There has recently been some controversy regarding a certain football celebrity comparing current events – in particular the treatment of refugees looking to claim asylum – with the events in Germany in the 1930s. The first was just silly – suspending the celebrity for saying something that had nothing to do with his professional life.
The second is more serious and were objections from Jews comparing current events to the Holocaust. They certainly have a point – too many relatively trivial things get compared to the Holocaust. But in this case, they’re wrong.
First of all no mention was made of the Holocaust which strictly speaking began in 1942 with the enactment of the Final Solution (although many Jews were killed when Poland was invaded).
Secondly it specifically compared current events with events in 1930s Germany; not saying they are the same, but have certain similarities. Warning us that those who would daemonize certain groups – Socialist, Communists, Roma, and Jews in the case of 1930s Germany, Refugees (and Roma) in the case of the UK today – can become dangerous if ignored.
If the UK is sliding into fascism, warning about those signs indicating the slide is not only the responsible thing to do, but the thing every sensible person should be shouting about. And it is indeed the case.
And silencing such warnings with sensitivity about the Holocaust is very very wrong.
All figures within this blog posting are based on the relevant Wikipedia articles. These are not 100% accurate because no figures are – there are academics who spend their whole career improving estimates of how many were killed.
I have a bit of a bee in the bonnet about this – and it has come up recently because :-
I’d encountered a Jew who questioned that the overall total was over double the 6 million Jews killed.
In association with a Twitter thread about the comparison between the ICE forced sterilisation of immigrants and the Nazis, I made a comment mentioning the other victims of the Nazis and neglected to include the Poles.
On another Twitter thread, there was a discussion on US children not being aware that six million Jews had been killed in the holocaust; I don’t see not knowing the exact number (although six million isn’t the exact number either) as being that much of the problem (“millions” is close enough) but denying that Jews were killed in the millions is definitely problematic. But interestingly no mention was made of the other Nazi victims!
But let us get one thing out of the way first. This is not intended to devalue the murder of 6 million Jews – if they were the only victims of the Nazis, it would still be well worth going to war to scrub the Nazi stain from the Earth. And I’m not in general in favour of war.
But the same applies to the other categories of Nazi victims, and it seems they are often forgotten – people make a big deal about how the Nazis killed six million Jews (and it is a big deal) but totally neglect to mention the others.
The first concentration camps were created in 1933 during the Nazis rise to power as a means of controlling political opponents. As the Nazi grip on power solidified, the advantages of a means of holding inconvenient people outside the control of the German judicial system became apparent and the slow decline of the concentration camps was reversed and the number of inmates began to rise again.
The number of political opponents who were killed by the Nazis during this period is not known, but a very rough estimate could be 25,000. Although other religious opponents can be included in that 25,000, Jehovah Witnesses deserve a special mention because almost unanimously they opposed Nazi mandates (including refusing to serve in the military). Approximately 1,400 were killed.
In addition to political opponents, Nazis incarcerated (and frequently killed) criminals and “asocials” (the homeless, alcoholics, unemployed, lesbians, …). At least 70,000 were killed.
Homosexuals (gay men) were also violently repressed and many ended up in the concentration camps. The number killed is unknown – Wikipedia claims “hundreds” but another estimate claims that up to 60% of the 5,000-15,000 sent to concentration camps were killed (for the purposes of the pie chart, I’m going to estimate 6,000). Many of those who survived the camps were re-imprisoned at the end of the war – being gay was still a ‘crime’.
Whilst lesbians were sometimes categorized as “asocials” and could end up in the camps for that reason, but they were not repressed quite as much as gay men.
The Jews and The Shoah
Although this blog article is about the other victims of the Nazis, it is unconscionable to talk about the holocaust without mentioning the Jewish victims. The Wikipedia figure for Jewish deaths is unusually precise – 5,896,577 or a touch under 6 million.
A bit of a distraction from the main topic – the word “holocaust” is Greek in origin and was used before World War II; usually in reference to the genocide of Armenians. “The Holocaust” is of course only used in reference to the Nazi programme of exterminating “sub-humans” which all too commonly is assumed to be only the Jews.
The specific word for the programme of exterminating the Jews is “The Shoah”.
