replying to Mr Mills from Down Under:
What methods did Altman and Polyan use to arrive at their figures for the numbers of victims of German action in the occupied Soviet Union?
Are their figures just an addition of statistics given in German documents?
Or are their totals when in excess of the totals obtained by adding up the statistics given in German documents, on the assumption that the German documents are incomplete or that not all the victims were counted?
I discussed the methodologies in my previous post on Altman and Polyan's figures
The opening up of the East European archives at the end of the 1980s had a similar effect - studies of Stalin written before 1990 are simply less well grounded that studies based on material released after 1991. In that particular instance, previous estimates of mortality in the Gulags as well as the number of executions were shown to be quite exaggerated.
This is precisely the reason why I am somewhat sceptical of recent claims about the number of victims of German actions in the occupied Soviet Union, particularly of the numbers of Jewish victims.
I have observed a rather strange trend in statistical work by Leftist historians in recent years in relation to the events of the 1930s and 1940s in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. On the one hand, estimates of the number of victims of the German Government are constantly being increased, while estimates of the number of victims of the Soviet Government are constantly being decreased.
There is no 'constantly' to the increases or decreases. Nice rhetorical try, but it won't wash.
Archives really opened up from the 1980s (access to Western researchers to Soviet archives re: German war crimes) and the 1990s respectively (access to Party archives in Moscow). We're now 15 years into a research cycle.
I discussed methodologies for German war crimes before. For victims of Stalinism: you probably well know that statistical data was unearthed from the Archives re: deaths in the Gulags as well as death sentences per year, for the period 1921-1953, the data being that presented to Khrushchev before his famous speech at the 20th Party Congress in 1956.
Getty, J. Arch, Rittersporn, Gabor T. and Zemskov, Viktor N., ‘Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-War Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence’, American Historical Review 98/4,1993, pp.1017-1049
Wheatcroft, Stephen G., ‘The Scale and Nature of German and Soviet Repression and Mass Killings, 1930-1945’, Europe-Asia Studies 48/8, 1996, pp.1319-1353
Wheatcroft, Stephen G. ‘Victims of Stalinism and the Soviet Secret Police: The Comparability and Reliability of the Archival Data – Not the Last Word’, Europe-Asia Studies 51/2, 1999, pp.315-345
McLoughlin, Barry and McDermott, Kevin (eds), Stalin’s Terror. High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union. Basingstoke, 2003
Subsequent data came out in the course of the examination of cases and the rehabilitation of those wrongly convicted:
Reabilitatsiia: kak eto bylo. Dokumenty presidiuma TsK KPSS i drugie materialy mart 1953-fevral’ 1956. Moscow, 2000
Reabilitatsiia: kak eto bylo. Fevral’ 1956- nachalo 80-kh godov. Moscow, 2003
Istoriia Stalinskogo Gulaga konets 1920-kh-pervaia polovina 1950-kh godov. Tom 1: Massovye repressii v SSSR. S.B. Mironenko and N. Werth (eds). Moscow, 2004
All of this new material meant that older estimates such as that of Robert Conquest became obsolete.
It seems to me that that is because two different methodologies are being used by essentially the same school of scholars in relation to the two groups of victims.
I presume by 'essentially the same school of scholars' you mean 'Leftists'? Spare us the political tantrums. Do you honestly believe that just because the number of executions in the Great Terror of 1937-8 is now regarded as 700,000 and not xyz other figure, because we have better sources than before, there is now great rejoicing among the senior common rooms? Hurrah, we can rehabilitate Uncle Joe! I don't think so - Uncle Joe is the second most hated man in Modern European History after Uncle Dolfy.
Incidentally, the documents on Stalinist crimes are backed up with - gasp - eyewitness accounts. Indeed, for a long time, that's the only evidence we had.
In the case of the victims of the Soviet Government, it is assumed that the figures found in Soviet records indicate the maximum number of victims, ie it is assumed that all victims were recorded, and that there are no unrecorded victims, or missing Soviet documents.
Thus, if Soviet records show huge numbers of sick and exhausted prisoners in the cconcentration camps of the GULag being released before expiry of their respective sentences, it is taken for granted that those prisoners really were released, and that the category "released" was not simply a euphemism for the liquidation of prisoners no longer able to work, even though the phenomenon of such a huge number of sick prsioners being recorded as "released" should give rise to such a suspicion.
