Excerpt from: Richard
Overy, The Dictators, 2004 Penguin Books, London. Footnotes are not included in the
[pages 193 ff.]
[...]One of the most
difficult things for historians to establish is just how many victims of state
repression there were. The Soviet security system generated a mass of secret
statistics, most of which have become available since the fall of European
communism. The Third Reich was less statistically fastidious, and more
secretive. While record-keepers in the NKVD wrote down every conviction and
sentence, German camp and prison records were not so scrupulously maintained,
or were deliberately destroyed every few months. At the end of the war bonfires
of security papers blazed all over the Reich. Even with the better Soviet
records, it stretches belief to assume that every victim was recorded, or that
some were not recorded twice by rival agencies keen to demonstrate that they
were over-fulfilling their norms, particularly under the exceptional conditions
during the Ezhovshchina and the war. The two dictatorships
incarcerated and murdered prisoners in millions, not hundreds. A statistically
precise figure of the victims of either dictatorship is beyond historical
recovery, and it is in the nature of murderous repression that it should be so.
The existing figures do, nonetheless, give a clear indication of the scale and character of the repression. For years the figures circulating in the West for Soviet repression were greatly inflated. Anton Antonov-Oveseyenko, the son of a leading party victim in the 1930s, claimed in memoirs written in 1980 that Politburo sources indicated that 18.84 million people were sent to Soviet prisons between 1935 and 1940, and that 7 million of these were shot; some 16 million were said to be in the camps; the number of dead in the 1930s from famine and repression he calculated to be 41 million. Some of these figures were accepted and reproduced in the West, where estimates ranging from 8 to 20 million arrests and 9 to 40 million deaths have been widely circulated.
The archive shows a very different picture. Aggregate statistics of arrests, convictions and executions were compiled in 1953 after Stalin’s death. Those arrested, convicted and sentenced by the NKVD agencies between 1930 and 1953 total 3,851,450. The total executed, according to these figures, was 776,074, which is very close to the figure of 786,098 for those sentenced to execution between 1930 and 1953 published under Gorbachev in 1990. The full record is set out in table 5.1.
Table 5.1 Sentences of Cases brought to Trial by State Security 1930-1953
Year; Death; Camps; Exile; Other; Total
1930; 20.201; 114.443; 58.816; 14.609; 208.069
1931; 10.651; 105.683; 63.269; 1.093; 180.696
1932; 2.728; 73.946; 36.017; 29.228; 141.919
1933; 2.154; 138.903; 54.262; 44.345; 239.664
1934; 2.056; 59.451; 5.994; 11.498; 78.999
1935; 1.229; 185.846; 33.601; 46.400; 267.076
1936; 1.118; 219.418; 23.719; 30.415; 274.670
1937; 353.074; 429.311; 1.366; 6.914; 790.665
1938; 328.618; 205.509; 16.842; 3.289; 554.258
1939; 2.552; 54.666; 3.783; 2.888; 63.889
1940; 1.649; 65.727; 2.142; 2.228; 71.746
1941; 8.011; 65.000; 1.200; 1.210; 75.421
1942; 23.278; 88.809; 7.070; 5.249; 124.406
1943; 3.579; 68.887; 4.787; 1.188; 78.441
1944; 3.029; 73.610; 649; 821; 78.109
1945; 4.252; 116.681; 1.647; 668; 123.248
1946; 2.896; 117.943; 1.498; 957; 123.294
1947 1.105; 76.581; 666; 458; 78.810
1948* - ; 72.552; 419; 298; 73.269
1949 - ; 64.409; 10.316; 300; 75.025
1950 475; 54.466; 5.225; 475; 60.641
1951 1.609; 49.142; 3.452; 599; 54.802
1952 1.612; 25.824; 773; 591; 28.800
1953 198; 7.894; 38; 273; 8.403
* Capital punishment was abolished in 1947, but was reintroduced in 1950 for particularly severe cases.
Source: J.P. Pohl, The Stalinist Penal System (London 1997), p. 8.
These figures are substantially lower than the more speculative pre-glasnost estimates. The statistics for those sent to camps are consistent with what is known from the archives of the Gulag, about the size and composition of the camp population. In 1940 there were 4 million in the various penal institutions: approximately 1.3 million in the Gulag camps, 300,000 in prison, 997,000 in special settlements and 1.5 million in deportee camps.
