Archiv der Kategorie: SocialGIS

The Product of War Is Death

Sebastian Bondzio, Lukas Hennies, Christoph Rass

Russia’s Attacks on Civilian Targets @ NYT

On Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022, the New York Times published an animated map showing Russian attacks on civil targets in Ukraine. Up to this date, the invading Russian forces had hit and destroyed about 1.500 “civilian buildings, structures, and vehicles”. More than 953 civilians had been killed, with an unknown number of unreported civil casualties to add. A month into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, estimates of the number of Russian soldiers who died in the war ranged between 10.000 and 15.000, the number of dead among the Ukrainian soldiers defending their country remains unknown. At the end of March 2022, 10 million people had been displaced by the Russian attack on Ukraine and weeks of brutal and criminal warfare. About three million Ukrainians have fled across an international border and thus became refugees. Displacement, destruction, injury, trauma, and death are the dimensions of suffering in yet another war that produces the loss of human life – killing and dying – as its primary and irreversible outcome.

The impact of the production of death in war on societies in history is a long-standing field of research at NGHM@UOS. Our projects have looked at how the Nazi Regime built its war machine and produced a community, the “Volksgemeinschaft”, ready to wage a war that turned into a war of annihilation, the Holocaust, and genocides, while the “Third Reich” was relying on a murderous war economy driven by millions of forced- and slave laborers. We study forced displacement and the struggle of survivors of Nazi persecution – the “displaced persons” of the early post-war years are a striking example of the efforts and resources needed, over decades, to cope with caring for the survivors of mass displacement by war and genocide.

We work with our partners in Belarus and Ukraine to detect, document, and preserve sites of mass killing where thousands were murdered during the Holocaust and the German war of annihilation. Our projects on 2nd World War “battlefields” and German concentration camps contribute to a critical culture of memory as a cornerstone of public history and help uncover the hidden traces of the war and Nazi terror underground. In working with DPAA, as part of our research on the Huertgenwald battlefield, we assist in searching for still missing U.S. Servicemen whom the Wehrmacht killed in the bitter fighting there in 1944/45. Out of our joint project with the Esterwegen camp system memorial (Gedenkstätte Esterwegen) grew a search for yet unknown graves of Soviet POWs in the area.

Our research on how mounting military casualties impacted civil society (“Heimatfront”) in Germany during the First World War expanded our interest in the history of military casualties from the killing grounds of modern warfare to the social contexts where the loss of life was experienced emotionally: the homes, families, and everyday lives from where men were drafted into armies – or volunteered to serve –,  left to fight and kill – and die – in a war. The homes to which later not a traumatized veteran returned, but a letter was delivered announcing the death of a loved one.

An interactive map projecting the military casualties from World War One to their home addresses at Osnabrück.

We began to wonder how the death of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, mostly men, at “the front” was mirrored by the dispersion of casualties across their neighborhoods, hometowns, countries. Where did the soldiers from a specific town or city die? In what patterns was their death experienced at home?

What were the temporal, spatial, and social dynamics of the impact of war at home? Where did the “soldiers” actually come from, who would miss and mourn them, and – on a macro level – how are military casualties dispersed across society? Would the patterns of how military casualties hit the “homefront” help to explain how societies managed to keep waging war? Would we learn something about how families, collectives, societies coped with the fear of losing a son, father, brother, husband and receiving the dreaded notice? How did societies deal with the contesting needs evoked by the presence of different and often extreme emotions? What cultural changes did the losses and emotions lead to, and how did emerging war cultures help societies at home to remain able to wage war? Would the production of death and its impact and the coping mechanisms we would find help us understand how war-making was sustained and when societies reached a breaking point and decided to end the killing?  

Far from being able to provide convincing answers (please find some in our more extensive publications), this short essay draws together some of our explorations in historical big data on military casualties we have used to model the production of death of military personnel in war throughout the 20th century.

The “Deutsche Dienststelle”, today part of the German Federal Archives, has the most comprehensive collection of Wehrmacht personnel and casualty files.

Data on men killed as soldiers during modern wars is abundant. Armies and bureaucracies have left giant tomes of files created to manage millions of men in mass armies while keeping track of enlistments, the number and structure of casualties, to determine how much “human material” stood ready to be sent into battle, how many died or got wounded and how many replacements would have to be mobilized to keep up the fight. Creating honor lists and administering benefits to veterans and their families required more bookkeeping on the loss of human lives when a war ends.

The resulting lists serve administrative or commemorative purposes. They also allow researchers to build detailed models of the one thing war delivers: death. Far from neglecting the price always paid by civilian populations in military conflicts, this essay will focus on several examples where military records were used to look at military casualties from a different perspective: How did military operations translate to societies at home through the experience of losing someone who died as a soldier?

The examples presented here cover the period from the First World War to the Vietnam War and represent a different angle: we look at mobilization, casualties from a single city, the death toll of a major battle, the dead and wounded from individual military units and the losses sufferd by an entire society in two wars.

Missouri goes to war – 1917.

Patterns of enlistment in the U.S. Army in Missouri prior and during World War One.

The first example provides an idea of how modern societies mobilize for war, based on a dataset containing information on about 150.000 U.S. Army Veterans from Missouri. The dataset begins in the late 1870s showing only very few men enlisting. This only changes in the 1910s and gained more and more momentum after the war began in Europe during the summer of 1914. Mobilization reached its climax 1917/18 reflecting a gigantic buildup of the American armed forces. About 4.7 million men and women would eventually serve during the First World war and the Armed forces of the United States would lose 54.402 of its personnel in combat and an additional 63.114 non-battle casualties.