On the contrary, there are extensive discussions in the recent literature on the Gulag regarding the strong likelihood that extremely weakened prisoners were released back into civil society, where many would have died, in order that camp commandants could improve their statistics. (See Stephen Wheatcroft's articles in Europe-Asia Studies). Most serious scholars of the isue presume a Dunkelziffer over and above the statistics to take account of this sort of issue. The 'Khrushchev' figures are taken as a minimum.
Further to the over/under estimate issue: the Gulag and execution figures are only the tip of the iceberg. Not included are among other things:
- Cheka terror in especially 1921 versus peasant uprisings (e.g. 15,000 executions in the 'Antonovshchina' in Tambov province)
- special resettlements of kulaks, 1929-30
- resettlements of Poles in 1939-40
- deportation of entire nationalities, wartime
- the Ukrainian and Kazakhstan famine of 1932/33
- the Union-wide famine of 1947
- the repressions in Eastern Europe, especially Poland, from 1944 onwards
all of which have extensive specialised literatures on them.
The numbers here, too, will rise, and fall, depending on the empirical quality of further research. Many of these topics, however, have to rely perforce on the kinds of demographic data and reasoned estimates you criticise elsewhere.
Some, though, have hard archival data (e.g. deportation of Poles from Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine) now available which suggests a significantly lower figure than had been claimed by e.g. Polish nationalists or Jan Gross 15 years ago. Incidentally, the Memorial website has this publication online (html format) and the tables break down by ethnicity among other things. (memorial.org - bibliography section - in Russian.)
In the case of the victims of the German Government, it is assumed that the figures found in German records indicate the minimum number of victims, ie that there was a huge number of victims not recorded by the Germans, and/or that large numbers of german records are missing.
Large numbers of German records are
missing. The figures found in the records indicate whatever the reporting periods indicate. They are moreover limited by their provenance from specific institutions, i.e. the Ereignismeldungen of the Einsatzgruppen only partially overlap with the activities of police battalions; Wehrmacht records don't always mention what the SS is up to, etc. That's why scholars spend literally years in the archives reading through as much as they can. The more that is researched, the more gaps in the records are closed.
In source-critical terms, the German reportage is of a fundamentally different quality to the overview reports now published for the Gulags and executions in the Soviet Union. The German reports are simply more fragmentary and often quite localised, and must be taken as a starting point towards building regional/national pictures. Thus one has generally to work from the bottom up. The Soviet reports are of a global order and are a starting-point for regional and local research, which is now beginning. Thus one ought to work from the top down.
Moreover, it's simply not true to imply that figures for German war crimes always rise. There are many instances of reductions in numbers re. E.g. Christian Streit estimated 600,000 commissars were executed by the Wehrmacht and SS, Alfred Streim and Reinhard Otto explored the question more thoroughly and calculated 120-140,000 was a more realistic number.
Similarly, Christian Gerlach as well as other historians of Belorussia have calculated that a more realistic death toll for Maly Trostinets is 50,000 not 200,000. But they also found plenty of evidence which placed the deaths elsewhere, e.g. in shooting actions not the gas van used at Maly Trostinets.
Similarly, for Stalinist crimes, the Kuropaty killing site near Minsk is claimed by Belarusian nationalists to encompass up to 200,000 victims in mass graves. A more realistic total backed up both by the eyewitness accounts and the archival data for repressions in 1937-38, and 1939-41, is 40-50,000.
Conversely, there are instances where numbers rise, because more work has been done, in greater detail.
The current trend is for empirical precision, i.e. itemisation encyclopedia-fashion wherever possible. Breakdowns by region, time period, individual 'actions', etc - that is the sort of thing one sees in e.g. Kruglov, Gottwaldt/Schulle, the forthcoming USHMM encyclopedia on ghettos, and will see much more of in the future.
Another difference is that German documents are claimed to be full of code-words, meaning that certain groups of persons included in the statistics can be assumed to have been killed, even though the records do not actually say that, whereas it is claimed that Soviet records are to be read literally.
