Another anniversary of D-Day just passed. In case you didn’t notice, it was June 6, just a couple of weeks ago. We celebrate battles, invasion and victories. We honor our fighting men, our veterans and our departed soldiers. War is not really about battle, nor even about the men who fight on the battlefields, living and dead. It’s about the destruction of nations, the loss of millions of civilians of all ages and both sexes. All the casualties of war who never wore a uniform and probably didn’t carry guns.
We don’t have a holiday for them. They’re just dead.
Most of these were ordinary people living uneventful lives until by bad luck or ill fortune, they were caught in the backwash of war. In the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong race, wrong religion. Believed the wrong stuff, belonged to the wrong political party. Espoused an unacceptable philosophy.
The elderly, mothers, and children whose lives were lost as cities were bombed or as warring factions took the high ground, conquered the city, laid siege to the castle are no less dead than the soldiers who fought.
How ironic. The demagogues who lead us into wars manage to escape unscathed. Their job is to make pronouncement about the justness of the cause for which we are currently killing one another. God is on their side. Apparently God is on every side; every leader who takes his people to war says so. I don’t know that the dead would agree. What kind of god sanctions war?
I honor our soldiers. It’s an ugly, dangerous, and often thankless job. But I would also like to honor all the others, the people swept up in events beyond their control, caught in the midst of a battlefield that was once their home.
The Bottom Line
The number of military and civilian casualties in World War I totaled more than 37 million including 16 million dead and 20 million wounded. It ranks among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians. The Entente Powers (the Allies) lost close to 6 million soldiers. The Central Powers lost about 4 million. At least 2 million civilians died from disease. Six million went missing and are presumed dead.
World War II fatality statistics vary depending on who and how they are being counted. The estimates of total dead range from 50 million to more than 70 million, making it the deadliest war in world history in absolute terms — total dead — but not in terms of deaths relative to the world population. Our American Civil War holds that distinction.
Civilians killed totaled from 40 to 52 million, including 13 to 20 million from war-related disease and famine. Total military dead range in estimate from 22 to 25 million. These numbers include deaths in military prison camps — about 5 million prisoners of war. American military deaths came to 291,55
In addition to soldiers and collaterally killed civilians, between 3 and 4 million Jews were murdered in Nazi death camps. In the USSR, the Einsatzgruppen mobile killing groups slaughtered another 1.4 million Jews. Jewish deaths in the ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe total around 700,000. Yad Vashem has identified the names of four million Jewish Holocaust dead.
Not merely was European Jewry wiped out, but Jewish culture was utterly destroyed. The Nazis were very thorough and highly efficient. They set out to destroy the Jews and they succeeded.
Although the Holocaust specifically targeted Jews, it did not target only Jews.
Roma (Gypsies), handicapped person, political prisoners, intellectuals, ethnic Poles, and Slavs were also slaughtered to the betterment of the Aryan races. This brings the total number of Holocaust victims to between 11 million and 17 million souls.
- Roma: Most estimates of Roma (Gypsy) victims range from 130,000 to 500,000. It might easily be more, but Roma population records were incomplete.
- Handicapped persons: 200,000 to 250,000 handicapped persons were victims of Nazi Euthanasia. A 2003 report by the German Federal Archive put the total murdered during the Action T4 and “14f13” euthanasia programs at 200,000.
- Prisoners of War: POW deaths in Nazi captivity totaled 3.1 million including 2.6 to 3 million Soviet prisoners of war.
- Ethnic Poles: 1.8 to 1.9 million ethnic Polish civilians were victims during the German occupation. in Nazi crimes against ethnic Poles.
- Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians: According to Nazi ideology, Slavs were useless and sub-human. As such, their leaders, the Soviet élite, were to be killed and the remainder of the population enslaved or expelled further eastward. As a result of these racist fantasies, millions of civilians in the Soviet Union were deliberately killed, starved, or worked to death. Civilian deaths in the Nazi occupied USSR are believed to total 13.7 million people, including 2 million Jews. An additional 2.6 million fatalities took place in the interior of the Soviet Union. The scope for error in this number is wide. It could be much higher, but is unlikely to be lower..
At least 1 million people died in wartime GULAGs or as a result of deportation. Other deaths took place during wartime evacuations from malnutrition and disease in the interior. Both Stalin and Hitler were responsible for these deaths. You don’t have to hold the gun and pull the trigger to kill someone.
The biggest mass murderers in human history may never have personally killed anyone. They did not have to bloody their hands. That was the job of others.
When I see people slinging the word “Nazi” around on Facebook and other social media, I wonder if they have any idea what they are talking about. I remember my entire family — except the lucky few who had emigrated to the US were murdered.
Every European family member disappeared. About 75 members of my extended family were in touch with American relatives before the war. None was ever seen or heard from after it.
In tallying up the costs of war, it’s good to remember that soldiers are not the only casualties. Maybe we need another holiday to remember the rest of the victims.