Our model thus demonstrates the immense dynamics of mobilization as the USA entered the war in 1917. Geocoded by addresses and the date of enlistment, the data re-draws the map of cities like St. Louis and Kansas City, both ranked among the ten largest cities in the USA and mirrors the increasing speed and dimensions of enlistment across the state. Only a fraction of the men who went into the army from Missouri were deployed overseas. The National Archives list a total of 2.485 soldiers from the state who lost their lives in the “Great War”, representing roughly 1.6 percent of the enlistees in the entire dataset. This fascinating dataset could, of course, be explored in greater depth to look at the social profile of the soldiers, their pathway into the army and war, or the injuries they suffered.  

Experiencing loss: a German town 1914-1918

The number of casualties recorded for the state of Missouri roughly matches the number of men from the German town of Osnabrück killed between 1914 and 1918 as soldiers of the Prussian Army. Two million men from the German Empire died as soldiers during the “Great War”. About fifteen percent of families in a town like Osnabrück had to confront losing one or more relatives in a city which sent an estimated 15.000 men went to war, at least one from each extended family.

While dying and killing in war are often discussed with reference to the killing fields at the front (“Massensterben”), we decided to look at how the casualties were dispersed when projected back onto the soldier’s homes.

When doing so, it is essential to know that armies count their soldiers by units and, throughout the 20th century, military units in most European armies were recruited from specific, smaller, or larger geographical regions into specific units attached to those areas. Military units thus often, at least at the beginning of a war, had a distinct regional character. However, men from a specific recruitment area or district were put into a relatively large number of different units assigned to that particular area, and eventually, regional cohesion would become harder and harder to maintain when losses were mounting and finding replacements became more difficult and chaotic.  

Such mechanisms of mobilization and personnel management in modern military organizations allow us to take three different perspectives on the data:

(a) In battle, casualties are often listed by the military units deployed – in fact, most historical documents on casualties are produced following a military logic as part of tracking losses, determining strength, and the need for replacements, on the one hand, keeping track of “fallen soldiers” to organize care for their remaining families on the other; (b) casualties from individual units can often not just be related to specific battles but also be projected back onto their recruitment bases. Such data will then represent a fraction of the losses suffered by the people living there since it still mirrors the unit-centered military logic. (c) This changes when we look at all military casualties from a specific area, town or village – those usually come from a multitude of different units -, or an entire country to understand how the death of military personnel impacts a war-waging society on all levels.

Thus, depending on the mode of recruitment, the way military units are organized, and the casualties they suffer are logged, the production of death looks very different when framed by a “battle”, by the losses of an individual military unit or the losses suffered in a specific region at the “homefront”. Most historical documents reproduce the military’s point of view. But does that protocol of death represent the way that such losses impact a war-waging society?

A case study on three regiments of the Prussian Army fighting in the First World War provides a visual example of how casualties of individual units linked back to their recruitment base. Infantry Regiment (IR) 78, Reserve Infantry Regiment (RIR) 92, and RIR 229 drafted most of their soldiers from Northern Germany from three overlapping districts moving from West to East. At the same time, while most of the men came from these districts, the birthplaces of the soldiers were dispersed all over the German Empire and even beyond its borders. For example, RIR 229 was first mustered in Breslau at the end of 1914 and, in 1915, became reinforced by a replacement battalion of the IR 78. This merger drastically changed the regional composition of the regiment and threw men from very different regional and cultural backgrounds together in one unit.  

Projection of casualties on their hometowns: IR 78, RIR 229, IR 92

Infantry Regiment 78 of the Prussian Army had its battalions garrisoned in different towns across Northwestern Germany, with one of those garrisons being Osnabrück. Many soldiers from the city served in this regiment during the First World War. In “their” regiment, men from Osnabrück represented a larger group but by no means a majority. An animated map of the casualties of the entire regiment over time and space shows the vast geographic and social space the regiment’s soldiers were hailing from. Besides the spatial dimension, casualties also had a specific temporal pattern. Whenever the regiment went into battle and losses occurred (red dots indicate places where (multiple) deaths occurred), these were transmitted home (blue dots) and occurred there in distinct spatial and temporal clusters.

In-between battles, when the regiment was moved between the Western and the Eastern front, different sections of the front lines or went into recreational spaces for refitting, almost no casualties were reported back home for days, weeks, or even occasionally months at a time. On a regimental level, deaths thus occurred in high-intensity clusters determined by events at the front line with calm periods in-between dictated by the rhythms of modern trench warfare. The losses drew distinct spatial and temporal patterns on the battlefields but also in its recruitment area.  

Places of death and hometowns of casualties from IR 78.

Concerning the home front, however, this is only half the picture. Shifting the focus to individual cities or towns, like Osnabrück, a regional economic and administrational center and thus also a typical Prussian garrison with several large barracks billeting units from several regiments, puts the production of death into another perspective.

The towns register of war dead from World War One, preserved in the State Archives of Lower Saxony, provides detailed information on more than 2.200 men who served in the Prussian Army (and the Imperial Navy) and died as soldiers during the war or in hospitals in the immediate post-war period. They were drafted into dozens of military units, which sometimes went into action simultaneously, but they were on separate trajectories for most of the war. Units engaged in the same battle could also suffer distinctly different numbers of casualties depending on the specific sector and phase in which they saw action. Projecting all the men from Osnabrück onto their home addresses in town listed in their recruitment papers thus shows how these different circumstances across dozens of military units resulted in the pattern of losses experienced by families at Osnabrück.       

Projection of casualties from Osnabrück on their home addresses.