I discussed the issue of 'releases' from Soviet gulags above. As for German euphemisms, don't make me laugh. In monthly reports of the Geheime Feldpolizei, one finds the term 'sonderbehandelt' used in the text portions, whereas the statistical summaries at the end record the same outcome as 'Erschiessungen' or 'Exekutionen'. The GFP drew their executive Beamten from the Gestapo and cooperated with the Sipo. There are other documents indicating what Sonderbehandlung meant, and were found of legal value and used to gain convictions by West German courts.
As for Umsiedlung, it depends on the context and time-period. But it's quite evident from the documents that when there is a normal usage, reports specificy where people were being resettled to. Note also that there were hundreds of other resettlements at the same time, and inordinate documentation of them. I've spent several months of my research time tracking Soviet civilian evacuees being resettled from the frontline areas to the rear, and I can track them quite precisely. Around 300,000 Russians were resettled from Army Group Centre to the Baltic States and civil-administered district of Weissruthenien, where many died of neglect in refugee/internment camps such as Slutsk, Lesna near Baranovichi, or Alytus in Lithuania. If resettled into towns they usually were assigned the homes of Jews left vacant after Sonderaktionen.
By contrast, the Sipo was sloppy in its use of language. Umsiedlung did indeed become a euphemism.
Am 8. und 9. Februar 1943 wird in der Stadt Sluzk von dem hiesigen Kommando eine Umsiedlung der dortigen Juden vorgenommen....
Der Abtransport der Juden zum Umsiedlungsplatz geschieht mittels 6 Lkws, die von je 4 Letten begleitet werden...
Auf dem Umsiedlungsgelaende befinden sich 2 Gruben. An jeder Grube arbeitet je eine Gruppe von 10 Fuehrern und Maennern, die sich alle 2 Stunde abloesen. Zeiten 8-10 Uhr, 10-12 Uhr, 12-14 Uhr, 14- 16 Uhr....
Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei Weissruthenien, Einsatzbefehl v. 5.2.43, gez. Strauch, SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer
from: Tsentral'nyi Gosudartsvennoi Osobyi Arkhiv, Moscow, Fond 500, Opis 1, Delo 769, listy 113-116
So they were going to be 'resettled' into a ditch. Mmmm.
the above document is cited and contextualised to cover the entire action at Slutsk (Russian spelling of Sluzk) in February 1943, in Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, pp.733-4. Curiously enough, a large contingent of refugees arrived within the week from the area of II Luftwaffen-Feld-Korps around Demidov/Belyi.
Theorder is reprinted in Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm, Rassenpolitik und Kriegfuehrung, pp.581-3 and Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, Bd. 19, pp.198-200.
What I have found in relation to estimates of the number of victims of the German government in occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, particularly of the number of Jewish victims, is that there is always a huge gap between the estimated total and the total that can be supported on the basis of German documents. The difference is always justified on the basis on the basis of other methods of calculation, such as extrapolations from census data of varying degrees of reliability. And the constant tendency is to increase that gap.
The fact is that there are many unknowns that render unreliable any estimate of the number of victims of German actions over and above those actually recorded in German documents, for example the number of Jews evacuated by the Soviet Government to Central Asia before and immediately after the German invasion.
Thus, the tendency is to count any difference between a prewar figure of Jews lving in a certain area, eg Bessarabia, and the number registered after the war as victims of German action, without taking full account of the numbers that might have been evacuated by the Soviet Government in the period between the prewar count and the German invasion.
Oh, the evacuation chesnut. Actually, most historians do take evacuations into account, because lo and behold, in the RSFSR, to the east, the numbers of Jews left behind could be quite low. All historians use the 1939 census as a yardstick and naturally find evidence of considerable evacuations which saved part of the Jewish population of many larger cities. The Soviet government did not, however, pursue a preferential, ethnically based evacuation policy that can be seen from the documents in GARF. (Cf. Dubson, Vadim, ‘On The Problem of the Evacuation of Soviet Jews in 1941 (New Archival Sources)’, Jews in Eastern Europe, Winter 1999, pp.37-56) We also have hard data on the pre-June 1941 deportations from the annexed western territories. (cf memorial.org.) Local studies e.g. of Pinsk and Brest, take these deportations into account in their narratives.
One thing to note re: the western regions is that the German advance outpaced even the best efforts of refugees to evacuate themselves. You have cited Hersh Smolar's account of the Minsk ghetto before - he himself escaped from Bialystok to Minsk, but was then unable to escape further east. Most of the Party apparatus from Vileika oblast was caught and killed by the Germans while fleeing. This pattern repeated itself across much of Belorussia and the Ukraine. Thus the presence of Minskers as far away as Russian Monastyrshchina.
