How Many People Died at Auschwitz?

Foner's Spotlight article makes the following assertions regarding the number of people killed at the camp:

Like most Americans, since his youth Cole had been instructed in the "irrefutable fact" that homicidal gassings had taken place at Auschwitz. The number of those so executed - also declared irrefutable—was 4.1 million.

Then came the Leuchter Report in 1988. This was followed by a "re-evaluation" of the total deaths at Auschwitz (down to 1.1 million). As a budding historian—and a Jew—Cole was intrigued.

Previous to 1992, anyone who publicly doubted the 4.1 million "gassing" deaths at Auschwitz was labeled an anti-Semite, neo-nazi skinhead (at the very least). Quietly, because of revisionist findings, the official figure was lowered to 1.1 million. No mention of that missing 3 million.

Foner's assertions are simply not true; although it is correct to note that the Polish Communist government did claim that four million people were exterminated at Auschwitz, historians (Feig, Reitlinger, Hilberg, et al.) have never supported that figure. Consider the estimates provided by Buszko at the end of his article on Auschwitz, which appeared in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust:

  • Of the 405,000 registered prisoners, 65,000 survived
  • Of the 16,000 Soviet POW's, 96 survived
  • Various estimates suggest 1.6 million were murdered


Buszko's article, and the above estimates, appeared in the 1990 edition of the Encyclopedia, which clearly puts the lie to Foner's comment that "anyone who publicly doubted the 4.1 million .. " figure "previous to 1992..." was "...labeled an anti-Semite...". Buszko is not only a Jewish historian, but Polish as well.

Leon Poliakov, the author of the well-documented Harvest of Hate, which was, we note, first published in 1956, provides the following information, which clearly demonstrates that Foner's contention, cited above, is an outright lie:

After some thirty months of intense activity, the Auschwitz balance sheet showed close to two million immediate exterminations (this figure can never be fixed exactly), (8) to which one must add the deaths of some 300,000 registered prisoners—Jews for the most part, but not entirely—for whom the gas chamber was only one of any number of ways by which they might have perished. (Poliakov, 202)

(8) In his affidavits, Hoess spoke of two and a half million, 'a figure set officially,' he wrote, under the signature of [Eichmann], in a report to Himmler. This figure has been accepted by several authors, and it appears in the verdict at the trial of the major war criminals. However, there is no reason for accepting without question the statistics attributed to Eichmann, which may err on either side.

Adding the number of victims to those deported from different countries gives a lower figure, although we have little data, for example, on the number of Polish Jews sent to Auschwitz. An approximate figure in the neighborhood of two million seems closer to the truth." (Ibid.)

Feig also provides evidence of the false nature of Foner's comment when she notes that:

Höss testified that the Tesch directors could not help but know of the use for their product because they sold him enough to annihilate two million people.'

According to Snyder, Adolf Eichmann reported to Heinrich Himmler, in 1944, that four million had been killed in the camps, and another million had been shot or killed by mobile units. (Snyder, Louis. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich Marlowe & Co., 1997.) Eichmann's report, which referenced all the camps (most of which were in Nazi-occupied Poland), may have been the source of the Polish Communist government's figures. (Snyder is a Professor of History at the City College and the City University of New York.)

During the war crimes trials, Höss was was asked if it was true that he had no exact numbers because he had been forbidden to compile them, and he agreed. He also agreed that Adolf Eichmann had told him that that more than two million people had been exterminated there. (von Lang, Jochen. ed. Eichmann Interrogated: Transcripts from the Archives of the Israeli Police. NY: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1983, p.120)

The Institut Fuer Zeitgeschichte, Munich, provided the following capsulated paragraph about Auschwitz in a March, 1992, letter of inquiry.

The extermination camp in Birkenau, established in the second half of 1941, was joined to the concentration camp Auschwitz, existing since May 1940. From January 1942 on in five gas chambers and from the end of June 1943 in four additional large gassing-rooms gassings with Zyklon B have been undertaken. Up until November 1944 more than one million Jews and at least 4000 gypsies have been murdered by gas. (IFZ)

While it is admittedly difficult to compile exact figures, since the Nazis did not maintain registration records for those who were to be exterminated immediately upon arrival at Auschwitz, it seems accurate to assert that the number of Jews killed fell somewhere between one and one-point-six million.

Jews were not the only victims of the Auschwitz killing machine - estimates that from 200,000 (Gilbert, Martin. Holocaust Maps and Photographs. NY: Anti-Defamation League, 1992, p. 22, Kenrick, Donald. The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies. NY: Basic Books, 1973, p. 184) to 500,000 (Bubenickova, 190, Yoors, Jan. Crossing, A Journal of Survival and Resistance in World War II. Waveland Press, 1988, p. 34) Gypsies were ultimately destroyed are noted by Laska. Himmler signed the decree sending all of them to Auschwitz in 1942. In addition, an unknown number of homosexuals were sent to Auschwitz and executed.

The Leuchter Report, which Foner alludes to extensively in his Spotlight article, has been thoroughly refuted. For detailed information about the report, see the Leuchter FAQ.

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Source: The Nizkor Project