I believe it is helpful to have two distinct (actually more – other groups also have terms) terms to distinguish between the Jews specifically (The Shoah) and the killing of everyone the Nazis considered “sub-human” (The Holocaust). There are those who object to this but given that at least one Jewish camp survivor (Elie Weisel) was of the same opinion it can hardly be legitimately called disrespectful.
Another reason for distinguishing the Jews from the pre-war category is that whilst Jews were harrassed mercilessly, ghettoised, and yes murdered before the war, the systematic killings did not begin until after the war began.
This is also the place to go into some of the issues relating to counting and categorising the victims. Was a Jewish Socialist killed because she was a Jew or because she was a Socialist? If she was picked up in 1934, it seems likely to be the later; if she was picked up in 1942 it would have been the former. And was she counted in both categories?
Do we count those killed outside the extermination camps as victims of the holocaust? If (for example) we exclude the handicapped because they weren’t in the camps, then we must also exclude up to a million Jews killed by the Einsatzgruppen.
During The War
The Roma (or Gypsies although the later is regarded as an insulting term by many) come first because they are the closest to the Jews in terms of the level of hatred shown by the Nazis. Hated just because of whom they are rather than what they did.
Determining just how many Roma were killed is particularly difficult for a wide variety of reasons. The Wikipedia estimate of 220,000 killed is almost certainly a massive under-estimate – modern researchers have consistently increased the estimate up to a high of 1.5 million (75% of the total pre-war Roma population). I’ll go with an estimate of 1 million.
The Slavs (Poles in particular)
The third main racial group that the Nazis categorised as “subhuman” were the Slavs of Eastern Europe – Poles, Lithuanians, Czechs, etc. The Nazi attitude to the Slavs various widely – from expressing the desire to exterminate the entire race, to ‘accepting’ (with caveats) those Slavs who collaborated, and the wish to use Slavs as slave labour.
I suspect in the long term – if the Nazis had won – the Slavs would have followed the Jews into the ovens.
The Slavs will get sub-divided for various reasons – including to keep the Jews as the single largest group, but they could be categorized as one.
The first sub-group are the Poles. It is clear from the words and actions of the Nazis during the invasion that they intended to exterminate nearly all of the Poles – both Jews and non-Jews.
There is a myth that the Poles enthusiastically welcomed the extermination of the Jews – whilst there were undoubtedly some Poles who hated the Jews, it is also true that Poles represent the single largest group honoured as Righteous Amongst The Nations; yet it is believed that the nearly 7,000 Poles listed is a vast under-estimate of the total who could be listed – the true figure could be 50 times higher.
And many thousands of the 1.8 million Poles killed by the Nazis were killed for helping Jews.
Now we move onto the category of the Soviet Slavs – which comprises many different nationalities which I would be happy to individually identify but accurate figures for each are difficult to find.
First we find that Soviet prisoners of war – 2.95 million were killed (I’ve subtracted the figure of 50,000 Jewish soldiers because they were probably included in the Jewish total and to make this figure consistent with the other non-Jewish casualty figures).
Added to that we have 5.7 million Soviet civilians killed.
To this we should add 300,000 Serbs killed; not by the Nazis themselves but by a client state.
And the handicapped. They were not typically thrown into concentration camps, but “involuntarily euthanized” in or near their care facility. Up to 250,000 were killed.
The pie chart above visually represents the total of each group killed; from this we can see in purely numerical terms that there were many other groups included in The Holocaust. Any one of which would be a crime against humanity.
For those that doubt the figures … and especially that the “others” added up to more than the Jews, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum states “… murdered during the Holocaust at 17 million: 6 million Jews and 11 million others.”
There is currently an issue regarding the education of the young about the Holocaust with surveys reporting that some haven’t heard of it and many others do not know how many Jews were killed.
Not knowing the exact figure is forgivable – as we have seen the usually quoted figure of 6 million isn’t itself accurate – “many millions” is accurate enough for casual knowledge. And I’m a devotee of accurate figures, but when you come down to it, that’s what computers are for.
Not knowing about it at all is not just disrespectful to victims, but dangerous because we see warning signs of something similar happening today. But we need to remember that most teenagers have very little interest in the dry bones of history, and perhaps we need to make it an interesting horror story.