The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

How did they die?

37. How did they die?

The IHR says:

Mainly from recurring typhus epidemics that ravaged war-torn Europe during the period. Also from starvation and lack of medical attention toward the end of the war when virtually all road and rail transportation had been bombed out by the Allies.

Nizkor replies:

Some died from typhus. Numerically speaking, most Jews died from gassing, the next-most from shooting.

In the camps inside the "Altreich" (see question 1), death was mainly due to starvation and disease. When inmates are given insufficient food and forced to work hard labor, there is often little practical distinction between the two. At Auschwitz, which was both an extermination and a work camp, prisoners were "selected" every so often, with the weakest being gassed. That way, fewer had the opportunity to die of exhaustion, and they met their end in the gas chambers instead.

When the Allies reached the Nazi death camps in Germany, they found the SS personnel well-fed and well-dressed, and the local population was often not undergoing serious hardship, relatively speaking. (On the other hand, the German population in the big cities did suffer a lot.) This is clearly attested to in the film footage of the liberation of the camps, where one can see the people in the nearby towns and villages, which the American soldiers brought over to the camps so they can witness what happened. None of them are starved.

There is also a famous photograph of some plump SS women being captured at Bergen-Belsen. Tens of thousands of prisoners starved at Belsen. If you've seen a film of emaciated corpses being bulldozed into mass graves, it was probably taken at Belsen. The contrast to the well-fed SS women is quite remarkable. Scenes from the liberation of Bergen-Belsen demonstrate this beyond question.

Also, hardly any of the Allied prisoners from Western nations starved to death; there were people that the Nazis wanted to keep alive, and there were people they preferred dead. A great number of Soviet POW's died -- over three million -- for this reason.

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