National Geographic News
An S.S. guard patrols at a labor camp.

SS guard Schmiller walks past the barn of the Lipa farm labor camp where Jewish workers pitch hay.

Photograph courtesy U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Oldrich Stransky

Marc Silver

National Geographic News

Published April 8, 2013

The map of the Third Reich is being dramatically redrawn.

Thirteen years ago, when he started digging into the past to document the number and nature of Nazi-era ghettos and camps, scholar Geoffrey Megargee expected to identify perhaps 7,000 sites. He vastly underestimated his task. More than 42,200 sites will be named in the planned seven-volume encyclopedia that he is editing: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945.

This week is Holocaust remembrance week in the United States, with an official ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on April 11 at 11 a.m. For the latest insights into the Nazi era, we spoke with Megargee and Martin Dean, editor of volume two of the encyclopedia: Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe.

"To document this on a map and see how the Holocaust affected every single community throughout Europe makes quite clear the scope of the Nazi regime's murder campaign," says Dean.

Investigating the Sites

To be included in the encyclopedia, a site had to have housed at least 20 people and have been in existence for at least a month. In addition, it had to have been identified on a map—not the easiest thing to do when some towns in question have changed their names several times since  World War II ended.

The scholars drew upon past research and interviews with survivors but also sought records that have "disappeared into archives in a dozen different countries," says Megargee. Many of the archives were behind the Iron Curtain until the 1990s, off limits to outside scholars. Even now some are restricted.

The sites include the extermination camps where gas chambers were built for "the final solution" of murdering the Jewish people. But that's only part of the project's scope.

"We're not just looking at sites directly involved with the Holocaust," says Megargee, "but [also] with the entire range of persecutory facilities that the Nazis and their allies ran."

Forced Laborers Everywhere

Each listing has a careful yet hair-raising description of the site, drawing from records as well as survivor testimony. Many of the encyclopedia entries were forced labor camps.

"Think of what life was like in Germany," Megargee says. "There were foreign forced laborers in every conceivable kind of business: farms, factories, retail shops, hospitals, railroads. You couldn't go anywhere in Germany without encountering people being held against their will and forced to work. Their rights were being violated."

And it would have been no secret to German citizens that these laborers were in their midst. "Even in a large city, you know who lives in your neighborhood—and who doesn't," Megargee says. "And you could see barracks where these forced laborers lived."

Workers thought to be shirking their duties were sent to work education camps. They faced up to eight weeks of very hard labor along with beatings and possibly solitary confinement. If there was evidence of a change in behavior, the worker could go back to the forced labor camp. If not, he or she might be sent to a concentration camp.

The Work Education Camp Watenstedt-Salzgitter, established "in some woods just to the northeast of Hallendorf" in Germany, could hold about 800 female prisoners and 1,000 males at a time. The Encyclopedia entry mentions 492 documented deaths there in 1942 attributed to "weak heart" or "shot while trying to escape." A survivor of the camp recalls an SS man "who beat the prisoners on their way to breakfast." (There were Jewish inmates at this camp, but in most forced labor and work education camps in Germany, the internees were typically non-Jewish Europeans.)

Staggering Death Rate

Megargee says some of the categories of sites he found were "particularly surprising or horrible." The so-called Care Facilities for Foreign Women and Their Children were essentially holding pens for female workers, typically from Eastern Europe, who had become pregnant. At an earlier stage in the Nazi regime, these women would have been sent home to have the child. After 1943, they were sent to the Care Facilities, where "the baby was either aborted or, after birth, would be killed by slow starvation," says Megargee.

European Jews were first confined to ghettos. When the ghettos were shut down, most Jews were killed; only a few were selected for work and sent to forced labor and concentration camps, where they again were periodically selected to continue working or to be killed. The death rate for European Jews in the camps and ghettos was a "staggering" 90 percent, compared with 10 percent for the foreign workers held in German forced labor camps, Dean notes.

The Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos pays tribute to those many millions imprisoned and slaughtered by the Nazis by its memorialization of all the site names. On its pages a reader will find camps that few people have heard of, like the work camp at St. Martin's Cemetery in Poznan, Poland, where Jews had to excavate Polish graves to look for gold teeth, jewelry, or brass, and even smash up the headstones for the Nazi war effort. And there are the infamous names etched in the world's memory, like Auschwitz-Birkenau with its gas chambers.

"This is giving recognition to all of the thousands of places where people suffered and died," says Martin, "that would otherwise fade from people's consciousness."

15 comments
Mortimer Snerd
Mortimer Snerd

So, did NatG remove the link from Google + or did Google remove it?  I got two notifications in G+ about this article, both links were broken by the time I tried to connect to them, I had to search for the article and found it here. Hmmm, make me wonder if there are not more deniers out there than we realize.

John C.
John C.

Is there any doubt that most of the Arab world would be happy for a repeat if possible?

