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The Full Extent of the Holocaust (September 1939 – April 1945)


In March 2011 I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. You cannot grasp the scale of the Holocaust until you visit Birkenau, especially— a giant factory of death capable of processing 20,000 people per day. The impact of the Holocaust was still reverberating in my head in April 2011 when I wrote this database entry. Needing to understand more, I read Richard Rhodes' book, Masters of Death, from which the horrifying wider scope of the Holocaust, unfolded in my consciousness, and from which I quote: 

“The notorious gas chambers and crematoria of the death camps have come to typify the Holocaust, but in fact they were exceptional. The primary means of mass murder the Nazis deployed during the Second World War was firearms and lethal privation. Shooting was not less efficient than gassing, as many historians have assumed. It was hard on the shooters’ nerves, and the gas vans and chambers alleviated the burden. But shooting began earlier, continued throughout the war and produced far more victims if Slavs are counted, as they must be, as well as Jews. ‘The Nazi regime was the most genocidal the world has ever seen,’ writes sociologist Michael Mann. ’During its short twelve years (overwhelmingly its last four) it killed approximately twenty million unarmed persons. . . . Jews comprised only a third of the victims and their mass murder occurred well into the sequence. . . . Slavs, defined as Untermenschen were the most numerous victims—3 million Poles, 7 million Soviet citizens and 3.3 million Soviet POWs.’ Even among Jewish victims, Daniel Goldhagen estimates, ‘somewhere between 40 and 50 percent’ were killed ‘by means other than gassing, and more Germans were involved in these killings in a greater variety of contexts than in those carried out in the gas chambers’ ” (Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death. The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust [2002] 156-157).

In tracing and documenting the crimes committed by the SS summarized in these statistics Rhodes does not intend in any way to diminish the incredible losses suffered by the Jews, nor to blur the particular focus of the Nazis' Final Solution on the Jews. His exploration of SS crimes exposes a scope of criminality that is wider, almost beyond comprehension.