Times of Israel:

“Five million non-Jews died in the Holocaust.”

It’s a statement that shows up regularly in declarations about the Nazi era. It was implied in a Facebook post by the Israel Defense Forces’ spokesperson’s unit last week marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And it was asserted in an article shared by the Trump White House in defense of its controversial Holocaust statement the same day omitting references to the 6 million Jewish victims.

It is, however, a number without any scholarly basis.

Indeed, say those close to the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, its progenitor, it is a number that was intended to increase sympathy for Jewish suffering but which now is more often used to obscure it.

Is it true that the 5 million non-Jew figure is with no scholarly basis?

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    I always learned it was one million (mostly Romani, gays, disabled people, ..) – gerrit Feb 1 '17 at 11:11
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    It depends on what you consider "the Holocaust"? If you include prisoners of war and Soviet civilians, then it is more or less true. If you are only talking about people who are killed in what we consider concentration camps, then the numbers do not seem to add up to 5 million. The US Holocaust Museum has a good list, with a discussion of why precise numbers in most cases are hard to come by. ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10008193 – rougon Feb 1 '17 at 13:23
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    However, if you are interested in scholarship on the number of death, I would advise posting in History SE -- those people know their sources really well! – rougon Feb 1 '17 at 13:24
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    Lets just leave it at an obscene amount of human beings were killed by a moron and his twisted views, and quit quibbling about the numbers. Does the amount of people killed, higher or lower, impact the brutality/evil of what was done? – NZKshatriya Feb 2 '17 at 16:58
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    @tim On the definition of holocaust, most dictionaries list the primary as: a great or complete devastation or destruction, especially by fire. Secondary as an offering that is burnt, with the 3rd (being Capitalized) being the WW2 Holocaust. So, I think when referencing WW2, we should be sure to use Holocaust, instead of holocaust. – NZKshatriya Feb 2 '17 at 17:03

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, itself a major scholarly archive of primary materials:

Calculating the numbers of individuals who were killed as the result of Nazi polices is a difficult task. There is no single wartime document created by Nazi officials that spells out how many people were killed in the Holocaust or World War II.

Complicating matters further is the question of definitions. In some sense, the very definition of the Holocaust relates to the fate of the European Jews. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Holocaust means "the mass murder of the Jews by the Nazis in the war of 1939–1945." However, it can also be used as a transferred attribute, "of the similar fate of other groups," according to Oxford English.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is therefore careful in discussing numbers related to "the victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution." The site lists the following figures:

Jews: up to 6 million

Soviet civilians: around 7 million (including 1.3 Soviet Jewish civilians, who are included in the 6 million figure for Jews)

Soviet prisoners of war: around 3 million (including about 50,000 Jewish soldiers)

Non-Jewish Polish civilians: around 1.8 million (including between 50,000 and 100,000 members of the Polish elites)

Serb civilians (on the territory of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina): 312,000

People with disabilities living in institutions: up to 250,000

Roma (Gypsies): 196,000–220,000

Jehovah's Witnesses: Around 1,900

Repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials: at least 70,000

German political opponents and resistance activists in Axis-occupied territory: undetermined

Homosexuals: hundreds, possibly thousands (possibly also counted in part under the 70,000 repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials noted above)

We can conclude the argument is not about the exact numbers, which are widely available (and amount to more than five million total), but about definitions. A greater care to address the specific categories of victims involved can resolve the ambiguity in the original quote.

Consult the Holocaust Encyclopedia for more information.