The exceptional years are 1937 and 1938. In the two central years of the Ezhovshchina are to be found 35 per cent of all convictions between 1930 and 1953, and 88 per cent of all executions, a total in two years of 681,692 victims. The average for those executed in the normal years 1932-6, 1939-40 and 1946-53 is 1,432. A sentence in camp or prison was the usual fate, and the camp populations rose steadily after the war as killing on a large scale declined. By 1950 there were 6.45 million in the various parts of the camp empire. Total deaths in the Gulag from 1934 (when accurate records start) to 1953 numbered 1,053,829, in the most part from disease, overwork, frostbite and malnutrition. Some of the NKVD executions were carried out in the camps, and may be double counted in the global total of NKVD killings. More difficult to assess is just how many of the cases tried under the security agencies were in face criminal cases (like the case of two unfortunate peasant boys sent to mind the collective farm cows, who were caught eating three cucumbers and were each sentenced to eight years in a camp). Nor is it possible to calculate how many cases in the ordinary justice system were in face raised under Article 58 and punished by execution or imprisonment. The numbers who died in transit camps, in overcrowded wagons, short of food and water, in sub-zero temperatures can only be hazarded. The full reckoning of the victims of Soviet repression is certainly larger than the figures show, though by hundreds of thousands rather than millions. Executions and camp deaths between them total 1,829,903; this figure should be treated as a minimum. It need hardly be said that aggregate figures mask millions of stories of human suffering beyond the immediate circle of the victims: women and men left without a partner, children without parents, families uprooted and loyal friendships obliterated. For the traumas of repression, statistical accuracy is an irrelevance.
When it comes to the Third Reich the ground is less solid. The statistical material is fragmentary and incomplete, though it indicates very much lower figures than in the Soviet Union. Between 1933 and 1939 there is an estimate of 225,000 sentenced and imprisoned for crimes defined as political, with punishments ranging from short periods in prison or camps to indefinite confinement. However, the numbers in the camps at any one time before 1939 suggest lower figures: 25,000 at the peak in 1933, 10,000 by 1936, 25,000 again by the outbreak of war. Only in the last three years of the war, when the camps became swollen with prisoners-of-war, Jews and forced laborers, did the numbers reach the hundreds of thousands. The camp figures for the 1930s are also difficult to reconcile with high estimates of the number held under protective custody, which in one case suggest a total of 162,000 in 1939. The figures that are known from Interior Ministry estimates are much lower: 27,000 at the peak in summer 1933, 3,000 in 1934, 4,000 in June 1935. Since those arrested under protective custody would expect to end in a camp by 1939,, the figure of 162,000 is clearly a distortion. Exact statistics on all those arrested and imprisoned by state security have been lost with the destruction of the records and are unlikely to be reconstructed, but they now appear to have been, like Soviet figures, more modest than was once believed.
The total number killed by the German security system has also never been satisfactorily computed. There are archive records of those convicted and executed by the Peoples Court for treasonable offenses: up to the war the court condemned 108 to death, from 1940 to 1944 a total of 5,088. This pattern is reflected in the number of death sentences handed down from the Düsseldorf Special Court: one case each year from 1937 to 1939, 5 in 1940 and 7 in 1941, but then followed by 74 cases with a death sentence in the last four years of the war. There are additional statistics on the number executed for both political and criminal offenses by the ordinary courts between 1938 and 1945 a total of 16,080. It is not known what proportion of these executions was for ordinary crimes, but since most of the victims were non-Germans it can be assumed that most were foreign workers or prisoners-of-war accused of sabotage, miscegenation or murder. Beyond these raw numbers were thousands of victims of random brutality, SS terrorism in the last months of the war, political murder by party thugs, and thousands of non-Germans who were killed for resistance and sabotage throughout occupied Europe, under the terms of the notorious Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) decree published by Hitler on 7 December 1941, which allowed the Gestapo to dispose of their prisoners without a trace.
The exceptional years for the German security system came between 1941 and 1944. During the years of conflict with the Soviet Union the RSHA masterminded the mass murder of millions of men, women and children. The great majority were Jews brought from all over Europe; an estimated 5.7 million. Around 3.6 million were exterminated in purpose-built camps, a further million and a half were murdered in the villages and cities of the western Soviet Union in the first year of the Soviet-German war. The concentration and labor camps also became sites of mass murder, deliberate neglect and a regime of punitive, debilitating labor. The total number of deaths has been estimated at 1.1 million, including a high proportion of Jews who labored until they died. The terrible aggregate of all those who were killed, who died of disease and malnutrition, or who were worked to death by the German security system cannot be rendered precisely, but it is unlikely to be much less than 7 million, most of them non-Germans.[...]
