In 2011 an American "historian", Alfred de Zayas, published a book - Völkermord als Staatsgeheimnis ("Genocide as State Secret") - in which he claimed that hardly any Germans had any knowledge of the Holocaust, that the mass murder of Jews was ordered and carried out by a small cadre of SS officers, largely in camps in Poland, hidden away from the Germans in the Reich. Besides, de Zayas argues in his book, Hitler ordered (Führerbefehls Nr. 1 vom 11) that "Final Solution" should be carried out in strict secrecy. De Zaya's book was celebrated as a "breakthrough" by ultra-right-wing publications such as Junge Freiheit in Germany, and by white supremacist publications in the US. Reputable historians of the Third Reich such as Peter Longerich and Frank Bejohr have convincingly shown in their work that, in fact, knowledge of mass murder by the Nazis was widely known among the populace.
Now, a group of American researchers has documented that Germans were exposed to thousands of camps, ghettos, and killing centers (Tötungsanstalten), often located in their home towns - 3,000 sites in Berlin alone, and 1,300 in Hamburg.
The exhaustive documentation work was carried out by the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington DC:
The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.
The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.
“The numbers are so much higher than what we originally thought,” Hartmut Berghoff, director of the institute, said in an interview after learning of the new data.
“We knew before how horrible life in the camps and ghettos was,” he said, “but the numbers are unbelievable.”
The documented camps include not only “killing centers” but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel.
The majority of these camps and ghettos were located in Germany and Poland (see map). In other words, virtually in the back yards or down the street from tens of millions of German citizens:
Die enorme Zahl macht allerdings eines deutlich, in den Worten des Projektleiters Martin Dean: „Man konnte in Deutschland buchstäblich nirgendwo hingehen, ohne auf Zwangsarbeitslager oder KZs zu stoßen. Sie waren überall.“ Insofern unterstreichen die Forschungen des Museums, was mittlerweile in der historischen Forschung auch durch zahlreiche Zeitzeugenberichte belegt ist, dass nämlich die Kenntnis der Terror- und Vernichtungspolitik der Nazis im Deutschen Reich allgemein war. Und zwar nicht allein gegenüber Juden, sondern auch beispielsweise gegenüber den 3,3 Millionen sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen. Die überall im Einsatz befindlichen, insgesamt bis zu zwölf Millionen Zwangsarbeiter aus ganz Europa waren ohnehin ein jedermann bekannter Anblick.
(The huge number makes one thing clear, as one of the project leaders Martin dean noted: "There was literally nowhere in Germany where one could go without running into a concentration camp or forced labor camp. They were everywhere." The research carried out by the museum thus validates what historians and newspaper reports confirmed, namely, that knowledge of the terror and extermination policies of the Nazis in the German Reich was widespread. And not solely against the Jews, but also, for example, 3.3 million Soviet POWs. In any case, the 12 million forced laborers from all over Europe were a common sight.)