Between 1914 and 1918, on average, every 16 hours, a soldier died, and a death notice had to be sent to one family’s home in Osnabrück. There were peaks during the spring and summer months when significant battles were fought, and lesser numbers during the autumns and winters. In Osnabrück, the casualties did not only arrive in a specific temporal pattern, they were also spatially distributed across the complex social topography of the city – with different patterns in the upscale quarters of the bourgeois in the West and the densely settled working-class neighborhoods in the southern and eastern parts of town.

Interestingly, extreme heights in the production of death as documented by the aggregate casualty statistics of the Prussian Army were often cut off locally by the mix of different units recruiting men from the town and their specific patterns of high and low-intensity casualties that depended on the when and where of their combat missions. When IR 78 suffered high losses, only a fraction of those losses would actually link back to Osnabrück. While soldiers from one unit died together in their sector of deployment, the losses were dispersed across the unit’s entire recruiting area and thus never became visible in one single location or space in their entirety. By the same token, local casualties could exceed the overall trend in military losses when, by chance, multiple units related to an area suffered medium or high losses at the same time.

Casualties from the Prussian Field Army and Osnabrück indexed: in 1914/15 Osnabrück suffered excess losses while in 1916 (Verdun) the town was spared the extreme peak in dasualties.

Soldiers originating from one town or place died in many different units in many different places and only represented a fraction of the casualties suffered in the field by their particular military unit. This could cause a certain cushioning effect which made the losses even of massive death-producing events like the fighting at Verdun in 1916 – where hundreds of thousands of deaths occurred in a distinct area within only a few months of fighting – being felt “at home” in a different way.

Killed soldiers from Osnabrück projected onto the place of death at the Western Front.

Of course, there were places in the German Reich that suffered high casualties from the Verdun, but for a lot of other places – like Osnabrück – the dispersal of the dead across thousands of different places made the impact of this particular event less hard. The focus on losses in a specific battle thus misses the complexities of how losses at the frontline translated to home – as the experience of loss and grief -, while the focus on individual experiences and mourning misses the macro-effect of war casualties hitting home. We propose to apply such reflected approaches to avoid the reproduction the military logic of data collection and knowledge production when talking about the impact of war through casualties at home.

The death of soldiers from Osnabrück at the Western Front geocoded.

The different unit’s soldiers from Osnabrück fought in, and these units’ different patterns of battle deployments made us aware of the complexity of the production of death during the First World War. The dynamic map showing the geocoded places of death for soldiers from Osnabrück draws a picture of the front lines, East and West, between the Entente and the Middle Powers. At the other end, a map of the city of Osnabrück gets sprinkled with a steady stream of death notices arriving at the homes of men KIA (“killed in action”).

Killed soldiers from Osnabrück projected at their home adresses.

A single battle: Gelibolu 1915/16

Analyzing the impact of one single large-scale battle of the First World War in detail yields further insights. Turning to the meso-level, the Canakkale/Gelibolu/Gallipoli campaign provides a gruesome example.

To establish a maritime support route for the struggling Russian Empire, in 1915, Allied forces tried to deal the Ottoman Empire a lethal blow by invading the Gelibolu peninsula at the entrance to the Dardanelles, attempting a push towards Constantinople. The ensuing battle raged from February 1915 to January 1916. According to published research, the British, French, Australian, and New Zealand units deployed in the campaign suffered a total of 56.707 fatal casualties (the all over death toll including missing and non-recovered soldiers, men who died of wounds sustained at Gellibolu elsewhere, or died in POW-camps will probably be higher than this figure). The Ottoman Army suffered 56.643 battle casualties, with a very large number of other deaths attributed to missing soldiers, men who died of diseases or their injuries but not instantly on the battlefield probably not being included in that number.

We have geocoded a dataset with information on the Ottoman casualties produced by the Army of the Republic of Turkey to show the place of birth for each casualty. The dataset lists 50.688 soldiers of the Ottoman Army killed in the Gelibolu campaign. While the campaign is usually dated from 2/1915 to 1/1916, the dataset spans from April 15th, 1915, the beginning of the Allied landing and ground assault, to December 12th, 1917, which probably reflects the death of soldiers from wounds suffered in the battle at later times (dates were converted from the Maliye Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar).  

A geocoded analysis leads to a map showing how one battle fought over roughly one year during the First World War produced a pattern of loss and mourning across the territory of modern Turkey and adjacent regions then still part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. A similar analysis would probably be possible based on the casualty data collected in New Zealand or Australia, for instance.

Animated to show how the casualties occurred over time, losses move across Turkey in waves corresponding with the more intense phases of the battle – the initial invasion in April 1915 or the Allied offensive in August – while pauses indicate the emerging trench warfare and variations in the magnitude of fighting and killing.

When color-coded by the different Army Corps deployed in the battle, the spatial analysis reveals geographical recruitment patterns in the Ottoman Army. Each army corps had a distinct core zone of recruiting and took in men from provinces outside these zones, albeit in lesser numbers. As the fighting at Gelibolu stretched over months after month and Ottoman units suffered high losses, the dispersion of the casualties across time indicates that various Army Corps were present in different phases of the battle in an overlapping sequence. This, in turn, means that in terms of news about deaths at Gelibolu reaching the soldier’s families at home, the battle also impacted different regions of Turkey with varying intensity at other times. 

Spatial recruitment patterns of the Ottoman Army by Army Corps deployed to Gelibolu.

And again, while at Gelibolu today, monuments and graveyards, like on so many historical conflict landscapes, essentialize dying in war on a battlefield, projecting the killed soldiers onto the places of their civilian lives helps to turn the perspective from the production of heroes to the loss of loved ones at home. This dimension of the war experience is mirrored by the way the main cemetery of the Ottoman Army on the Gelibolu Peninsular is laid out: The graves are organized by major cities and provinces. At the same time, it is difficult to trace individual families, as the Ottoman Empire did not know “family names” which were only introduced in the early years of the Turkish Republic.

