Nazi Germany’s eradication of European Jews during the Holocaust, one of humanity’s most despicable campaigns of violence, featured a much more ruthlessly efficient “kill rate” than previously understood — according to new research.
During the Holocaust, millions of Jews, along with members of different ethnic groups, gay men, Soviet prisoners of war, and others, were systematically murdered at concentration camps including Auschwitz, Treblinka and Belzec. They arrived at the death camps primarily by train and countless people died inside the cramped boxcars.
“Even though the Holocaust is one of the best-documented genocides in a historical sense, there is surprisingly little quantitative data available,” explains biomathematician Lewi Stone from Tel Aviv University in Israel.
“Because the Nazis destroyed nearly all records of the massacre, it is important to try to uncover what actually happened at the time.”
Operation Reinhard is known as one of the deadliest phases of the Holocaust.
Stone studied what he acknowledges is an “unusual dataset”: railway transportation records that detail the comings and goings of “special trains” on the German National Railway. Stone describes that network as a “critical component of the Nazi’s blueprint for genocide and destruction.”
In the space of around three months – roughly August to October 1942 – the train records reveal what Stone calls a “pulse of death”: an extreme phase of “hyperintense killing” in which the slaughter rate spiked for some 100 days.
During this gruesome time period, the data suggest over 1.47 million Jews – more than a quarter of all the Jews killed during the six years of World War II – were killed by a ramp-up of coordinated train transports and gas chamber executions.
The research suggests that the Nazis killed their victims during this window of time at astonishingly high rates — roughly 15,000 people per day.
Some other researchers have said the study’s death rate estimates are too high.
“The Holocaust stands out as a demonstration of how the efficient machinery of government was turned on people in an unparalleled way,” Stone writes in The Conversation.
“This is the key lesson of the Holocaust that I believe must not be forgotten.”