More than one million Jews were murdered by the Nazis in just three months in 1942, new research has revealed.
This means that the Nazis and their accomplices were murdering up to 15,000 Jews a day during Operation Reinhart, the Germans’ genocide programme, said Tel Aviv University mathematical biologist Professor Lewi Stone.
Stone, writing in Science Advances journal, suggests that the murder rate had previously been greatly underestimated.
He wrote: “This study identifies an extreme phase of hyper-intense killing when over 1.47 million Jews – more than 25 per cent of the Jews killed in all six years of World War Two – were murdered by the Nazis in three month surge.
“The kill rate in the Operation Reinhard period is approximately 83 per cent higher than the commonly suggested figure for Rwanda – indicating previous comparisons have been based on incorrect accounting.”
Stone said he found that the scale of the Holocaust had been underestimated because many records of killings were destroyed by the Nazis.
However, he uncovered a major clue in the records of Deutsche Reichsbahn – the German National Railway – which transported millions of Jewish victims to death camps.
These “special trains” were kept on strict time schedules, and reveal how deadly the Holocaust really was.
Late Israeli historian Yitzhak Arad compiled German data on 480 train deportations from 393 Polish towns and ghettos to three death camps: Belzec; Sobibor; and Treblinka.
Using Arad’s data, Stone estimated the number of victims on each transport, and then calculated the rate at which the Nazis were killing Jews.
The study found that most of the murders occurred in August, September and October of 1942, when 1.7m victims of Operation Reinhardt, roughly 1.32m (or 78 percent) were slaughtered.
It also suggests that around a quarter of all Holocaust victims were murdered during these three months.
Stone believes the Nazi murder campaign could have continued at this rate, but only if there had been more victims living in German-occupied Poland.
Instead, wrote Stone, the murder rate “tapered off in November 1942, as a result of there being essentially no one left to kill”.
A Holocaust Educational Trust spokesperson commented: “The Holocaust was the defining episode of the 20th Century and it is easy to be overwhelmed by the vast number of Jews murdered by the Nazis during that time.
“This research confirms what historians have always known – that the scale and speed of the murders in the Holocaust in the second half of 1942 were unparalleled in human history. This helps us to understand what made the Holocaust unprecedented: even in the long and terrible history of genocide, this was the only time that an entire group – the Jewish people – were targeted for complete extermination.
“It is crucial that we continue to research this dark period of history, unearthing new material, as well as listen to the eyewitnesses. For some, the Holocaust is still within living memory and our work to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and the important lessons to be learned for today is vitally important.”