In the path of death: Wehrmacht units 1939-1945

To study the impact of losses in a German infantry unit during the Second World War, we went back to the micro-level of one single company. We chose the 1st Company of Infantry Regiment 464, which was part of the 253rd Infantry Division of the German Wehrmacht. A rather average unit whose men waged Hitler’s criminal war in all its dark shades from 1939 to 1945.

“Burned villages” destroyed during the German occupation of Belarus 1941-44.

This war of annihilation, as we have recently shown in a study on about 9.103 “burned villages” that the Germans left in ruins in Belarus between 1941 and 1944 with countless civilian victims, made unspeakable violence against the civilian population an essential part of its everyday strategies.   

In the First World War, fighting – at least on the western front – was centered around massive trench systems that emerged and became fortified after the short initial phase of mobile warfare had failed to bring military success. Based on the experience of seemingly endless trench warfare, German military strategy in the Second World War was deliberately designed to avoid another stalemate. The dominant mode of operation was thus movement, in advance or retreat, broken by shorter or longer periods of static fighting or occupation.

Deployment of the 253rd Infantry Division/Wehrmacht 1939/40-45.

This is mirrored in the movements of Wehrmacht infantry divisions. The 253rd Infantry Division, a unit of the 4th (1939) wave of mobilization – and thus an average Division – did not take part in the assault on Poland but was used to attack in the West in May 1940. It quickly went through Belgium and France, served briefly on occupation duties there before it was moved into occupied Poland to prepare for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

In June 1941, it crossed the line of demarcation between the parts of Poland occupied by Germany and Russia to become part of the German war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, advanced with the Army Group Center to the city of Reshew, and, after the winter of 1940/41, would spend the next four years in a series of defensive battles, retreats and holding operations in various sectors of the eastern front – while building a brutal regime of occupation and exploitation in its rear areas whenever possible. In March of 1944, for example, the infantry division was – like all divisions and army corps of the Wehrmacht’s 9th Army – part of the massive deportation of civilians to the Ozarichi camp system in Belarus, one of the most significant and most brutal war crimes committed by the Wehrmacht.  

Casualties (wounded=red, killed=green) of 1./464 geocoded.

Following one infantry company from the 253rd Infantry Divisions 464rd Infantry Regiment mirrors this pathway of death and destruction.

We gathered data from the “Erkennungsmarkenverzeichnis” (a rough equivalent of the “morning report” produced by units of the U.S. Army) of 1./464 company which is available from 1939 to early 1945, providing data on every soldier transferred in or out of that unit. To sustain an average strength of 100 to 150 men throughout most of the war, more than 1.500 individual soldiers went in and out of 1./464 between late 1939 and early 1945.

The casualty reports of 1./464 list a total of 936 men who died or were transferred out of the unit wounded or sick, 233 soldiers were listed as “killed in action”. Mapping the data on wounded and killed soldiers shows the sequence of advances and retreats and fighting with a sharp difference in intensity between the invasion of France and the attack on the Soviet Union and a gruesome crescendo as the war turned against Nazi Germany. Also, the map shows the ratio of wounded and killed men as a rough share of 25 percent of the casualties being fatal or permanent (killed, missing, prisoner of war) and the rest being wounded or sick (who would eventually return to duty).

Unit dynamics and origin of Soldiers in 1./464.

This diagram shows each incidence horizontally when a soldier was transferred in (blue) and out (red) of 1./464 and time on the vertical axis. We thus see the dynamics of how many soldiers were needed to sustain a single company of combat infantry. An animated map shows the hometowns of soldiers drafted into 1./464 over time. This animation provides some interesting findings: In the early stages of the war, most men came from the recruitment base of the 253rd Infantry Division in the Rhineland.

As the war progressed and losses mounted, the regional composition of the unit began to lose spatial cohesion as soldiers from all over the “Third Reich” were shoved into the ranks to maintain the unit’s operability. Furthermore, as this map shows all the units soldiers and not only those who died in the war, it points out that only a small fraction of the soldiers in a particular unit were killed. Most of them survived the war.

Beyond the World Wars: US casualties from the wars in Korea and Vietnam

For our last two examples, we move to the macro-level of entire wars and use records on military personnel killed in action for two major wars in the United States’ history of the 20th century kept by the National Archives and Records Administration of the USA in Alexandria, VA (NARA).

US Casualties of the wars in Korea and Vietnam by year.

While available American data on the First and the Second World War does not include the hometowns or -counties of individual soldiers, data for the war in Korea and the war in Vietnam list where the men came from. For the Korean War, lists show the soldier’s home counties, for the Vietnam War, actual places of birth or residence were recorded. This allowed for visualizing the dynamics of the spatial impact of both wars on American society.

US casualties from the Korean War

The NARA-Data on the Korean War lists 36.573 cases dating from 1950 to 1953 (one case from 1954). The dispersion of the war dead across the USA shows how the densely populated Eastern and Midwest Areas were hit hard in 1950 and 1951, as were the larger cities on the West Coast. Later in the war, the density of losses diminishes, and only towards the end do casualties mount again.

A space/time model of the impact of war losses in Korea 1951-53

We thus can observe the different phases of the war. Furthermore, it becomes clear how costly the initial phase of U.S. troop deployment war was and how stalemates tended to stretch the duration of the conflict with relatively low casualties. For future research, it is relevant to understand the relation between the actual losses and how American society talked about this production of death. Including public discourses in such analysis leads to a mixed-method approach that allows for a deeper understanding of how particular societies perceive and cope with death in war and how much of it they were willing to bear to reach a political objective. This way, historians might better understand the relevant factors that enabled a society to sustain prolonged engagement in a conflict and which coping mechanisms allowed them to bear the mounting loss of lives.