Excerpt from: Richard
Overy, The Dictators, 2004 Penguin Books, London. Footnotes are not included in the
[pages 611 ff.]
[...]It is well known
that millions lived and died in the two camp regimes. But how many millions?
And what kind of prisoner? These are difficult questions subject to narrow
statistical scrutiny, not simply because many of the surviving figures are of
doubtful reliability, but because it might seem a historical impertinence to
describe the long years of servitude and the millions of lives lost or blighted
through the camps with mere numbers and percentages. The statistical recovery
of the camp experience nonetheless reveals important truths and dispels many
myths about the nature of each system; the statistics illuminate a number of
profound differences between the two systems, which a mere description of their
establishment and operation might otherwise disguise.
The total number of those imprisoned fluctuated according to the circumstances and intentions already described. The German camp population is more difficult to calculate than the Soviet because of the different categories of camp outside the jurisdiction of the SS camp inspectorate, where records were less scrupulously maintained, but global figures do exist for those camps working for the SS, and for the size of the camp populations at points in the 1930s. Table 14.1 shows that from the lowest point in 1934, with around 3,000 prisoners, the population grew to at least 715,000 by the beginning of 1945.
Table 14.1 German Concentration Camp Population 1933-1945
1933 (July); 26.789
1934 (Aug); c. 3.000
1935; c. 3.500
1936 (Nov); 4.761
1937 (Jan); 7.500
1938 (Oct); 24.000
1939 (early); 60.000*
1939 (Aug); 21.400
1940; c. 60.000
1942 (Aug); 115.000
1943 (June); 199.500
1944 (Aug); 524.286
1945 (Jan); 714.211
* This number included around 35- 40,000 Jewish Germans briefly imprisoned during the Kristallnacht pogrom on 9/10 November 1938.
Source: W. Sofsky, The Order of Terror: the Concentration Camp (Princeton, NJ, 1997) pp. 28-9, 34-5, 38; J. Tuchel Dimensionen des Terrors: Funktionen der Konzentrationslager in Deutschland 1933-1945, in D. Dahlmann and G. Hirschfeld (eds), Zwangsarbeit, Vertreibung und Deportation: Dimensionen der Massenverbrechen in der Sowjetunion und in Deutschland (Essen, 1999), pp. 372-383.
Most of this increase occurred between 1943 and 1945. As late as the summer of 1942 there were still only around 100,000 camp prisoners. The numbers in the camps controlled by the police or under Gestapo supervision are not known. By contrast there are very full figures on the Soviet camp population because, in almost all cases, the prisoners went through some kind of formal judicial process before incarceration, which was meticulously recorded by the NKVD and the GULag authorities. The Soviet statistics are reproduced in Table 14.2
Table 14.2 Number of Prisoners in ITLs (GULag labour camps) and ITKs (labour colonies) 1930 - 1953
Year; ITL camps; ITK colonies; Total
1930; 179.000; - ; 179.000
1931; 212.000; - ; 212.000
1932; 268.700; - ; 268.700
1933; 334.300; - ; 334.300
1934; 510.307; - ; 510.307
1935; 725.493; 240.259; 965.752
1936; 839.406; 457.088; 1.296.494
1937; 820.881; 375.488; 1.196.369
1938; 996.367; 885.203; 1.881.570
1939; 1.317.195; 355.243; 1.672.438
1940; 1.344.408; 315.584; 1.659.992
1941; 1.500.524; 429.205; 1.929.729
1942; 1.415.596; 361.447; 1.777.043
1943; 983.974; 500.208; 1.484.182
1944; 663.594; 516.225; 1.179.819
1945; 715.506; 745.171; 1.460.677
1946; 746.871; 956.224; 1.703.095
1947; 808.839; 912.704; 1.721.543
1948; 1.108.057; 1.091.478; 2.199.535
1949; 1.216.361; 1.140.324; 2.356.685
1950; 1.416.300; 1.145.051; 2.561.351
1951; 1.533.767; 994.379; 2.528.146
1952; 1.711.202; 793.312; 2.504.514
1953; 1.727.970; 740.554; 2.468.524
Source: J.P. Pohl, The Stalinist Penal System (London, 1997, pp. 10-11)
They show that most prisoners between 1930, when the GuLag was founded, and 1953, when Stalin died, were in the camps rather than in the milder colonies. The large increase in colony population after 1947 was a consequence of new laws on state crime, which resulted in more custodial sentences for trivial offences, but usually a sentence in a colony rather than a camp. The Soviet figures should also include up to half a million held in NKVD camps during and after the war, who were not formally prisoners but returnees under scrutiny.
