Population Statistics in WWII Europe

Published: 1998-01-01
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Jun 1, 1998

Good Day,

Could you clarify a few things about World War II casualty statistics for me? I would much appreciate it. A friend of mine made the following statements and I was incapable of answering them properly. Perhaps you could provide the proper answers.

1) He mentioned Red Cross figures showing less than 1/2 million less Jews in Europe in 1945 than in the pre-war period. He said these numbers were quickly "amended" under political pressure and a much higher number was published later. Is there any truth to this? He also had claimed that the actual number of Jewish Holocaust victims (victims that could be verified) was between 1.5 and 2.0 million, much lower than the 6.0 to 6.5 million that one generally hears about in most histories.

2) He claimed that at least 1.0 million Jews died at the hands of the occupying Soviet forces in eastern Poland and the Baltic States and that these deaths have been blamed incorrectly on the Germans.

3) He claimed that a minimum of 1.5 million German prisoners of war died in POW camps, mostly in the former Soviet Union. Many of these died after 1945.

4) He claimed that between 1.5 and 2.0 million ethnic German civilians died between 1945 and 1947 in the population "transfers" from East Elbia and the Sudetenland.

5) He claimed that point #3 and #4 total up to the fact that more Germans died in prison camps and and in the two years after the end of the war than did Jewish victims in camps.

Are any of these points correct? If you have time I would be most appreciative of a response.

Thank you,
D. Seiple

AnswerMan!

AnswerMan Replies:

Mr. Seiple:

AnswerMan generally doesn't get too deep into statistical issues unless they are of specific importance, so, in my responses here I will direct you to some appropriate sources where you can fill out your research. I'll take your questions one at a time.

Your overall question is this: isn't it true that more persons of German ethnicity perished in the postwar period than Jews perished during the war? The overall answer is: yes. But, what did you expect? Germany lost the war.

1) He mentioned Red Cross figures showing less than 1/2 million less Jews in Europe in 1945 than in the pre-war period. He said these numbers were quickly "amended" under political pressure and a much higher number was published later. Is there any truth to this? He also had claimed that the actual number of Jewish Holocaust victims (victims that could be verified) was between 1.5 and 2.0 million, much lower than the 6.0 to 6.5 million that one generally hears about in most histories.

The story about amended returns on Jewish population statistics is so tortured that a short reply could not do it justice. The best short discussion of this is in Butz' "Hoax of the Twentieth Century", and the best overall study of Holocaust demographics is Sanning's "The Dissolution of the European Jews". Both of these books are available from the IHR for ten bucks apiece or less.

It is generally agreed that the six million number is too high; Hilberg thinks 5 million, including all those who perished during the war from whatever cause, Reitlinger estimated about 4.2 to 4.6 million. Those are the only two serious attempts to reconstruct the loss of life among mainstream writers on this subject. Of course, both accept somewhere in the neighborhood of three million gassed, and, since we know that no one was gassed, the totals should be revised downward accordingly.

There is no simple way to answer the question about how many Jews died. All methods involve pre-war population statistics, usually from 1930 or thereabouts, which are then projected to 1939. Then post-war population statistics are given. The latter is subtracted from the former, the result is the number of "Holocaust victims."

There are several problems with this method. First, persons declaring themselves as Jews, either through marriage or other forms of assimilation, had been decreasing in Central and Eastern Europe for decades. Second, hundreds of thousands of Jews emigrated from Eastern Europe, and particularly Poland, in the 1920's and 1930's. Third, Jews who perished in combat, or died of old age, or who died of any number of incidental causes, are hard to calculate and it is simply nonsense to consider them "Holocaust victims."

Fourth, perhaps as many as two million Polish and Soviet Jews were evacuated by the Red Army in 1941: wherever they ended up, they didn't end up in their original locations (consult James J. Martin, The Man Who Invented Genocide for contemporary news references). Finally, the atmosphere of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, which went hand in hand with anti-communism, persisted after World War Two, and there was frankly no reason for a Jewish person living in this area to declare themselves as Jewish unless they had a desire to draw attention to themselves or emigrate elsewhere.

The pre-war numbers are too high, the post war numbers are too low. Frankly, I don't know how many Jews died in World War Two, and the problem is too big for one man to solve. What is needed is a good faith investigation by scholars worldwide. But don't hold your breath.

2) He claimed that at least 1.0 million Jews died at the hands of the occupying Soviet forces in eastern Poland and the Baltic States and that these deaths have been blamed incorrectly on the Germans.

After the Soviet Union took their half of Poland, according to the secret deal in 1939, and after they invaded the Baltics in 1940, it was open season on the nationalist elements in those countries, which were overwhelmingly middle class and non-Jewish.

So the short answer to your question is that not many Jews suffered from Soviet oppression at this time. According to the analyses of J. Otto Pohl, only a few tens of thousands of Jews were deported by the Soviets, which also means that something like a million and a half Poles and Balts were deported in the period before the German invasion in 1941. This is also the context of the Katyn massacre, by the way.

On the other hand, it is possible that many Jews may have been killed, either by retreating Germans or by attacking Soviets, in the Spring and Summer of 1944 when the Eastern Front fell apart. But there has been no serious study of this matter, only anecdotes.

3) He claimed that a minimum of 1.5 million German prisoners of war died in POW camps, mostly in the former Soviet Union. Many of these died after 1945.

That sounds about right. Not only did the Soviets use German POW's for forced labor for years after the war (so did the French and English) but they also deported hundreds of thousands of German civilians, including women, to reconstruct Soviet industry. Many of these people were never heard from again and are presumed dead.

4) He claimed that between 1.5 and 2.0 million ethnic German civilians died between 1945 and 1947 in the population "transfers" from East Elbia and the Sudetenland.

Again, this may be an underestimate. The source you should consult on this is Alfred M. De Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam, which goes over much of this material. Konrad Adenauer, in his memoirs, claims that seven million Germans died of malnutrition and associated causes in the years immediately after the war.

5) He claimed that point #3 and #4 total up to the fact that more Germans died in prison camps and and in the two years after the end of the war than did Jewish victims in camps.

Again, the standard variation on Holocaust dead lies between 4 and 6 million. It is indubitable that more Germans perished from the expulsions and the postwar maltreatment and that is even before we begin seriously discussing the claim that three million Jewish people were killed and disappeared in gas chambers.

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Author(s) AnswerMan
Title Population Statistics in WWII Europe
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Dates published: 1998-01-01, first posted on CODOH: June 29, 1998, 7 p.m., last revision: n/a
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