<p>This map accompanied a secret undated German report on the mass murder of Jews by Einsatzgruppen A (mobile killing unit A). During the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, the map was introduced as evidence by both the American and British prosecution teams. The document, entitled "Jewish Executions Carried Out by Einsatzgruppen A" and stamped "Secret Reich Matter," shows the number of Jews executed (symbolized by coffins) in the Baltic states and Belorussia by late 1941. The legend near the bottom states that "the estimated number of Jews still on hand [was] 128,000."</p>

Documenting Numbers of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution

The Holocaust is the best documented case of genocide. Despite this, calculating the numbers of individuals who were killed as the result of Nazi policies is an impossible task. There is no single wartime document that spells out how many people were killed. And in some cases, contrary to popular opinion, records were not kept.

Key Facts

  • 1

    Towards the end of the war, the Nazis and their collaborators attempted to destroy much of the existing documentation and other physical evidence.

  • 2

    To accurately estimate the extent of human losses, scholars, governmental agencies, and Jewish organizations since the 1940s have relied on a variety of different records—including census reports, captured German and Axis archives, and postwar investigations.

  • 3

    Current estimates might change as new documents are discovered or as historians arrive at a more precise understanding of the events.

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Calculating the numbers of individuals who were killed as the result of Nazi policies is a difficult task. There is no single wartime document created by Nazi officials that spells out how many people were killed in the Holocaust or World War II.

To accurately estimate the extent of human losses, scholars, Jewish organizations, and governmental agencies since the 1940s have relied on a variety of different records, such as census reports, captured German and Axis archives, and postwar investigations, to compile these statistics. As more documents come to light or as scholars arrive at a more precise understanding of the Holocaust, estimates of human losses may change.

The single most important thing to keep in mind when attempting to document numbers of victims of the Holocaust is that no one master list of those who perished exists anywhere in the world.

Documenting the Holocaust: Examples of Documents

What follow are the current best estimates of civilians and disarmed soldiers killed by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.

These estimates are calculated from wartime reports generated by those who implemented Nazi population policy, and postwar demographic studies on population loss during World War II.

Number of Deaths

Group Number of Deaths
Jews 6 million
Soviet civilians around 7 million (including 1.3 Soviet Jewish civilians, who are included in the 6 million figure for Jews)
Soviet prisoners of war around 3 million (including about 50,000 Jewish soldiers)
Non-Jewish Polish civilians around 1.8 million (including between 50,000 and 100,000 members of the Polish elites)
Serb civilians (on the territory of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina) 312,000
People with disabilities living in institutions up to 250,000
Roma (Gypsies) 196,000–220,000
Jehovah's Witnesses around 1,900
Repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials at least 70,000
German political opponents and resistance activists in Axis-occupied territory undetermined
Homosexuals hundreds, possibly thousands (possibly also counted in part under the 70,000 repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials noted above)

Jewish Loss by Location of Death

With regard to the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust, best estimates for the breakdown of Jewish loss according to location of death follow:

Location of Death Jewish Losses
Auschwitz complex (including Birkenau, Monowitz, and subcamps) approximately 1 million
Treblinka 2 approximately 925,000
Belzec 434,508
Sobibor  at least 167,000
Chelmno 156,000–172,000
Shooting operations at various locations in central and southern German-occupied Poland (the Government General) at least 200,000
Shooting operations in German-annexed western Poland (District Wartheland at least 20,000
Deaths in other facilities that the Germans designated as concentration camps at least 150,000
Shooting operations and gas wagons at hundreds of locations in the German-occupied Soviet Union at least 1.3 million
Shooting operations in the Soviet Union (German, Austrian, Czech Jews deported to the Soviet Union) approximately 55,000
Shooting operations and gas wagons in Serbia at least 15,088
Shot or tortured to death in Croatia under the Ustaša regime 23,000–25,000
Deaths in ghettos at least 800,000
Other1 at least 500,000

Notes on Documentation

No single wartime document

There is no single wartime document that contains the above cited estimates of Jewish deaths.

There are three obvious and interrelated reasons for the lack of a single document:

  1. Compilation of comprehensive statistics of Jews killed by German and other Axis authorities began in 1942 and 1943. It broke down during the last year and a half of the war.
  2. Beginning in 1943, as it became clear that they would lose the war, the Germans and their Axis partners destroyed much of the existing documentation. They also destroyed physical evidence of mass murder.
  3. No personnel were available or inclined to count Jewish deaths until the very end of World War II and the Nazi regime. Hence, total estimates are calculated only after the end of the war and are based on demographic loss data and the documents of the perpetrators. Though fragmentary, these sources provide essential figures from which to make calculations.

One centrally directed statistical study of Jews killed by German authorities survived the war. A copy was among the records captured by the US Army in 1945. Likewise, several regional compilations of such gruesome data were among the records captured by US, British, and Soviet forces after World War II. The US, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union have used most of these documents at one time or another as exhibits in criminal or civil proceedings against Nazi offenders

Polish and Soviet civilian figures

With regard to the Polish and Soviet civilian figures, at this time there are not sufficient demographic tools to enable historians to distinguish between:

  1.  racially targeted individuals
  2. persons actually or believed to be active in underground resistance
  3. persons killed in reprisal for some actual or perceived resistance activity carried out by someone else
  4. losses due to so-called collateral damage in actual military operations

Virtually all deaths of Soviet, Polish, and Serb civilians during the course of military and anti-partisan operations had, however, a racist component. German units conducted those operations with an ideologically driven and willful disregard for civilian life.

Critical Thinking Questions

  • Why is it challenging to calculate exactly the number of victims of the Holocaust?
  • Why is it important to document the events of the Holocaust?
  • Research the roles and complicity of professionals such as record keepers, photographers, and accountants who created documentation of mass murder or witnessed it.
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