The chief difficulty in describing the camp population in yearly statistics is obvious. To understand the impact of the camps on the German and Soviet populations it is essential to reconstruct the flow of prisoners in and out of them. Each year some prisoners were released (a fact that is easy to overlook, but nevertheless statistically significant); each year a number died (no less significant statistically). The prisoner body at the end of the year was different from the year before. It is these dynamic statistics that are particularly elusive. In the German camps of the 1930s, for example, the majority of political prisoners were detained for periods of six months to one year. A single annual figure at a particular point in time understates significantly the grand total of all those Germans who passed through the hands of the SS, year by year. The few available figures on admissions to German camps show totals very much greater than the resulting camp population. At Buchenwald between 1937, when it opened, and 1942 43,502 prisoners were admitted, yet the camp population at the end of 1942 was only around 10,000. Over the same period the camp records show 8,246 deaths, but also very high numbers of departures. Some must be presumed to have been released, which was more likely before 1940 but rare during the war, or transferred to other work camps and prisons, in which case a proportion would show up as admissions in the records of another camp, and be counted twice. The only sure conclusion is that the figures for the camp population at any given time substantially understate the actual number of all those who passed through the camp gates. The best estimate of total admissions suggests that around 1,650,000 were sent to the major camps (excluding the camps set up purely for extermination). Estimates of total deaths vary widely, from 400,000 to as many as 1,100,000. Monthly statistics for four camps Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen show a total of 1,046,000 admissions and 409,000 deaths during the whole period of their existence. This is a death rate of 40 per cent. Understated or not, this raw statistic still shows an exceptional level of lethality in the German system.
For all its many cruelties, the GULag system was less deadly than the German camps. The number of prisoners flowing into and out of the GULag system is known with more precision than in the German case, as is the number of deaths. The figures are set out in Table 14.3.
Table 14.3 Admissions, Escapes, Deaths and Releases in the GULag Camps 1934-1947
Year; Admissions*; Escapees; Deaths; Releases
1934; 493.313; 83.490; 26.295; 147.272
1935; 457.063; 67.493; 28.328; 211.035
1936; 468.714; 58.313; 20.595; 369.544
1937; 673.325; 58.264; 25.376; 364.437
1938; 836.444; 32.033; 90.546; 279.966
1939; 401.230; 12.333; 50.502; 223.622
1940; 660.003; 11.813; 46.665; 316.825
1941; 854.699; 10.592; 100.997; 624.276
1942; 559.774; 11.822; 248.877; 509.538
1943; 363.023; 6.242; 166.967; 336.750
1944; 331.161; 3.586; 60.948; 152.131
1945; 364.210; 2.196; 43.848; 336.750
1946; 463.344; 2.642; 18.154; 115.700
1947; 626.987; 3.779; 35.668; 194.886
*Admissions include those recaptured after escape.
Source: E. Bacon, The Gulag at War: Stalins Forced Labor System in the Light of the Archives (London, 1994), p. 167.
Between 1934 and 1947 6,711,037 entered the camps; the number who died or were killed totaled 980,091, a proportion of 14.6 per cent. There were also 4,182,135 prisoners released during the period, either because they had served their sentence, or were transferred into the armed forces. Almost two-thirds of those who died did so in the four years from 1941 to 1944, largely as a consequence of the sharp deterioration in food and medical supplies caused by wartime shortages. The death rate in the non-war years was substantially lower, averaging 38,600. It is true that the worst years of camp deaths in Germany, in 1944 and 1945, were also the result of military defeat, bombing and the collapse of food supplies, as well as deliberate neglect and brutality, particularly on the many forced marches imposed on tired and sick prisoners, but the gap between 40 and 14 per cent remains significant. Evidence of death rates at three German camps between 1938 and 1940 shows that even before the wartime crisis mortality was exceptional. At Mauthausen the death rate was 24 per cent in 1939, 76 per cent in 1940; at Buchenwald it was 21 per cent in 1940, at Sachsenhausen 33 per cent. The German camps were created with the intention of violence against enemies of the nation and the war effort. Work was often a deliberate path to destruction. Work in the GULag could be destructive, but the object was to keep the prisoners alive and well enough to continue working in all but the most sinister punishment camps. If the regime had wanted them dead, it would have killed them, just as all those prisoners convicted of Trotskyism were murdered in 1942 to prevent them from contaminating the camps in wartime.
