Henry Holt, NY, 1990, pp. 189f,208,223. This is essentially a publication of the Polish State Museum at Auschwitz. The text and the notes make clear that the figures are meant to include only men who died ordinary deaths, and not women or "Jews who were taken directly to the gas chambers and were not registered." Some of the ordinary deaths are said to have occurred in gas chambers after the victims were pronounced too ill to work, but there are no documents asserting such. See also D. Czech, "Die Rolle des Häftlingskrankenbaulagers im KL Auschwitz II," Hefte von Auschwitz, no. 15, 1975, pp. 27ff.
[2]
Nuremberg trial document 2172-PS, cited by Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution, 2nd ed., Vallentine, Mitchell, London, 1968, p. 127.
[3]
Trials of War Criminals, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1950 (i.e. the "Green series"), vol. 5, pp. 379-382.
[4]
William Best Hesseltine, Civil War Prisons, Ohio State Univ. Press, Columbus, 1930, pp. 152,156,192,203. Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. 1 (1910), p. 960.
[5]
L.S. Amery, ed., The Times History of the War in South Africa, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., London, vol. 5 (1907), pp. 252f,601, vol. 6 (1909), pp. 24f.
[6]
Encyclopedia Britannica, 12th ed., vol. 32 (1922 - third volume supplementing the 11th edition), p. 157.
[7]
Journal of Historical Review, vol. 9, no. 3, Fall 1989, pp. 369f (review of Arno Mayer's book, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?). Jean-Claude Pressac, Les Crématoires d'Auschwitz. La Machinerie du meurtre de Masse., CNRS éditions, Paris, 1993, pp. 144ff.
[8]
A. de Cocatrix, "The number of victims of the National Socialist persecution," International Tracing Service, Arolsen, April 1977.
[9]
Nuremberg trials document 2171-PS, published in Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1946-1948, vol. 4, pp. 800-835; P. Berben, Dachau 1933-1945: The Official History, (London: Norfolk Press, 1975 ed.), p. 281.

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