Two figures of the number of Majdanek victims have usually been in use—360,000 or 235,000. Kranz, director of the Research Department of the State Museum at Majdanek, asserts that approximately 59,000 Jews and 19,000 people of other ethnic backgrounds, mostly Poles and Byelorussians, died there. Kranz published his estimate in the latest edition of the journal Zeszyty Majdanka.
The figure of 360,000 victims appears in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, the Britannica Polish edition, and the Polish Nowa Encyklopedia Powszechna PWN. In all three cases, the source is a 1948 publication by Zdzisław Łukaszkiewicz, a judge who was a member of the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland.
The second figure, of 235,000, comes from a 1992 article by Dr. Czesaw Rajca, now retired from the Majdanek museum staff. Rajca’s estimate appears in the Wikipedia internet encyclopedia and in the exhibit at the Majdanek Museum.
Rajca said that he “established that estimate on the basis of calculations by historians as published by the museum in the 1991 monograph on the camp. The people doing the research did not have access to all the sources, including some in Germany. Nor did I use all the records available in the museum archives, because they are fragmentary, and they will not be useful in analyzing the mortality figures at Majdanek until the data they contain is entered in the computers.”
Rajca emphasized that he had “not yet read Tomasz Kranz’s article, but, at first glance, his figures for the number of people killed in the camp seem incredibly low.”
Kranz claims to have examined all available sources, including the extant fragments of the camp death book, the death registry, the notifications of prisoner deaths that the Nazis sent to parishes in Lublin, testimony at their trial in Dusseldorf in the late 1970s and early 1980s by SS men garrisoned at Majdanek, and accounts by surviving prisoners.
Before it went to press, Kranz’s article was read by most of the Majdanek museum staff and discussed at a special meeting. No one raised any objections. “The findings are highly authoritative,” said Prof. Zygmunt Mańkowski, chairman of the Majdanek Museum board. “However, we do not know the definitive number of prisoners who passed through the camp or the number of those whose deaths the camp administration did not register. It cannot be ruled out that new documents will come to light that alter Kranz’s findings. This must be borne in mind, and his calculations accepted with a certain caution.”
Majdanek museum director Edward Balawejder recommended that guides inform the visitors to whom they show the camp about the new calculations as to the number of victims, but also tell them that research is still underway to determine how many prisoners passed through the camp.
“78,000 deaths over the course of three years is a crime on an enormous scale, and not only in comparison with other camps like Buchenwald, where about 56,000 people died over eight years,” said Kranz. “It must be remembered, however, that the number of victims only gives an idea about the scale of genocide; it does not convey the measureless pain and suffering experienced by the people imprisoned and murdered at Majdanek.”
Number of Auschwitz Victims Was also Revised
It was accepted for many years after the war that about 4 million prisoners died in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. That figure, which originated with the findings of the Soviet commission investigating Nazi crimes, was based on accounts by former prisoners, fragmentary records, and crime-scene investigation at the site. In 1983, the French investigator Georges Wellers, a former Auschwitz prisoner on the staff of the Center for Jewish Documentation in Paris, extended his research to include documents on the number of deportees to the camp and concluded that about 1.6 million people were sent to Auschwitz, where nearly 1.5 million of them died.
In 1992, Dr. Franciszek Piper, director of the Historical Research Department at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, published the book How Many People Perished in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, in which he stated that at least 1.3 million people were deported to the camp and that about 200,000 of them were transferred to camps in the depths of the Third Reich, with the remaining 1.1 million or more dying in Auschwitz.
Piper’s book stirred up enormous emotions. “I was accused, above all by some former prisoners, of making estimates not supported by the documents,” Piper recalls. “However, no historian doing research on the history of the Holocaust or Auschwitz questioned them.”
The Extermination Mechanism
The camp at Majdanek functioned from October 1941 to July 1944. Shooting was one of the main killing methods. The largest execution took place on November 3, 1943, when 18.000 Jews were shot. Music was played to drown out the sound of the shooting and the victims’ screams. Prisoners were also gassed. Three gas chambers were in operation. Other people were beaten to death with clubs or iron crowbars—SS men killed 200 people this way during a single execution. Prisoners also died en masse from starvation, exhaustion, and sickness (Source - Józef Marszałek, Majdanek. Obóz koncentracyjny w Lublinie [Majdanek Concentration Camp in Lublin], Warsaw: Interpress, 1987).