Thirteen years ago, researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum began the grim task of documenting all the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories that the Nazis set up throughout Europe.
The researchers 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.
The knowledge of these camps is not merely important to fill out the historical record. The existence of so many camps calls into doubt the claims made by so many Germans after the war that they were ignorant of what the monstrous evils of the Third Reich:
Dr. Dean, a co-researcher, said the findings left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.
“You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” he said. “They were everywhere.”
In my readings on the Holocaust, survivors and soldiers often report that the Nazis suddenly vanished after Germany’s surrender: everyone claimed that they were secretly opposed to the Nazis, even long-time party members. Yeah, right. Based on what I’ve read, the Germans (and the peoples of occupied nations) had ample reason to believe that Germany was inflicting terrible evils on some people, particularly the Jews. They might not have known the particulars, but if they didn’t imagine something abysmal, that’s only because they refused to think about such unpleasant matters, time and again.
However, based on this new research, perhaps the Germans (and others) were not even as ignorant of those particulars as we might have imagined. The evasion of one person can be dangerous, if not deadly. The mass evasion of a whole people… nothing good will ever come from that.