News & Events

Shock and Awe: New Facts About the Holocaust

megargeeAn Interview with Dr. Geoffrey Megargee, USHMM

A recent article in The New York Times sparked world-wide media frenzy around the findings of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos research project. Its results, presented in January at the German Historical Institute in Washington, indicate researchers were able to catalogue some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe—thousands of additional locations than previously thought.

Dr. Charlotte Decoster recently interviewed Dr. Geoffrey Megargee, Applied Research Scholar at USHMM and lead editor of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, to discuss this astounding research project.

Dr. Megargee embarked on the expansive project at the USHMM 13 years ago. He started with a provisional organization for how the multiple volumes of the encyclopedia would be published. Then, the research on the camps commenced. Contributors submitted articles on the various camps and ghettos. The research team subsequently selected appropriate articles and researched camps for which no contributors were found. This built a whole body of research to be published.

Originally, Dr. Megargee estimated “the total numbers of Nazi camps and ghettos to be around 5,000 to 7,000.”[1] But as the research progressed, the list grew exponentially. To date, the number has grown to a shocking 42,500 camps and ghettos. The New York Times notes that “the maps the researchers have created to identify the camps and ghettos turn wide sections of wartime Europe into black clusters of death, torture, and slavery - centered in Germany and Poland, but reaching in all directions.”[2]

Not only is the number of camps interesting, Dr. Megargee notes, but also “the variety of experiences at the camps.”[3] Beside the well-known extermination and concentration camps, the expansive system of Nazi camps and ghettos included forced labor camps, prisoner-of-war camps, the euphemistically named “care” centers where pregnant women were forced to have abortions and brothels. Many survivors recount tales of moving through multiple camps. For example, Dallas Holocaust Survivor Max Glauben survived the Warsaw Ghetto, Majdanek Extermination Camp, Budzyn Labor Camp, Mielec Labor Camp, Dachau Concentration Camp and Flossenburg Concentration Camp.

While the USHMM project has been underway for 13 years and resulted in the publication of two (out of seven) volumes of the Encyclopedia, it was the article in The New York Times by journalist and USHMM fellow Eric Lichtblau that sparked national and international interest in these newly-found historical facts.

From New Zealand to Britain, newspapers reported in early March on the shocking number of camps and ghettos revealed by the research project. In Germany, Zeit Online published an interview with Dr. Megargee in which he discussed the project. Dr. Megargee said that “there was some push back from some areas within Germany.”[4] Reader comments on the Zeit Online article sparked debate and confrontational arguments about the motives behind this research and its results. Some readers argued that Dr. Megargee mislabeled some locations to pad his list of Nazi camps. Dr. Megargee refutes this, stating that “the more than 42,500 Nazi camps and ghettos in the Encyclopedia were all places that held at least twenty people for more than one month.”[5]

Despite these sporadic and unfounded negative remarks, Dr. Megargee’s research is mainly lauded throughout the world as “shocking,” “a true scale of the Holocaust,” and “unimaginable.” Now the academic world of Holocaust Studies has the immense task of analyzing the revolutionary data collected by Dr. Megargee and his research team.

  1. Interview with Dr. Geoffrey Megargee on March 4, 2013 conducted by Dr. Charlotte Decoster.
  2. NY Times, accessed March 4, 2013. 
  3. Decoster interview with Megargee.
  4. Megargee interview with Decoster.
  5. Megargee interview with Decoster.