At least since the time of Raul Hilberg’s initial work in the early 1960s, orthodoxy has partitioned the claimed 6 million Jewish fatalities into three major categories: camps, shootings and ghettos. Under the headings “German controlled ghettos” and “Theresienstadt,” Hilberg allots “over 700,000” Jewish deaths – on his way to a total figure of 5.1 million (the lowest estimate of any major orthodox scholar, incidentally; Hilberg 1985, pp. 1219f.; 2003, pp. 1320f.). Unfortunately, Hilberg provides no substantiation whatsoever for his ghetto figure; it seems as if some such number was required, simply in order to approach a total of 6 million.
For those who would defend the standard 6-million figure, then, the total number of ghetto deaths must be scaled up, to at least 850,000, and perhaps as high as 1 million. It would be helpful to compare such numbers to other conventional estimates, but sadly, and remarkably, no other estimates exist. One can peruse standard works on the Holocaust, and conventional websites, but one will not find any total figure for “ghetto deaths” – which is amazing, given that it is one of the three major death categories. This fact alone is highly revealing.
It will be helpful to establish some context for this topic. Ghettos were generally small sections of cities that were designated as Jewish-only areas. They began to be formed in early 1940, and most were established by the end of 1941 – more than 1,000 in total, so we are told. There were some two dozen large ghettos (over 10,000 people), but the vast majority were quite small, holding 1,000 people or less. From early 1943, they began to be dismantled; hence the average ghetto life was about two years.
Contrary to popular belief, ghettos were not prisons. Many were completely open, and Jews could come and go as they pleased – they were only required to live and do business there. Oftentimes the ghetto was marked only by a sign. Clearly, they were never intended as a means of mass killing. Peter Longerich (2010, p. 166) evidently agrees:
“The establishment of the ghettos was carried out so haphazardly and slowly that it would be wrong to see it as a systematic policy ultimately aimed at the physical annihilation of the Jews.”
Ghettos were, however, the logical first step in a program of exclusion, removal and expulsion. If the Nazis indeed wished to ethnically cleanse the Reich, and later also other areas under their control, they would have begun by rounding up Jews, confining them to specified areas, and then methodically transporting them out. And this is precisely what happened. For example, the two largest ghettos – Łódź (200,000 Jews) and Warsaw (400,000-590,000) – were established in February and November 1940, respectively. Jews were confined there until new areas opened in the East, upon which time the deportations commenced.
But despite clear and well-documented histories of the ghettos, we are sorely lacking in death statistics, both overall and for individual locations. Consider the largest and most-examined ghetto: Warsaw. Here we theoretically know everything, and in great detail. So, we may pose a simple question: How many Jews died in the Warsaw Ghetto? But we come away empty-handed. No conventional source provides even a plausible estimate of this essential number.
Incredibly, our experts cannot even clearly answer the simpler question: How many Jews were in the Warsaw Ghetto? Friedman (1954, p. 79) says 420,000 to 500,000. Corni (2003, p. 195) says 400,000. Dean (2010, p. 342) says “some 450,000.” Longerich (2010, p. 167) says 410,000 to 590,000. If we don’t know how many people we have to start with, we certainly can’t answer the follow-up questions regarding deaths and deportations. And if we can’t answer those questions for one of the three major Holocaust categories, then the entire picture is up in the air.
One reason for the reluctance to establish an overall death toll may be the obvious lack of evidence – that is, absence of victims’ bodies. Based on Corni’s data, the Warsaw Ghetto yielded nearly 130 corpses per day, on average, for two or more years. What did they do with the bodies? They could not bury them, since they were in the middle of a large city. They had neither crematoria nor wood to build pyres. So – what happened to the bodies? And are there any remains that we might examine today in order to confirm things?
Unsurprisingly, none of the orthodoxy’s ghetto experts addresses this thorny issue. At best we find mere passing comments in other sources. For example, in a 1942 article in The New York Times (NYT) we read that the Warsaw Jews “have no means for funerals, so the dead are put into the street, where they are collected by the police.” (7 Jan., p. 8). The same article, incidentally, claims that 300 per day were dying, mostly due to typhus – the very disease that the Germans were trying so hard to forestall. If the police collected the bodies – 4,000 or 5,000 per month – what did they do with them? Bury them? If so, where? Did they even count them? More unanswered questions.
Without such answers, we cannot really trust any information from orthodox sources. In reality, the actual numbers could have been quite low. If there were (say) 400,000 Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, this would imply around 4,000 natural deaths per year, or about 11 per day. With this relatively low number, we can well understand how the bodies may have disappeared without a trace. But Corni and others tell us that some 130 Jews died every day – ten times the natural rate. The NYT said 300 per day, or 30 times the natural rate. These are much harder to explain.
Or maybe it was much worse than we presume. In one striking 1943 report in the NYT, we read that “approximately 10,000 people are killed daily in Warsaw alone by different means; the cruelest and most inhuman instruments, which only the black satanic spirit of Hitlerism can invent, are employed” (7 Feb., p. SM16). Ten thousand deaths per day, in an area barely over one square mile, is sheer fantasy. Obviously, the writer – “noted novelist” Sholem Asch – was engaging in some extreme hyperbole.
We must always keep in mind the natural death rate. If, say, 3 million Jews were confined to “1,000 ghettos,” we then would expect some 30,000 deaths per year – or nearly 100 per day – due strictly to natural causes. One hundred deaths per day, spread over several countries and some 1,000 different locations, could easily vanish amidst a major war. But this would yield only some 100,000 deaths in total – a mere 10 percent of the claimed figure of one million.
To summarize: The ghetto system ran essentially for three years: 1941-1943. Over this time period, we are told that up to 1 million ghetto deaths occurred; hence almost 28,000 per month, on average, or about 925 per day. Every day, somewhere in the system, as many as 925 bodies were either buried or burned. Somewhere, in total, are the remains of perhaps 1 million people, on the orthodox view.
And yet we have no record of any such bodies whatsoever – no mass graves, no crematoria, no open-air pyres, no ‘dumping in the river’ stories. Not even the natural deaths are accounted for, which causes us to suspect that the total number of interned Jews was perhaps much smaller than claimed.
These are relevant questions that skeptics ask. Lacking good answers, they conclude that far fewer ghetto deaths actually occurred than claimed. Perhaps the Warsaw Ghetto saw only a couple of hundred, rather than thousand, deaths per month. This, at least, would be easier to explain. But then the total deaths in the ghetto would amount to something on the order of 10,000, rather than 100,000 (or more).
Finally, consider this easily overlooked point: Well over 1,000,000 Jews were eventually transported out of the ghettos – most to death camps, it is claimed. (Holocaust skeptics insist, however, that these Jews went either to forced labor camps or to transit camps further east.) Either way, these clearly cannot count as “ghetto deaths,” since the orthodoxy later counts them again as “extermination-camp deaths.” Here is an opportunity ripe for double-counting. But without the most basic details, we simply don’t know how the deaths are being counted. This is not too much to ask, surely, for “the most well-documented event in history.”
(For more details, see Dalton 2020, pp. 83-89.)