This is certainly shocking to me as well. From the New York Times article:
[R]esearchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.
The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.
Interestingly, the researchers at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. have uncovered a number of camps and slave labor sites in which sexuality and reproduction were central to the torture inflicted on women. (We know this happens in every war and human conflict; I am not surprised, but I’m interested to see that it’s only being described in these terms now for public consumption.)
“We knew before how horrible life in the camps and ghettos was,” he said, “but the numbers are unbelievable.”
The documented camps include not only “killing centers” but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel.
Auschwitz and a handful of other concentration camps have come to symbolize the Nazi killing machine in the public consciousness. Likewise, the Nazi system for imprisoning Jewish families in hometown ghettos has become associated with a single site — the Warsaw Ghetto, famous for the 1943 uprising. But these sites, infamous though they are, represent only a minuscule fraction of the entire German network, the new research makes painfully clear.
The maps the researchers have created to identify the camps and ghettos turn wide sections of wartime Europe into black clusters of death, torture and slavery — centered in Germany and Poland, but reaching in all directions.
As a scholar of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I’m surprised that modern history holds any surprises whatsoever–but there I go again, getting all Whiggy and empiricist again, and forgetting about the the overwhelming will to forget, especially when dealing with the festering wound on the twentieth century known as World War II. I think it’s especially interesting that even the Allies and victims of the Nazis prefer to remember ghettos like Warsaw, whose uprising offers the opportunity to portray its victims as something other than mere victims. As Bonnie Smith writes in The Gender of History, historians prefer to write “the better story,” no matter how unrepresentative that story might be. Of course, it’s always a better story when you can write about resistance to exploitation, enslavement, and pure evil.
The Times story makes it clear that the results of this massive study may have a real-world effect on modern business:
The research could have legal implications as well by helping a small number of survivors document their continuing claims over unpaid insurance policies, looted property, seized land and other financial matters.
“How many claims have been rejected because the victims were in a camp that we didn’t even know about?” asked Sam Dubbin, a Florida lawyer who represents a group of survivors who are seeking to bring claims against European insurance companies.
Fascinating. This is what’s cool about modern history: the power potentially to change the present and the future.
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