There are equally striking contrasts between the dictatorships in the social statistics of the camps. Two are of particular importance. The German camps were overwhelmingly populated by non-Germans for more than half their life. During the war years an estimated 90-95 per cent of camp prisoners were drawn from the rest of Europe. The great majority of those who died or were killed in all the camps were drawn from their non-German populations. The SS sub-camps at Gusen contained only 4.9 per cent ethnic Germans in 1942 (half the prisoners were Spanish republicans, over a quarter Russians). At Natzweiler only 4 per cent of the political prisoners by 1944 were Germans; at Buchenwald only 11 per cent were German in May 1944. By 1944 there were more Soviet citizens in captivity in Germany than in the USSR. In the Soviet camps the proportions were almost entirely the other way round. In 1939 fewer than half a per cent of prisoners came from ethnic groups outside the Soviet Union. Most prisoners were ethnic Russians or Ukrainians, who comprised 77 per cent of inmates. The proportion of foreigners rose during and after the war, when Poles and Germans were taken to work in camps and special settlements. But in the main the Soviet state incarcerated its own people, while German camps held the citizens of other states.
The greater contrast stems from the Soviet practice of sending ordinary criminals to the camps. From the late 1920s the camps were intended to be an extension of the conventional penal and prison system. The popular image of the GULag as home to a generation of Soviet dissidents misses out the largest proportion of the camp population. Between 1934 and 1953 there were only two years 1946 and 1947 when the proportion of counter-revolutionary prisoners, convicted under the provisions of Article 58, exceeded that of ordinary criminals. At the height of the purges in the 1930s political prisoners made up only 12 per cent of the GULag; at the time of Stalin’s death they comprised just over one-quarter, 582,522 politicals as against 1,920,553 criminal prisoners. These political prisoners were divided into distinct categories of political crime: the great majority were held for treason and nationalist resistance, the rest for spying, terrorism, diversion and lesser counter-revolutionary acts. The rest of the population was a mix of habitual criminals and petty delinquents. These included the ferocious urki or blatnye, convict clans that had existed before the revolution. The clans were instantly recognizable, not simply from their perpetually vicious behavior but from the colorful tattoos that covered every part of their bodies, sometimes with portraits of Stalin and Lenin. They terrorized the other prisoners, whom they murdered and robbed at will; even the guards were fearful of them and colluded in their murderous regime. Alongside hardened criminals were hundreds of thousands of small-time crooks, or bytoviki, whose cases in the 1920s might have brought no more than a fine or a spell of labor duty. They were the victims of harsher sentencing from the early 1930s, driven, in part, by the need for more prison-camp labor. Many were scarcely criminals by any conventional definition women who had stolen a bag of grain for their hungry families, workers who grumbled more than they should. The greater part were imprisoned for state theft; in 1952 1 million of the 1.9 million criminals had been sentenced under the state theft law of 4 June 1947, but only 19,925 were in prison for stealing from other people.
The German camps contained very few criminals. Several thousand habitual criminals were sent to the camps in the mid-1930s; in 1942 thousands of allegedly incorrigible prisoners were sent to Mauthausen, to be worked to death in a matter of weeks. Most camps had a small hard core of criminal toughs, German urki, but they were never able to dominate the huge multi-national camp populations with impunity. Most of the German prisoners of the camps from 1937 onwards were there because of a social or biological stigma, not for perpetrating specific crimes. They included the thousands of homosexuals, vagrants, alcoholics and parasites who were hauled into the camp net on moral as much as on criminal grounds some 70 per cent of the camp population by 1939. There were also Jehovah’s Witnesses, who refused to compromise their faith by acknowledging Hitler’s authority. These were often the weakest elements in the hierarchies of the camp, dying faster than the rest. When the camps filled up with non-Germans after 1939, the majority of prisoners were there as political or racial enemies. At Ravensbrück 83 per cent of prisoners came under the broad heading of politicals; only 12 per cent were asocials, 2 per cent criminals and just over 1 per cent were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The trawl across Europe no doubt brought criminals into the camps under one guise or another, but most criminals convicted of penal offenses ended up in prisons rather than camps.[...]