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Study: Nazis Murdered Over 14,000 a Day at Holocaust’s Peak

  • A Deutsche Reichsbahn ‘Gueterwagen’ (goods wagon), one type of rail car used for deportations at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz, Poland on September 3, 2017. Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during WWII. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz II–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps. In September 1941, Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi Final Solution to the Jewish Question. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe, where they were killed en masse with the pesticide Zyklon B. An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.1 million died. Around 90 percent of those killed were Jewish; approximately 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah's Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments. In 1947, Poland founded a museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Somer/ABACA Press/TNS) tns — Somer/ABACA

Los Angeles Times
Published: 1/4/2019 11:52:47 PM
Modified: 1/4/2019 11:52:52 PM

In the ledger of evils perpetrated by humans, Operation Reinhard holds a special place. Over the course of 21 months starting in March 1942, Nazi forces and their collaborators rounded up 1.7 million Jews from 393 Polish towns and ghettos and dispatched them in tightly packed rail cars to three camps in German-occupied Poland — Sobibor, Treblinka and Belzec.

At these three killing centers, members of Poland’s once-thriving Jewish community were murdered with such efficiency and ruthlessness that, of roughly 1.5 million Jews who passed through their gates, a mere 102 would survive to bear witness. By November 1943, when Operation Reinhard ended, essentially no Polish Jews were left for the Germans to kill.

In a bid to capture the scope and intensity of genocidal killing sprees, a Tel Aviv University researcher has dissected Operation Reinhard and found its dark heart.

Biomathematician Lewi Stone drew upon a painstaking accounting of Nazi train schedules to analyze the “kill rate” of Jews between February 1942 and December 1944.

Within Operation Reinhard’s 21-month campaign of extermination, he discovered a 92-day period that stands out for its ferocity.

In August, September and October of 1942, he calculated, German forces and their allies in Poland killed at least 1.32 million Jews. That averages out to 14,348 per day, every day. Virtually all of the victims were from Poland and its immediate neighbors.

This concentration of murders in a three-month period “likely created substantial confusion among its victims, and its speed would have made the possibility of organized resistance difficult to coordinate in time,” Stone wrote in a study published this week in the journal Science Advances. “The massacre was effectively over before there was time for an organized response.”

Stone uses authoritative estimates of the Holocaust’s toll on Jews — which range from 5.1 million to 6.2 million — to reckon that as many as a quarter of the Nazis’ Jewish victims were murdered during these three months of Operation Reinhard. It appears to have taken place at roughly the same time that German forces, having invaded the Soviet Union and been thrown back from the outskirts of Moscow, were advancing instead on Stalingrad. Historians have noted that around this time, Adolf Hitler ordered his plan for the “final solution of the Jewish question” to be accelerated.

Documents recently unearthed from United Nations archives also reveal that as early as December 1942, the governments of the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union were aware that at least 2 million Jews had been murdered and a further 5 million were at risk of being killed. Although they were preparing war crimes charges against Hitler and his generals on the basis of survivors’ reports, the Allied powers did little to protect or provide sanctuary to Europe’s Jews.

Operation Reinhard was launched with the March 1942 opening of the Belzec death camp near Poland’s border with modern-day Ukraine. Starting in late July 1942, Treblinka’s gas chambers would begin to empty the Warsaw Ghetto of Jews. The expanded death camp of Sobibor reopened soon after, fulfilling Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler’s July 19, 1942, order that, with few exceptions, all Jews within German-occupied Poland should be exterminated by the end of the year.

An estimated 292,000 of the 1.32 million who perished during this spasm of violence were killed with bullets by special mobile shooting squads called the Einsatzgruppen. The remainder were dispatched by poison gas within hours of their arrival at the death camps, Stone discerned.

To clarify the rate at which Jews were murdered in the course of Operation Reinhard, Stone turned to detailed railway schedules compiled by Israeli historian Yitzakh Arad. These schedules included data on 480 train deportations to Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka carried out by the German National Railway during this period.

In an effort to glean the full extent of the Nazis’ genocidal machine, Stone then incorporated the well-documented death tolls from Auschwitz-Birkenau in western Poland and from the Einsatzgruppen, which were active across the countries that German troops had entered, including the Soviet Union.

By December 1942, long before Operation Reinhard formally ended, the rate of train deportations — and of murders at the three camps — slowed markedly, Stone found.

It wasn’t that the Nazis had a change of heart. Rather, Stone wrote, the plunging death rate “simply reflects that there were very few Jews left to murder” in occupied Poland.

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