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    Note that the source of the claim is specifically about the holocaust, while the museum article you link is about victims of the holocaust and nazi persecution. That formulation is very likely on purpose, as most scholars would not consider some of the listed victims to be victims of the holocaust (eg soviet prisoners of war were not targeted for complete elimination as Jews or Roma were). [this is probably more of a problem with the question than your answer (it doesn't really include enough of the article to show what the claim actually is), but it still seems relevant] – tim Feb 1 '17 at 20:33
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    @tim That is correct. I think the museum rightly wanted to avoid arguing about the definitions. I included a discussion about the terms in my answer. – denten Feb 2 '17 at 18:18
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    @MohammadSakibArifin. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum is itself a major scholarly resource. Its encyclopedia was compiled in consultation with the following archives: ushmm.org/learn/holocaust-encyclopedia/credit – denten Feb 2 '17 at 18:22
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    @Mohammad Sakib Arifin You seem to misunderstand the purpose of this site and skepticism in general. The question mentions a specific quote from the Times of Israel. I answer using widely-accepted authoritative sources, in this case the OED and a major national museum. You are welcome to provide other authoritative sources. However, if you want to cast doubt on the whole enterprise of "authoritative narratives," using some other, less tested modes of fact checking, I respectfully direct you to any number of conspiracy forums where such misguided skepticism is practiced. – denten Mar 23 '17 at 19:16
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    @Mohammad Sakib Arifin Appeal to authority is a fallacy when "when an authority is cited on a topic outside their area of expertise or when the authority cited is not a true expert." I cite the OED for word definitions and USHMM for numbers related to the Holocaust. They are experts in their area of expertise. In fact, the site rules require the use authoritative sources. Furthermore, your question is clearly addressed in my answer. The scholarly figures are there. You can do the math. The problem is one of definition, not numbers. I've added a clarification note to that effect. – denten Mar 24 '17 at 4:32

The figure is pure invention.

Deborah Lipstadt is a Holocaust historian, with a history of fighting against Holocaust Denialism. In 2011, she wrote a review of a biography of Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal. (The review is paywalled, but available via a web-archive from a Holocaust Denialist Yahoo group.)

Lipstadt revealed that the figure of 5 million non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust was made up by Simon Wiesenthal.

When Israeli historians Yehuda Bauer and Yisrael Gutman challenged Wiesenthal on this point, he admitted that he had invented the figure of eleven million victims in order to stimulate interest in the Holocaust among non-Jews. He chose five million because it was almost, but not quite, as large as six million. When Elie Wiesel asked Wiesenthal who these supposed five million victims were, Wiesenthal exploded and accused him of suffering from "Judeocentrism." In recent months, Wiesenthal's concoction has been further improved upon by a group of rabbis and imams who visited Auschwitz under the aegis of the US State Department. The statement they issued after their visit referred to the "twelve million victims, six million Jews and six million non-Jews." Now we have parity. One wonders what's next.

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    While the source is far from direct, and the answer is far from complete, I am surprised by the number of downvotes without explanations. This looks to me like a fair attempt to answer the question by a newcomer on Skeptics.SE. Maybe the source is very indirect, maybe the answer is incomplete, but if the statement is genuine then it brings some valuable and relevant information. I think this tentative answer deserves comments to be improved rather than the downvotes. – Evargalo Jul 2 '18 at 7:53
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    @Evargato: Before I edited it, the only source was a Yahoo group for Holocaust Deniers. That may have attracted downvotes. I edited it to reveal it is actual a disagreement from Holocaust historians. I haven't up or downvoted either of the conflicting answers - both are tertiary sources, which mean both need more digging. – Oddthinking Jul 2 '18 at 13:56
  • The original source was on the Wayback Machine, which archives the entire internet, and is an article by Deborah Lipstadt originally published by the Jewish Review of Books. It is now hard to find :). – Allan Davis Jul 2 '18 at 14:29
  • From what I've seen online, some of the contention between the numbers stems from an inability to define the Holocaust in terms of non-jews. This source for instance, says that the number is 500k but only counts people specifically killed in concentration camps as victims of the holocaust, while fully acknowledging that 35 million total deaths can be ascribed to Nazi aggression. – DenisS Jul 3 '18 at 16:29
  • @DenisS: If you only count people specifically killed in concentration camps, Wikipedia's numbers add up to fewer than 4 million Jews. – Peter Shor Jul 7 '18 at 17:37

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