Franz von Koller
Franz von Koller

I think it's marvelous that this kind of documentation is being done, it is like it was said a recognition to all the victims of the Nazis.......... I just wanted to speak my mind an also tell you that this is a very delicate topic for most Germans, it's not easy to accept that ones country was capable of choosing such a leader, and even though many people knew abut the awful things that were happening, they couldn't say anything against it if they wanted to keep on living, because there was a terror regime going on, the Gestapo would persecute anyone that was against the Nazis or their way to act. Even people that were only babies at that time hate  themselves for acts their parents did, and they were not aware of the situation, they were only babies.......... just something to think about, the German people were terrified to.

Nathaniel Wenger
Nathaniel Wenger

Wengerocracy is a form of government where the people watch the ruler entirely amongst their reign. Wengerocracy prevents the leader of a country from covering up unlawful behavior. Why are holocaust survivors covering up wengerocracy after the holocaust and before khmer rouge? The cover up of wengerocracy is the biggest scandal in the world. Over 100 million lives died in the 20th century alone because of numerous leaders of countries covering up unlawful behavior. How many lives will be lost today because of a leader of a country covering up unlawful behavior? How many were lost in Libya?

Carol Music
Carol Music

As hard as this is to read and to think about, I'm very glad this work has been done and will be available to the public. This despicable behavior by the Germans of their own citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish, MUST be documented by the very best of the historians! I know there are groups who swear that the Holocaust never happened and I believe most of those are White Supremacist Groups. These lies must NOT be allowed to take hold. Anyone with an ability to read and look at photos taken by reliable sources, often by the US Army when they liberated the camps, can absolutely NOT deny this happened to the shame of the entire world. 

My great thanks to the researchers and historians who took this huge task on and sought out and followed every lead. I am completely overcome with horror and grief at the actual number of places people were either made to do forced labor or were sent to concentration camps. As we well know, most of the latter perished, but thanks to these persistent men (and perhaps women too) the fuller truth will be available to anyone who wishes to purchase the book. Hopefully, it will also help fill in some empty spaces in many Jewish families about where they family members were taken and whether they died or survived. We ALL have the right to find our families ancestors!

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy moderator expert

Hi @Mortimer Snerd - Thanks for the note. We have been experiencing some technical difficulties with posting articles on Google+ in the past couple of days, and we apologize for any confusion it may have caused. Our tech team is looking into the issue and we hope to have it resolved as soon as possible.

Abdelhamid Cherragui
Abdelhamid Cherragui

@John C.

No. 

I am an Arab and i oppose all kinds of violence and aggression.

Some Arabs are also Jews. Many Israeli ministers   and government officials are Arabs. they were born and raised in Arabic countries like Morroco. and there are more Jews who preferred to stay In their Arabic countries rather to migrate to Israel. There is a large community in Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon ...


Why would they be happy if this disgraceful event happens again ??

Why would any one with a hair of humanity in him will be happy ?

The Holocaust is a disgrace in our history. 

And as disgraceful as it is, it can't be used to justify another   disgraceful genocide against innocents.

Arabs share similar culture with Jews and some of them are Jews more than the other Nations.

Some Arabs oppose Israel not because of Jews, but as a consequence of the brutality and violence Israel have been conducting in the middle east since 1948.

I am an Arab, i'm not violent, I oppose war, i like piece instead. 

Dan Abrams
Dan Abrams

@Franz von Koller I just wanted to say thanks for posting that. I know many people who won't even consider buying a German car because of their experiences in World War II. I've tried talking about how most of the people in the country weren't even alive back then, but it's no use... I am glad to hear from people like you, though. Thanks again.

S. Harris
S. Harris

@Carol Music
Dear Carol Music,
Please show some sensitivity using the word 'Germans' when referring to those that were involved with the National Socialist Party. The term 'Germans' also applies to those who live in Germany, currently, and is an insult to them as the vast majority of Germans currently living in Germany have nothing and had nothing to do with Adolf Hilter, the National Socialist Party or the Third Reich.

John C.
John C.

The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews.

The Jew will hide behind stones or trees.

Then the stones or trees will call:

‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

Point taken about Arabs. However, I find the above from the Koran to be disturbing. Brought to my attention by my Pakistani computer consultant, who says he takes it literally as an observant Muslim.

Lukasz Stebelski
Lukasz Stebelski

@S. Harris @Carol Music

Dear S.Harris

A very valuable warning on the German Nazi sensitivity, however the link between today and yesterday should not be forgotten. After all Hitler was made Chancellor in a fully constitutional way of the 1930's Germany. Tough economic times and great political skills were the roots, but at the end of the day the Nazi party was chosen as the number 2 party in 1930 (overnight jump from #9) and Hitler was chosen by 1 out of 3 Germans as their leader in the 1932 presidential elections. 

Denying the link is like saying that today's Americans have nothing to do with the Vietnam war or putting a man on the Moon.

'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'


Abdelhamid Cherragui
Abdelhamid Cherragui

@John C. 

If you read the Koran by yourself like any neutral scholar, you will understand and you will have the liberty to judge and criticize. 

In the same way you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge a book from an out of context paragraph.

Feel as you wish sir. I believe in peace and i will be in peace for it. After all, the word Islam means peace in Arabic.

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