These May Be the 3 Deadliest Months in Human History

In terms of people killed by their fellow man
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 2, 2019 4:32 PM CST
Updated Jan 5, 2019 5:35 PM CST
These May Be the 3 Deadliest Months in Human History
This Friday, Feb. 18, 2011 file photo, shows the Memorial on the grounds of the former German Nazi Death Camp Treblinka, near the village of Treblinka, northeast Poland.   (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz, File)

When it comes to people killed by human hands, it's likely "the deadliest three months in human history," as USA Today puts it. That would be August through October 1942, according to a new peer-reviewed study. Researchers used detailed train transportation records to estimate 1.47 million Jews were murdered over the roughly 100-day period. That's about 25% of all victims of the six-year World War II. In the study published in Science Advances, the researchers write that Operation Reinhard, which ran from 1942 to 1943 with the intention of killing all the Jews in German-occupied Poland, "was the largest single murder campaign of the Holocaust," with 1.7 million victims, chiefly killed at the Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka death camps. But "the tempo, kill rates, and spatial dynamics of these events were poorly documented."

Lead author and mathematical biologist Lewi Stone of Tel Aviv University and RMIT University found that during the three months in question, there were 480 train trips to Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, which, unlike Auschwitz, did not have a forced-labor element and whose sole purpose was murder. Using surviving historical records and details from postwar trials, they estimated the number of Jews on each transport to arrive at their total. "That the massacre occurred in such a short timeframe ... ensured the Jewish people did not have a chance," Stone tells Newsweek. The study provides a detailed comparison between this kill rate and that of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, which has been upheld as the 20th century's "most intense" genocide; an estimated 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered over 100 days. Per Stone's data, the Nazi kill rate was 83% higher. "It's a juxtaposition that serves to highlight the extremity of the Nazis' crimes, but which comes at the risk of diverting focus from the fact that genocide is deeply evil regardless of scale," observes Popular Mechanics. (A mysterious link to Anne Frank was found in Sobibor.)

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