There was definitely an eastward drift of entire populations, Russians/Belorussians as well as Jews, but also many left behind. Thus the extensive reports in 1942 of internments and even executions of 'Ostmenschen' = Red Army officers' wives, Soviet functionaries sent to the annexed territories, non-locals - from across Lithuania and Belorussia.
It would really behove you to start posting hard data on this, rather than conjecture, surmise and insinuation. It's one of your favourite hobby-horses and is becoming quite tedious without actual information.
In short, any estimate of the number of victims of German actions in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland and the occupied Soviet territories needs to be treated with extreme caution. Reitlinger stands out because of his extremely sceptical and cautious approach, and despite the fact that he has been proved wrong in a limited number of cases, eg the number of deportees from France, his figures for places like Poland, the Soviet Union and Romania are probably quite acceptable as ball-park figures.
But, as stated before, Reitlinger was writing significantly before easy access to NARA/BA-MA let alone the East European archives. He certainly didn't for example factor in the original German records of Police Battalion 322, to name just one of many units whose reports survive in an archive he couldn't get into at the time. Or indeed the Kommandostab RFSS records, or the Einsatzgruppe B reports dating from both before and after the ending of the Ereignismeldungen. Or the reports being dug out of Wehrmacht unit files, or from Wirtschaftskommando records. The list goes on.
Never mind the West/East German war crimes investigations, the Soviet investigative materials or memorial books compiled by survivors. Or, indeed, eyewitness testimony from recent oral history work. (Cue rant about untrustworthiness of such sources from Mr Mills, no doubt.)
And I haven't even begun to discuss Poland.
So the answer is, given that he was writing forty-five years ago, why should we regard Reitlinger as more trustworthy than anyone else? Is it simply because he offers comfortingly lower numbers?
I find it curious - actually, no unsurprising - that for all the intellectual gyrations displayed by revisionists in dealing with the camps, they have consistently shied away from confronting the reality of wie es eigentlich gewesen war across Eastern Europe under Nazi occupation. This applies both to the crimes committed against Slavs as well as against East European Jewry.
Evidently it is too much work to come up with a plausible alternative account that has anything like the detail offered by historians of all nationalities and backgrounds who have researched the different regions of the Generalgouvernement, the Ostland, Ukraine, Belorussia, Crimea, Baltic States etc. Not even one attempt has been made by a revisionist to conduct a regional study.
The burden of proof is as much on sceptics as on anyone else. I don't yet see any scepticism meeting a meaningful standard of burden of proof.
To return to the original starting-point:
Might the regional/republic figures offered by Altman and Polyan among others be overestimates? Yes, possibly. I would quibble with some of Altman's calculations for Smolensk province, for example. These are however factored into his estimate range for the RSFSR. No doubt other regional specialists could find other examples of uncertainties. But the only way to do that is to proceed town by town, district by district, and incident by incident.
As I have said before, there are plenty of incidents and spates of deaths which are not registered and recorded by either historian, so that when one is looking for a median figure which accepts that some figures may be exaggerated, but also accepts that others may be underestimates, the figure of 6 million Soviet civilians overall, and within that number up to 2.8 million Soviet Jews, dying under German occupation, is as good as it's going to get for the moment. My personal view is the figure of 2.8 million Soviet Jews is near the ceiling, the 6 million civilians overall very much nearer the floor, of the range of possibilities that can be empirically proven.
Note that these figures exclude Leningrad siege victims, deaths among Ostarbeiter/Soviet KZ inmates, deaths among Soviet POWs, military deaths and deaths among evacuees sent east in 1941.
Liudskie poteri SSSR v Velikoi Otechestvennnoi voine. Sankt-Petersburg 1995
Rossiia i SSSR v voinakh XX Veka. Poteri vooruzhenykh sil. Statistcheskoe issledovanie. G.F. Krivosheev (ed). Moscow, 2001.
Wheatcroft S.G. and Davies, R.W., ‘Population’ in: R.W. Davies, Mark Harrison and S.G. Wheatcroft (eds); The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union 1913-1945, Cambridge, 1994