Researchers find thousands more Nazi camps, ghettos in WWII Europe than suspected
When researchers from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum began gathering information about Nazi camps for a reference work, they expected to find about 5,000 to 7,000 sites.
Washington -- Nazi Germany's network of camps, ghettos and other "persecution sites" in Europe was much vaster than previously believed and had stretched its tentacles across the continent by the end of World War II, US researchers have found.
When researchers from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum began gathering information about Nazi camps for a reference work, they expected "that we would be looking at 5,000 to 7,000 sites," said Geoffrey Megargee, the project director for the "Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945."
"But the number started to grow and grow and grow, and at this point, we have a working number of about 20,000," he told AFP after the publication this month of the first of seven volumes that will make up the encyclopedia.
The Nazis began setting up their gruesome network in Germany in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler came to power, according to the report.
By the end of that first year, there were more than 100 such camps across Germany, run by the paramilitary Nazi groups like the Waffen SS, and the police to "detain and abuse real and imagined enemies of the regime," an introduction to the encyclopedia says.
When World War II ended in 1945, the reach of the Nazi detention network had expanded to include sites such as the notorious death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in southern Poland, where 1.1 million people are documented to have died in purpose-built gas chambers.
During their 12 years in power, the Nazis went on to "establish a bewildering array of other persecution sites: killing centers, ghettos, forced-labor camps, prisoner-of-war camps, resettlement camps, 'euthanasia' centers, brothels and prisons, among others," the encyclopedia says.
Collaborationist states "from France to Romania, Norway to Italy" set up their own camps, adding to the vast network of Nazi detention centers.
Prisoners from all walks of life were shipped to the camps, and hundreds of thousands of prisoners perished in them, either because they were systematically exterminated by the Nazis or because of the harsh conditions.
"The Jews were the Nazis' special target from the start and eventually they would almost all be slated for industrialized mass murder," the Holocaust Museum researchers say in the introduction to the report.
But the encyclopedia also details the persecution at the hands of the Nazis of other groups, such as Gypsies, homosexuals, resistance fighters, prisoners of war, communists.
In 1,700 pages, volume one lists camps set up before the outbreak of World War II; 23 main SS concentration camps, including Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Dachau, and nearly 1,000 other camps.
It tells horrific tales of camps for women, such as Ravensbrueck, north of Berlin, where around 123,000 women of more than 40 nationalities were imprisoned between 1939-1945.
"Jehovah's Witnesses represented the great majority up to the end of 1939," but were then overtaken by gypsies, political prisoners, and eventually Jews, the Ravensbrueck chapter says.
"The number of prisoners in Ravensbrueck increased drastically in 1944 due mainly to the deportation of approximately 12,000 women from Warsaw after the failed uprising there and the arrival of transports of Jewish women from Hungary, Slovakia and other concentration camps, above all from Auschwitz," it says.
Subsequent volumes will cover the ghettos into which the Nazis herded Jews, military camps and brothels, labor camps run by private firms, and sites for the "care" of pregnant forced laborers and their infants among others.
"We wanted to catalogue as many camps as possible and if you try to separate the camps that held Jews and not cover the other ones, you've done just as much work anyway," said Megargee.
"But, beyond that, we felt it was important to cover the whole Nazi system, not focus on what happened to the Jews."
The gargantuan project will include six more volumes, the last of which is expected to be completed by 2018.
"There was a need to create the encyclopedia because otherwise there's really no way for anyone who doesn't have a lot of free time and a lot of language abilities to find out about these places.
"Records are scattered all over the world, mostly in Europe, in several different languages," Megargee said.
Another reason for compiling the gruesome encyclopedia was to ensure that knowledge of the places where millions suffered under the Nazis should not fade from the world's collective memory as the now elderly survivors of the camps and ghettos die.