Dismay over Shoah findings
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I have to admit that my initial reaction to the media revelations regarding the figures on the number of camps in the Third Reich as published in the New York Times on March 1 was one of annoying dismay. While it was true that the figures from the new lexicon of camps published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) were undoubtedly large, they did not constitute a historical sensation.
On the contrary, for decades it has been obvious to historians that the number of Nazi camps, ghettoes,and other places of persecution was astronomical and historically unprecedented. So why did the Times, an ostensibly respectable newspaper, feel the need to use such a sensationalist headline to the effect that "The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking." More shocking than what? Until now, the Holocaust was not shocking enough? Since when do the crimes of the Shoa need cheap embellishment? The motivation behind the story became clearer when it emerged that the its author is a visiting fellow at the USHMM, which was clearly behind the PR blitz.
To put things into proper perspective, most of the information in the new lexicon is not new, but the project is nonetheless important for two major reasons. The first is as a useful research tool, the second is to provide access to people all over the world to a comprehensive list of the places of Nazi persecution. Having said that, there is a danger that by lumping together all the camps and ghettoes, such a work blurs the critical differences between the various places of Nazi persecution and the very different ultimate fates of their inmates.
In addition, given the fact that mistakes in a project of this scope are inevitable,one must also hope that the information will be as accurate as possible, since this publication is likley to remain the authoritative source on he subject for the coming decades. This project will also no doubt afford closure to many survivors who were inacrcerated in smaller and less famous camps, that very few people have heard of, and that too is a positive benefit. It is a shame that respectable Holocaust institutions think they have to resort to sensationalst PR to direct attention to such serious historical research projects.
Holocaust historian Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and director of its Israel Office. His most recent book is Operation Last Chance; One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice (Palgrave/Macmillan).