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How Many People Died in Auschwitz? | Print |
Contributed by jarmen   
Wednesday, 05 November 2003
Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camp. Crematorium II. The construction of the furnaces, 1943. Photograph taken in the camp by an SS man. In May 2002, Fritjof Meyer, a journalist with the influential German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, published an article titled “Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz. Neue Erkentnisse durch neue Archivfunde” (The Number of Victims of Auschwitz: New Findings in the Light of Newly-Discovered Documents) in the German scholarly journal Osteuropa. Meyer does not deny the existence of the gas chambers, but he lowers the number of people murdered in Auschwitz to approximately 510,000.

Franciszek Piper, Ph.D., director of the Historical Research Department at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, has written a critical review of Meyer’s article. One of the reasons for this step is the fact that Osteuropa is a prestigious journal that has been published for 52 years by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Osteuropakunde e.V. The head of its board is Dr. Rita Süssmuth (former head of the German Bundestag), and the board also includes ten other eminent scholars.

In a July 24, 2002 letter to the Museum, Meyer wrote that the editors of Der Spiegel had rejected his article.

Franciszek Piper - Fritjof Meyer, “Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz. Neue Erkentnisse durch neue Archivfunde,” Osteuropa, 52, Jg., 5/2002, pp. 631-641, (review article)

While the war was still on, it was already known that Auschwitz, a German concentration camp and a state institution, was one of the largest extermination sites in occupied Europe.

The Polish government, with its wartime seat in London, took the lead in spreading this information, on the basis of reports from the resistance movement in occupied Poland. First published in Polish government bulletins, the information was later carried by the press around the world.

The belief that the number of victims reached into the millions prevailed among Auschwitz prisoners, and even among some of the SS men who witnessed the things happened in the camp. This is confirmed both by testimony from prisoners and SS men, and by notes drawn up during the war by the prisoners assigned to burning corpses (Sonderkommando).

When the Soviet army entered the camp on January 27, 1945, they did not find any German documents there giving the number of victims, or any that could be used as a basis for calculating this number. Such documents (transport lists, notifications of the arrival of transports, reports about the outcome of selection) had been destroyed before liberation. For this reason, the Soviet commission investigating the crimes committed in Auschwitz Concentration Camp had to make estimates...

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