Casualties from the war in Korea geocoded by county.

US casualties from the Vietnam War

The 2nd Vietnam War is usually dated from 1954/55 to 1975. In contrast to the war in Korea, where the highest losses were experienced during the first year, this war produced a small number of US-American casualties during its first decade. The casualties were scattered in a loose spatial pattern across the USA. Beginning with an intensified U.S. engagement, especially after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of August 1964, the casualties suffered by U.S armed forces increased sharply. The NARA dataset on personnel from the U.S. armed forces who were killed in action or died of other conflict-related reasons in this war lists 58.219 cases, dating from 1955 to 1975 (with a handful of deaths occurring in 1987-2006).

A space/time model of the impact of war losses in Vietnam 1955-75

A buildup to higher casualty figures across the country occurred in the mid-1960s, when the U.S. officially declared war on North Vietnam, reaching its climax towards the end of the decade while about half a million U.S. soldiers were present in Vietnam. The fast and numerous turnover of personnel nescenssary to maintain this troop strengh due to the “tour of duty”-system, made the Vietnam war a “veteran-producing” conflict. The return of large numbers of traumatized men and women from the conflict over a prolonged period while the conflict was draging on, and the increasingly critical media coverage of the violence and American casualties abroad played a significant role in breaking the will to continue this war. This points to the importance of how war victims and casualties are translated into public, media, political and also historical discourse, how death in war is framed, explained, made visible or invisible, is subject to free debate of supressed.

As U.S. troops began to disengage, withdraw, and “Vietnamize” the conflict in the early 1970s, the number/density of the losses declined until the war officially ended in 1975.

Casualties from the Vietnam War geocoded by place of birth.

Looking at the nexus between military casualties, the experience of loss and grief at home, discourses on military engagement and its price, and the perception of outcomes as “victory” or “defeat” helps to better understand why wars are ended or carried on. A comparison between the Korean War and the Vietnam War from that perspective could also contribute to deconstructing the emergence of different narratives about wars.


Without going deeper into the analysis of the social profile of the military casualties based on the information available in the documents used in this essay to create simple digital models of how the production of death in war impacted societies from a chronological and spatial perspective, and without a broader discussion of the temporal and geographic patterns the data showed, and also without zooming into the micro-level of individual counties, towns, villages, streets or families, we aimed at demonstrating how the droves of (historical big) data collected on dead soldiers can be used to turn our perspective on wars: Instead of focussing on reconstructing the killing and dying on battlefields, it is worthwhile to model the impact of death as the product of war onto war-making societies as well.

The fact that we can quickly gather mass data on “fallen soldiers” does however put up another question: It is to be asked whose death is deemed relevant and gets recorded. While most armies keep track of their casualties and many societies use such data, amongst other things, to prepare “lists of honor” and to put names of killed soldiers on monuments, it is a lot harder to find similar data on the loss of civilian lives beyond rough statistics.

Historical sources make dead soldiers very visible – most of the time, we are able to find out more documents about the dead than about the survivors – while other groups, civilians as victims of war and of war crimes, remain rather invisible as individuals. The efforts to collect individual data on the victims of the Shoah and other Nazi crimes amply demonstrate the difficulties to reconstruct biographies of civilian victims of genocide, war, and mass violence.

In many cases, there are much fewer documents with systematic collections of names and circumstances listing civil victims of war and violence on an individual case level for entire societies or conflicts, which points to questions of how the production of knowledge by states creates visibilities and invisibility that historians have to reflect when doing data-driven research.

The conclusion, however, stays the same: the main product of war is death, and it is time to stop viewing soldiers – who wage violence in war and suffer it – as heroes or victims on battlefields alone. They were and are people with homes, lives, families who are put in uniform and sent to kill and die. Their death makes a difference beyond the mere functioning or failure of a military apparatus. Societies forced to defend themselves, like Ukraine today, endure great sacrifice. Countries bringing themselves to attack and invade others have to ask themselves, today and as they look back at their history, if the production of death they deliver and suffer is ever worth their ill causes. 

Neuerscheinung | Erste Ergebnisse zur Auswertung der “Osnabrücker Ausländermeldekartei”

Seit 2019 erforscht die Arbeitsgruppe NGHM in einem Verbundprojekt am Institut für Migrationsforschung und Interkulturelle Studien der Universität Osnabrück die “Ausländermeldekartei” (AMK) der Stadt Osnabrück für die Zeit von 1930 bis 1980. Wesentliche Ziele dabei sind die soziohistorische Modellierung wachsender migrationsinduzierter Diversität einer Stadtgesellschaft und Erkenntnisse über Pfadabhängigkeiten administrativer Wissensproduktion über Migration in personenbezogenen Massendaten. Diese verorten das Projekt in Forschungsschwerpunkten der Arbeitsgruppe zu data driven history , der wissensbasierten Produktion von Migration sowie der Geschichte von Migration und Gesellschaft.

Die Wanderungsbilnaz von Osnabrück 1930-1980, (c) NGHM@UOS

Wir arbeiten in Förderung durch das Niedersächsische Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur in Kooperation mit dem Niedersächsischen Landesarchiv und der Stadt Osnabrück. Grundlage unserer Forschung ist – unter strenger Beachtung datenschutz- und archivrechtlicher Rahmungen, ein vollständiges, maschinenlesbares Replikat der “Ausländermeldekartei”, die zwischen ca. 1930 und 1980 Informationen zu rund 70.000 Personen verzeichnete, die im Betrachtungszeitraum in Osnabrück gelebt haben, ohne die deutsche Staatsbürgerschaft zu besitzen. Vergleichbare Datensätze liegen der (Historischen) Migrationsforschung bisher kaum vor. Insofern leistet unser Vorhaben methodische und empirische Grundlagenarbeit.

