The single most important thing to keep in mind when attempting to document victims of the Holocaust is that no single master list of those who perished exists anywhere in the world. This circumstance has frustrated many of those trying to uncover the fate of family members, but the horrible fact remains that millions died with little record of the event.
Despite the German reputation for meticulous recordkeeping, many incidents occurred during the Holocaust without any information being recorded. Jews transported to extermination camps like Belzec or Treblinka were sent to their deaths without documenting their arrival. At concentration camps like Auschwitz, those selected for gassing rather than labor were killed immediately without recording their deaths. Individuals found in hiding and shot, or other incidents of random shootings, also passed without documentation. Mass executions were sometimes documented by date, location, and number of victims, but these records usually did not include individual names. Even where information about individuals was originally documented, we are often left today without that information, since the Nazis destroyed countless records in the last days of the war.
Given all these obstacles to documenting victims, what resources are available for researching individuals?
International Tracing Service
Grosse Allee 5-9
34444 Arolsen, Germany
The Museum Library staff is happy to assist you with identifying resources in our collection that can help in your search, but due to the complexity and time-intensive nature of this kind of research we cannot construct your family history for you. If you are visiting the Museum to conduct family history research, you may want to familiarize yourself first with some of the major resources available.
Victims' shoes found in Majdanek after the liberation. Archiwum Akt Nowych
The estimated number of Jewish fatalities during the Holocaust is usually given as between 5.1 and 6 million victims. However, despite the availability of numerous scholarly works and archival sources on the subject, Holocaust-related figures might never be definitively known. Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that the available Holocaust statistics include a wide margin of error because:
In addition, one should critically examine any statistics presented because:
What follows are two different estimates of Jewish deaths by country and the sources from which those statistics are drawn. Please note that these are just a sampling of the published Holocaust-related statistics. Additional sources for estimates of Jewish deaths are provided following these two examples:
|Poland||up to 3,000,000|
|Lithuania||up to 130,000|
|Italy (including Rhodes)||9,000|
|Source: Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, 3rd ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), Vol. 3, p. 1321.
|Country||Minimum Loss||Maximum Loss|
|Bohemia and Moravia||78,150||78,150|
|Source: Yehuda Bauer, and Robert Rozett, "Estimated Jewish Losses in the Holocaust," in Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (New York: Macmillan, 1990), p.1799. See this source for a full explanation of these statistics.
For additional Holocaust statistics, see:
Friedrich Hoffman, a Czech priest, testifies at the trial of former camp personnel and prisoners from Dachau. National Archives
Although the Catholic Church was persecuted in the Third Reich, Catholics as a group were not officially targeted by the Nazis merely for practicing the Catholic faith. In fact, a substantial minority of the population of the Third Reich was baptized Catholic, including some members of the Nazi elite. The Nazis did try to systematically undermine the Church's influence and teachings through propaganda and cracked down hard on individual clergymen who dared to criticize the policies of the regime. Members of the clergy who were unwilling to embrace the Nazi state risked arrest for a myriad of violations: refusal to remove religious artifacts from schools; participation in religious processions; political criticism from the pulpit; assistance to public enemies such as Jews; pacifism, etc. Punishment ranged from a few days in jail to internment in a concentration camp to execution. Often, members of the clergy died under ambiguous circumstances while serving a sentence or awaiting trial, with their deaths officially attributed to accident or illness. Catholic laity who were unwilling to submit to Nazi rule faced similar persecution.
In the eastern European regions, millions of Poles -- Jews and Catholics alike -- were murdered by the SS and police personnel in the field or in killing centers such as Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka. In the ideology of the Nazis, the Poles were considered an inferior "race." The Germans intended to murder members of the political, cultural and military elite and reduce the remainder of the Polish population to the status of a vast pool of labor for the so-called German master race. It is estimated that between 5 and 5.5 million Polish civilians, including 3 million Polish Jews, died or were killed under Nazi occupation. This figure excludes Polish civilians and military personnel who were killed in military or partisan operations. They number approximately 664,000.
SS authorities in the concentration camps did not generally record the religious affiliation of a prisoner, with the exception of the Jehovah's Witnesses. As a result it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to reliably estimate the total number of Catholic victims who were persecuted or killed because of some action or position connected to their Catholic faith. Some data exists regarding the number of Catholic prisoners (especially members of the clergy) in individual camps. For example, the following table illustrates the number of clergy incarcerated in the concentration camp at Dachau:
|Clergy Incarcerated in Dachau Camp
(Of these, a total of 1,034 died in the camp; 132 were transferred to other camps or liquidated; 1,240 were liberated on April 29, 1945; and 314 were released before that date.)
Source: Johann Neuhausler, What Was It Like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau? (Munich: Manz, 1961).
For additional information on the subject of Catholics in the Holocaust, see:
Latest update: January 14, 2008