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Noam Weinberg

It Wasn’t Six Million

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am passionate about both the history of and teaching the Holocaust. It probably has something to do with the fact that I am a child and grandchild of survivors as well as a great-grandson, nephew and cousin of many victims. A few years back when I was doing research into the records of some of my family who lived and died in the Krakow ghetto, I came across an abnormality that got me thinking. One of my great aunts, Perele Schnee, was included in the list of names of the Yad Vashem victims archive. They procured her name from the Kennkarte or identification card issued by the Third Reich. The problem is that Perele, who was transported to Auschwitz and subsequently to the Malchow concentration camp a subcamp of Ravensbrück, notorious for its cruelty, actually survived the war. She ended up marrying a Swedish soldier who nursed her back to health and lived the rest of her life in Malmo, Sweden.

Herein lies the problem; the inaccuracies regarding the number of victims of the Holocaust looms large in my mind. In the wake of the October 7th massacre in Israel and the blatant and overt denial of the atrocities, I have become even more passionate about setting the record straight in an area that I believe in strongly. Numbers matter. When people are no longer recognizable or even have anything physically tangible left to them, they still matter. Their existence brought holiness to this world, and they deserve to be recognized. The number six million has been thrown around as the catch all number of Jews who were murdered between 1939 and 1945. However, I would argue that the number is much larger than that and hovers somewhere around seven and a half million. It’s important because so many of these people who were killed have no name, no picture and no surviving family. Without even a number they cease to exist in our conscious collective for eternity.

I understand the opposition to the recognition I am fighting for. In a brief conversation that I had with a certain Holocaust historian I brought my point up to her and asked where the number 6 million comes from. She pointed me to an article from Haartez, published August 2013 entitled: Holocaust Facts: Where Does the Figure of 6 Million Victims Come From? The author does a nice job of trying to explain how we get to the number six million, explaining that it isn’t intended to be exact but rather a safe number when looking at all the different facts and testimonies. I truly understand the position and the hesitation to consider alternative testimony that has less evidence. In an aggressive world that was looking to pounce on inconstancies to prove a lack of reliability, it was essential to err on the side of caution. This would ensure that the slumbering haters of all things Jewish would not awaken with the scent of a seemingly unverifiable fact. Therefore, those Holocaust historians who felt it more important to represent the integrity of the discipline used the most raw and indisputable facts available to them. But times have changed. The post October 7th world looks very different then it did on October 6th. Neighbors have outed themselves as antisemites. The antizionist camp is truly indistinguishable from the worst of the Jew haters. One need not look further than the different social media outlets to hear the smooth and deliberate interchange between Jew and Israeli. We no longer need to be afraid of the nascent but still veiled antisemites. On October 7th they came out in full force, unabashed and comfortable with the world seeing them for who they truly are. In light of this, I believe they have done us at least one small favor, namely, the ability now to reopen the study of the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust and to procure a number based on our best estimates founded on research and testimony without fear.

Lest one think that I am sdpeaking from a place of emotion and not fact, let’s look at some of the facts. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, by 1933 there were about 9.5 million Jews in Europe.[1] This number does not take into account two very important facts. Firstly, the ages of these Jews. This is an essential facet to the larger conversation because of these 9.5 million Jews there were ostensibly a considerable percentage of marriage aged men and women. The chances of them getting married and having children within the six-year period from 1933 to 1939 was high and would have served to be a huge boost to the aforementioned population number with one child but possibly more per newly married family. The second issue is that especially among many of the Chassidic and ultra-religious Jews living in the smaller shtetls in Eastern Europe, did not register with the local authorities. Between these two aspects alone, the numbers jump by huge margins. Not to mention the fact that there were whole Jewish communities that were totally destroyed with no survivors, across Eastern Europe. Men, women and child were herded onto large transports to death camps never to be heard from again. With no record of existence or burial place. How many of those situations occurred? 5 communities? 100 communities? 1000 communities? These numbers make a difference. They were innocent Jewish people who cease to exist without any record or history.

One need not look further for confirmation of a growing number count of murdered Jews than the website of Yahad-In Unum, led by the holy and virtuous Father Patrick Desbois.[2] On the website it says, “If you consider solely the official territory of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, researchers estimate the number of Jews exterminated climbs up to at least 2.2 million.”[3] The problem is that the Haaretz article says the following One of the largest sources of uncertainty concerns the number of Jews murdered in the Soviet Union. Whereas the Jews of the countries of Europe occupied by the Germans were for the most part deported to death camps, where fairly good records were kept, the murders in the USSR were carried out by Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units), as the German army made its way east. Their records were far less comprehensive, so that it is possible only to make a rough estimate of the numbers of Jews killed – generally between 800,000 and 1 million.”[4] This means that the number this article was doubling down on requires it being tweaked by at least an additional 1-1.4 million more murdered Jews. The question begs to be asked, if we continue to stick with 6 million as the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, where is that additional number being represented?