Verteilung der in der AMK verzeichneten Wohnadressen, (c) NGHM@UOS

Nun sind in den Osnabrücker Mitteilungen (126/2021) erste Ergebnisse unseres Forschungsprojekts in einem Beitrag erschienen, der das Potential dieser historischen Massendaten für die Migrations- und Stadtgeschichtsforschung auslotet. Das Autor:innen-Team legt damit eine erste quellenkritische Perspektive auf das Material und einige grundlegende statistische Auswertungen zur Migration von Personen ohne deutsche Staatsbürgerschaft nach Osnabrück über einen Zeitraum von 50 Jahren vor. Gleichzeitig bieten Fallstudien zu Wohnbiografien, zur Aufnahme von “displaced persons” und “Heimatlosen Ausländern” sowie der Zuwanderung im Rahmen der Arbeitskräfteanwerbung zwischen 1955 und 1973 Einblicke in laufende Dissertationsprojekte, die das Datenmaterial der “Ausländermeldekartei” nutzen.

Nachlesen lassen sich die spannenden Erkenntisse des Projektteams in:

Sebastian Bondzio, Linda Ennen-Lange, Lukas Hennies, Sebastian Huhn, Max Pochadt, Christoph Rass & Janine Wasmuth: Die Osnabrücker Ausländermeldekartei 1930-1980. Potenziale als Quelle der Stadt- und Migrationsgeschichte, in: Osnabrücker Mitteilungen (126/2021), S. 137-194.

The Logistics of Mass Murder. Calculating distances from the Mittelbau-Dora ‘Book of the Dead’

By Dr. Sebastian Bondzio & Lukas Hennies, M.A.

The so-called ‘Book of the Dead’ of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial opens up a unique window into the logistical structures and processes behind the production of death through forced labor and mass murder in the Third Reich. This database contains information on a total of 11,320 people who died directly or indirectly as a result of the working and living conditions in the Mittelbau-Dora camp system. Employees of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials have compiled personal information and made it available to the public. Historical research now has access to rudimentary data on about half of the people who died in the Mittelbau-Dora camp system in the Kohnstein near Nordhausen.[1] In addition to personal information such as surname, first name, and date of birth, the dataset also contains three different types of location information: 1) The place of death, which corresponds to one of the camp locations of the Mittelbau-Dora camp system. 2)  The location from which the prisoners were deported to Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, e.g., the offices of the Gestapo, the Criminal Police, the Security Police, or the Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS, as well as other concentration camps. 3) The birthplace of the victims.

Places of death are known for all 11,320 persons in the dataset, also the birthplaces for 8,903 persons and places of deportation for only 4,207. However, due to the mechanisms of the National Socialist disciplinary system, consisting of a series of institutions that organized Nazi terror based on a division of labor, it can be assumed that each person was taken to the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp via at least one other station.

A visualization of places of death, places of deportation, and places of birth already indicates the immense scope of the Mittelbau-Dora camp system and shows where death in the camp had its social and emotional relevance.[2] If the places of birth are analyzed in a chronologically differentiated manner, new insights into the operation and functioning of the Mittelbau-Dora camp system will emerge. (More here)[3]

Places of death, Places of Deportation and Places of Birth in the Book of the Dead of the CC Mittelbau-Dora

These initial findings immediately raise questions about the logistical system the Germans set up to deport their millions of victims. People died far from their homes. The distances over which they were deported were immense. Until lately these have either been determined in individual cases or simply estimated. The location data of the so-called death book, however, now make it possible to calculate the distances automatically for all 11,320 victims in the Book of Death. This reveals the extent of the spatial impact of the concentration camp system, and thus makes a very important dimension of forced mobility tangible.

With the help of the data of the Book of the Dead, where the information is available, four distances[4] can be determined: 1) the distance between the birthplace and the place of death. 2) The distance between the birthplace and the place of deportation. 3) The distance between the place of deportation and the place of death. 4) The sum of 2) and 3) as distance, which provides a more tangible impression of the total distance traveled by the victims until their arrival at Mittelbau-Dora. Further, non-spatial attributes in the Book of the Dead allow for the differentiation of these findings.

The greatest distance between the birthplace, the place of deportation, and the camp at Kohnstein was covered by Ivan Karpenko. He was born on June 25th, 1927 in the Russian town of Aim, in the Ayano-Maysky District in the Khabarovsk Krai, 13,684 km from Mittelbau-Dora. We have no further information about his life. We also do not know what caused him to be sent to Flossenbürg concentration camp and from there to Mittelbau-Dora on December 6th, 1944. The only thing we do know is that he died two and a half months later, on March 18th, 1945, in the ” SS-Arbeitslager Hans”, a subcamp in Harzungen. Artur Wenkel, in contrast, covered the shortest distance. His birthplace, Gerterode, was only 36 km from his place of death in Nordhausen, the location of the main camp. About his life, we only know when it ended, too. He died of the consequences of his internment on May 3rd, 1945, already a few weeks after the liberation of Mittelbau-Dora and only five days before the end of the Second World War.

The average distance between the birthplace and place of death of all victims was much closer to that of Artur Wenkel than to that of Ivan Karpenko. Each person covered an average of 1,268 km. This results in a circle around the main location of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, which includes Dublin in the west, Minsk in the east, Naples in the south, and almost reaches Trondheim in the north. Large parts of Southern, Northern, Central, Eastern and Western Europe are included. The immense sphere of the concentration camps becomes visible.

