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
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 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
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 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
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 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? Commented Feb 2, 2017 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. Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 17:03

2 Answers 2


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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    @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
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 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
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 18:22
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    @MohammadSakibArifin My definition comes from the Oxford English Dictionary. In any case, the numbers from USHMM are specific enough where readers can do their own math, based on the groups they want to include.
    – denten
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 18:53
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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
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 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
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 4:32

Ultimately, this question is arguing semantics about who counts as a Holocaust victim. Looking at the data from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum quoted in denten's answer, we would have to include either Soviet civilians or Soviet prisoners-of-war for the figure of at least 5 million non-Jews dying in the Holocaust.

Is it reasonable to include three million Soviet prisoners-of-war? Khan Academy includes them:

The Holocaust was the deliberate killing of millions of people by Adolf Hitler's Nazi party, the German military (the Wehrmacht), and local collaborators across Europe. The victims included 6 million Jews, somewhere between 250,000 and 1 million Roma (often mischaracterized as "gypsies"), 3 million Soviet prisoners-of-war (POWs), several million non-Jewish Eastern European civilians, and hundreds of thousands of other people targeted because of their race, political affiliation, disability, religion, or sexual orientation.

As does the Canadian Encyclopedia:

The Holocaust is defined as the systematic persecution and murder of 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews, including Roma and Sinti, Poles, political opponents, LGBTQ people and Soviet prisoners of war (POWs), by Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. Jews were the only group targeted for complete destruction.

BBC Newsround (apparently kids-oriented) writes:

Who was killed or persecuted in the Holocaust? We know that the victims included:

  • Jewish people
  • Roma and Sinti people ('Gypsies')
  • Slavic people, especially in the Soviet Union, Poland and Yugoslavia.
  • Disabled people
  • Gay people
  • Black people
  • Jehovah's Witnesses
  • Political opponents

"Why Teach the Holocaust" from Journal of Jewish Education (1981):

Also, students will become aware of other aspects of the Nazi Holocaust: the millions of non-Jewish victims — Slavs, Gypsies, resisters — and the heroism of those, including some Germans, who sought to protect potential victims at great personal risk

"Other Victims of the Holocaust" from Dialectical Anthropology (2000):

The Holocaust must be defined to include not just the Nazi and German atrocities against the Jews immediately before and during WWII, but also atrocities against other victims of different races and nationalities and social groups during the same period. […] A synchronic approach would help to rectify the lacunae in the literature, which has both neglected or peripheralized the Holocaust of such groups as Blacks, Gypsies, Slavs, etc. […] The holocaust atrocities against the Jews, Blacks, Gypsies, Slavs, and others were so inhuman, so atrocious and diabolic that any attempts to minimize the evils of holocaust on any group would be tantamount to betrayal and dehistoricization of events of the last century. Our entire

These aren't all scholarly sources, or meant to be a representative sampling of sources, just meant to be some examples of a broader definition that would include at least 5 million non-Jews.

Lexico defines the Holocaust as this:

the mass murder of Jewish people under the German Nazi regime during the period 1941–5. More than 6 million European Jews, as well as members of other persecuted groups such as Romani and gay people, were murdered at concentration camps such as Auschwitz.


the mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II

Dictionary.com restricts its definition to European Jews in Nazi concentration camps:

the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

  • Is the claim that the members of other groups were systematically rounded up and died under similar circumstances as Jews, or that they had large numbers of casualties during the war, without the same kind of organized intent? Commented Mar 17, 2021 at 16:12

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