Let’s continue to peruse through the discrepancy in numbers of murdered Jews in the Holocaust with just this one aforementioned area. There is an inconsistency in numbers of murdered Jews in the Soviet Union during the Holocaust, which includes Belarus and the Ukraine.   The USHMM (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) puts the number of murdered Jews in the Holocaust at 5,912,526 – 6,198,676. Whereas, Yad Vashem, puts the number of murdered Jews at 5,596,000-5,860,000. The problem is that even if we accept all other numbers, based on the new figures from Yahad-In Unum, their death toll figures for the Soviet Union are off substantially. The USHMM posits that the number of Jews killed in the Soviet Union was 1,340,000. Whereas the number of Jews killed in the Soviet Union according to Yad Vashem was 1,000,000-1,100,000. The differential in numbers towards the total number of murdered Jews is astounding. The totals for the USHMM goes up to between 6,772,526-7,058,676. The totals for Yad Vashem go up to between 6,596,000/6,696,000-6,860,000/6,960,000. This is almost a million more Jews murdered by the standards of the more conservative Yad Vashem and it is only based on the discrepancy of numbers based on the Jews killed in the Soviet Union.

Exacerbating the issue of numbers, is the fact that when one begins to research Concentration Camps and Death Camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek to name a few, there are substantial incongruities. Some account for numbers exaggerated by the Soviets, some are merely misinformation and estimations made by Jewish survivors and Nazis. The question, however, is that we are talking about considerable differences. Remember, every number is a murdered Jew who will never be able to speak for him or herself. Let’s look at Majdanek as one such curious example.

There have been several different amounts given for the number of murdered Jews in Majdanek. In July 1944, the Soviets claimed 400,000 Jews were killed in Majdanek whereas in on August 29th, 1944, Raymond Arthur Davies who was an independent Canadian Journalist sent a telegram to Saul Hayes, the head of the Canadian Jewish Congress that one million Jews were killed in Majdanek.[5] Most agree these numbers were inflated. In 1961, Austrian born Jewish historian Raul Hilberg claimed only 50,000 Jews were killed. However, until 1992 the widely accepted number of people killed in Majdanek was 360,000 of which about 200,000 Jews were killed. This was the assertion of Zdzisław Łukaszkiewicz in 1948, who was a member of the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland. In 1992, Dr. Czesaw Rajca, who was a staff member of the Majdanek museum published a paper in which he revised and reduced that total number by 125,000 to a still staggering 235,000 people murdered with a majority of those being Jewish.[6] In 2005 Tomasz Kranz whom since 2007 has been the director of the State Museum at Majdanek suggested that only 59,000 Jews were killed. He based his research on a whole slew of “new findings”.[7] Interestingly even the more conservative Rajca was quoted as saying that Kranz’s numbers appear to be “Incredibly low”.[8] In fact, when Kranz’s reworked numbers were accepted at a special meeting in which no one objected, they were still objected with “certain caution”.[9]

This disturbing singular example with the discrepancy figures from the more conservative Rajca and Tomasz Kranz is a difference of almost 175,000 people most of whom were Jews. This is just one of numerous examples in which the path of least resistance or simply an attempt to be as historically accurate as possible without making waves ends up agreeing on the lowest numbers.

In Trauma therapy there is an idea that when one does not validate the trauma of an individual it may exacerbate issues and even cause the individual to relive certain aspects of that trauma.  By not fighting for the number recognition of innocent victims of the Holocaust in the name of “historical accuracy so as not to make waves” I would argue that the lack of recognition of these deaths, in the same vein, is tantamount to them being killed all over again. If I am wrong then nothing changes and the world will continue to hate us, deny our dignity even in death and fight against the truths of our destruction spanning the millennium. But if I am correct, then at the very least those Jews who have no name, face, or history, have a number to be remembered by.  I for one am willing to take that chance!

 

[1] https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/jewish-population-of-europe-in-1933-population-data-by-country

[2] https://www.yiu.ngo/en/our-research/holocaust-by-bullets

[3] Ibid

[4] https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2022-01-27/ty-article/6-million-where-is-the-figure-from/0000017f-da74-dea8-a77f-de761f480000

[5] https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Majdanek_concentration_camp#cite_note-Reszka-1

[6] https://www.auschwitz.org/en/museum/news/majdanek-victims-enumerated-changes-in-the-history-textbooks,44.html

[7] https://www.auschwitz.org/en/museum/news/majdanek-victims-enumerated-changes-in-the-history-textbooks,44.html

[8] Ibid

[9] https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Majdanek_concentration_camp#cite_note-Reszka-1

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Noam Weinberg is a Jewish educator, actor, composer, agriculturist, EMT, therapist and life long learner. His love for Israel and the Jewish people is paramount in his life. He is a proud husband and blessed father to his five beautiful children, daughter-in-law, two son-in-laws and two grandchildren.
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