These general findings can be further differentiated. For example, the distance between the birthplace and the place from which a person was deported to Mittelbau-Dora was on average 1,020 km, the average distance between the place of deportation and the place of death was 585 km, and the average sum of the two distances was 1,319 km. From the cases where information on the place of deportation is available, we can thus determine that distances were considerably longer.

A radius of about 1,000 km seems to have been the median impact radius of a concentration camp. This can be assumed on the basis of the averaged distances between the birthplace and the place of deportation, which can be calculated from those cases in which victims were deported to Mittelbau-Dora from other concentration camps: For the eleven victims e.g. who came from the Mauthausen concentration camp, this distance was lowest at 872 km, and for the 102 victims who came from the Flossenbürg concentration camp, it was highest at 1,077 km. The 118 prisoners, who were deported from Auschwitz concentration camp to Mittelbau-Dora, were born within a radius of 928 km. The spheres of influence of the concentration camps thus overlapped, although a more detailed analysis does reveal different regional focal points.[5]

Regional impact of different Concentration Camps based on data from the Book of the Dead of the CC Mittelbau-Dora

A first differentiation also reveals that distances were far greater when a person was deported directly from the Gestapo to Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. The four victims who came from the Gestapo in Halle/Saale had been born an average of 2,681 km from the place of their deportation; persons who came from the Criminal Police in Kassel, an average of 2,340 km. In both cases, they probably were forced laborers from the occupied territories of the USSR who had already been abducted and forced to work in the German Reich before their imprisonment and death in the Harz Mountains.

Method and Scripting

The calculation of distances in more than 11,000 datasets is an example of the advantages of automated data processing. Its results open up new perspectives for research on the concentration camp system in the German Reich, on forced labor and mass murder.

To determine the distances, we have developed a script that calculates distances automatically and en masse using the so-called Haversine formula. The Haversine formula is part of spherical trigonometry and calculates the distance between two points on a sphere. After geocoding the locations in the dataset of the Mittelbau-Dora Book of the Dead, the location data can not only be visualized cartographically. It also becomes possible to compute the location data through x and y-coordinates.

For the use of the Haversine formula, a Python library already exists, which can be accessed under the name ‘haversine‘. To calculate the distance between two points, the geocoordinates of the respective locations must be read in. Furthermore, the function expects a unit for the output of the distances that are being calculated: in this case kilometers, rounded to two decimal places.

Preparatively, we have transferred the coordinates of the points as well as the necessary personal unique identifier (ID) from a relational database into a .csv file, which is read by the script (input file). For this purpose, we also use a Python library that provides certain functions for reading and writing .csv files. Using the ID, this data can be enriched with information from the Book of the Dead and other sources. This later allows differentiated analyses according to time or other personal information.

For each Person in the Book of the Dead the .csv file contains a row that consists of the ID and the geocoordinates for the birthplace, the place of deportation to Mittelbau-Dora, and the place of death. If there is no place given by the Book of the Dead, the coordinates fields are ‘NULL’ – ‘NULL’ describes a state that represents the absence of a value.

In general, historical records of mass data are not complete – in this case, we know the place of death for every person listed in the book of the dead, but not always the birthplace and even more rarely the place of deportation. So, in order not to cause an error message and the abortion of the script for the entire dataset with the first missing coordinate, when calculating the distances, conditions for data processing have to be defined.

This is part of the script:
# read xy-coordinates
    with open(INPUTFILE,encoding='utf-8',newline='') as md_xy_list:
        md_xy_list_reader = csv.reader(md_xy_list, delimiter=';')
        for row in md_xy_list_reader:
            id = row[0]
            # distance birthplace - place of death
            if row[1] != "NULL":
                dist_go_to = "NULL"

For each row in the dataset, the script checks whether the necessary coordinates for calculating the partial distances described above are available. This creates a sequence of if-else conditions for the partial distances, the result of which is either the output of the distance in kilometers or the entry ‘NULL’. The latter is the case if no information is available in a location category of the death book.

Finally, the script writes a new .csv file (output file), which now no longer consists of the coordinates, but instead contains the IDs with the distances between birthplace and place of death, the two partial distances (birthplace to place of deportation, place of deportation to place of death) as well as the sum of the two partial distances. This information can be import into the database for further analysis of the entire dataset or manually selected samples.

The entire script including input and output files can be viewed and executed here. If you want to try the procedure with your own data, you are welcome to clone and edit the script on, a free online notebook.


[1] Approximately 20,000 people died in the Mittelbau-Dora camp complex. See: Also:
Jens-Christian Wagner, Produktion des Todes. Das KZ Mittelbau-Dora, Göttingen 2015; Wolfgang Benz/Barbara Distel/Angelika Königseder (Hg.), Der Ort des Terrors. Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager. Bd. 3: Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, München 2006; dies. (Hg.), Der Ort des Terrors. Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager. Bd. 7: Niederhagen/ Wewelsburg, Lublin-Majdanek, Arbeitsdorf, Herzogenbuch (Vught), Bergen-Belsen, Mittelbau-Dora, München 2008.

[2] Information on the places of residence and life of the victims is not known. The place of birth is the only information that allows us to narrow down the context of origin. We are aware of the imprecision of this information.

[3] Siehe: Christoph Rass/Ismee Thames/Sebastan Bondzio, People on the Move. Revisiting Events and Narratives of the European Refugee Crisis (1930s-1950s), in: Jahrbuch des Internationalen Tracing Service 5 (2016), S. 36-55; Henning Borggräfe/Lukas Hennies/Christoph Rass, Geoinformationssysteme in der historischen Forschung. Praxisbeispiele aus der Untersuchung von Flucht, Verfolgung und Migration in den 1930er- bis 1950er-Jahren, in: Zeithistorische Forschung, forthcoming.

