In Western societies, Holocaust survivors are revered as martyrs and saints. Challenging their claims is a sacrilege; in fact, it can even be a crime in many countries. Survivors have joined their own organizations, and are supported by both NGOs and by many governments to pursue their various financial, political and societal interests. They are encouraged to share their stories among themselves and with others during gatherings, media appearances, film and literature. However, where critique and scrutiny are stifled or even outlawed, while hyperbole and drama get rewarded, truthfulness gets trampled underfoot.
After decades of these dynamics, many survivors have forgotten their true experiences in the ghettoes and camps. They increasingly and at times unconsciously replaced them with group fantasies of martyrdom and with horror fairy tales as they have been spread since the outbreak of the war by all means available to Western societies. There is no topic in the history of mankind where the pressure to remember certain things is anywhere near as intense as when it comes to the Holocaust. Decades of memory-altering, unchecked and unopposed, one-sided propaganda on all channels of society have made the false-memory syndrome a common occurrence among Holocaust survivors. Egomaniacs, braggarts, liars and cheats have been rewarded, while moderate, honest, sincere individuals have been pushed to the sidelines or suppressed altogether.
Already before it started, a looming Holocaust became a very important aspect of Jewish identity. (See the section “Six Million before the Holocaust” of the entry on six million.) Today, the Holocaust reigns supreme as Jewry’s main pillar of self-understanding. Hence, the role of the survivor has never been much about telling what really happened, but rather about telling a tale that can serve as the founding myth of modern post-Holocaust Jewry in general and Israel in particular.
According to information from the Israel-based official organization Amcha, which devotes all its activities to caring for Holocaust survivors, 834,000 to 960,000 Holocaust survivors were still alive in the summer of 1997. The same organization defines a “Holocaust survivor” as
“any Jew who lived in a country at the time when it was: – under Nazi regime; – under Nazi occupation; – under regime of Nazi collaborators as well as any Jew who fled due to the above regime or occupation.”
In 2001, Sergio DellaPergola, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, determined that the number of Holocaust survivors had increased to 1,092,000 at that time. This amounted to an annual growth rate of some 50,000 Holocaust survivors, which is clearly ludicrous; in reality, the numbers are rapidly approaching zero.
According to the data provided by Amcha, roughly 1/3 of all Holocaust survivors still alive in 1997 were so-called “child survivors,” meaning they were 16 years or younger at the end of the war. This data can be applied to the known life-expectancy data available for a people that had a similarly terrible experience during the war – the Germans. Calculating back to how many Holocaust survivors must have been alive right at the end of the war for there to be roughly a million left in 2000, it turns out that one has to start with at least 4.3 million. If one were to assume that the Jews had a worse wartime experience than the Germans, hence the average survivor was in worse shape at war’s end than the average German – which many scholars tend to assume – then there must have been at least some 5 million Jewish Holocaust survivors in 1945.
The inflationary definition of “Holocaust survivor” by Amcha and other scholars such as DellaPergola means that some 8 million Jews were affected by the Holocaust, although many never ended up under National-Socialist rule due to emigration, flight or (Soviet) deportation.
Hence, the maximum number of Jewish population reduction during “the Holocaust” amounts to some three million Jews. This includes all Jews who became victims of Stalinist mass deportations and slave-labor camps, of regular combat (as soldiers or civilian casualties of war) as well as irregular combat (partisans), of non-German pogroms, natural excess of deaths over births, etc. In effect, the maximum possible number of the actual Jewish death toll of the Holocaust is probably closer to two million. But this is an upper limit; most Holocaust skeptics estimate an actual Jewish death toll under one million, and perhaps as low as 500,000.
Based on numbers provided by the New York-based Holocaust Claims Conference, only some 200,000 survivors were still alive in 2023. By definition, every one of these survivors was 78 years old or older at that point.
However, one should be aware that published numbers of Holocaust survivors are likely manipulated due to its financial implications for Jewish organizations who have better fund-raising results when claiming higher survivor numbers in need of support.
(For more details on survivor statistics, see Rudolf 2019, pp. 202-204.)