[4] The term “distance” in this context means the direct distance between two places – independent of e.g. transport infrastructure. It follows the calculation of so-called orthodromes, the shortest distance between two points on a sphere.

[5] See:


Rekonstruktion von Verfolgungswegen im KZ-System

Henning Borggräfe, Arolsen Archives

In zwei explorativen Fallstudien wurden Möglichkeiten und Potentiale der Rekonstruktion von Verfolgungswegen der Häftlinge im System der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager mithilfe der Software QGIS erprobt. Die Quellenbasis bildet das digitale Archiv der Arolsen Archives, der weltweit umfangreichsten Sammlung zu Opfern und Überlebenden der NS-Verfolgung.

Die erste Fallstudie beschäftigt sich mit 297 Männern, die von der Kriminalpolizei im Rahmen der Aktion „Arbeitsscheu Reich“ im Juni 1938 in Westfalen verhaftet und im Dortmunder Polizeigefängnis „Steinwache“ inhaftiert wurden. Viele wurden von dort in Konzentrationslager verschleppt. Die zweite Fallstudie stellt die Wege von 149 politischen Gegnern und sogenannten Berufsverbrechern in den Mittelpunkt, die im Juli 1937 als erste Häftlinge im neu errichteten KZ Buchenwald eintrafen.

Beide Studien gehen mit dynamischen und statischen Visualisierungen sowie quantitativen Auswertungen der Daten den Verfolgungswegen und Haftausgängen nach. Ziel ist es, hierüber ein präziseres Bild der Verfolgung zu gewinnen sowie Unterschiede und Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen und innerhalb von einzelnen Häftlingsgruppen aufzuzeigen.


Borggräfe, Henning: Die Rekonstruktion von Verfolgungswegen im NS-Terrorsystem. Eine Fallstudie zu Opfern der Aktion „Arbeitsscheu Reich“, in: Henning Borggräfe (Hg.): Wege, Orte und Räume der NS-Verfolgung (=Freilegungen, Jahrbuch des ITS 5), Göttingen 2016, S. 56-82.

Borggräfe, Henning: Potentiale für neue Forschungsperspektiven. Das Archiv des International Tracing Service und die Häftlinge der frühen Konzentrationslager, in: Jörg Osterloh/Kim Wünschmann (Hg.): „P der schrankenlosen Willkür ausgeliefert“. Häftlinge der frühen Konzentrationslager 1933-1936/37, Frankfurt/M 2017, S. 389-410.

Verlängerung bis Ende 2021: Griechisch-Deutsche Kooperation an der UOS zur Erforschung der deutschen Besatzung in Griechenland (1941-45) wird fortgesetzt

Die Kooperation mit dem am National Hellenic Research Foundation (Athen) angesiedelten Projekt „Database of German Military and Paramilitary Units in Greece 1941-1944/45“ wurde bis Ende 2021 verlängert. Im Projekt werden alle deutschen Militäreinheiten erfasst, die während des Untersuchungszeitraums an der Besatzung Griechenlands beteiligt waren.

Seit Anfang 2020 werden die Orte und Zeiträume der Stationierung von Verbänden der Wehrmacht sowie der (Waffen-)SS aus Dokumenten und Akten, die im Militärarchiv, dem Bildarchiv oder den Beständen der ‚Deutschen Dienststelle‘ / WASt im Bundesarchiv verwahrt sind, von den Kolleg.innen in Griechenland extrahiert. Für die Digitalisierung der Informationen haben die Osnabrücker Historiker eine relationale Datenbank entwickelt. Ziel des Forschungsprojektes ist es, die gesammelten Daten der Öffentlichkeit auf einer webbasierten, interaktiven Karte zur Verfügung zu stellen und darüber neue, differenzierte Perspektiven auf die deutsche Besatzung Griechenlands und ihre Konfliktlandschaften zu ermöglichen.

Auszug aus den digitalisierten Informationen zur deutschen Besatzung in Griechenland während des Zweiten Weltkriegs.

Die Wissenschaftler der Professur NGHM an der Universität Osnabrück, Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass, Dr. Sebastian Bondzio und Lukas Hennies beraten den Projektleiter Dr. Valentin Schneider bereits seit 2019 in Fragen der Datenerfassung und -speicherung sowie ihrer späteren Weiterverarbeitung, Visualisierung und Analyse mithilfe digitaler Geoinformationssysteme. Das Osnabrücker Team hat dafür einen Workflow zur Transformation historischer Dokumente in computerlesbare Daten erarbeitet und darüber hinaus jüngst einen Weg geschaffen, die Effizienz des sog. record matching historischer, griechischer Verwaltungseinheiten mit modernen Geodaten durch ein probabilistisches Verfahren erheblich zu erhöhen. Das maßgeblich von Lukas Hennies entwickelte Verfahren wird zukünftig auch in anderen Arbeitszusammenhängen der Abteilung NGHM Anwendung finden.

Sebastian Bondzio & Lukas Hennies

Zur Homepage der Arbeitsgruppe Data Driven History der Universität Osnabrück gelangen sie hier.

Neuerscheinung: Soldatentod und Durchhaltebereitschaft. Eine Stadtgesellschaft im Ersten Weltkrieg

Der Erste Weltkrieg dauerte mehr als vier Jahre. Am Ende waren 2 Millionen deutsche Soldaten tot. Sebastian Bondzio fragt in seinem neuen Buch, was dies für eine Gesellschaft bedeutete und wie es ihr möglich war, den Krieg unter dem Eindruck des Sterbens so lange zu führen.

Zur Beantwortung unternimmt seine historische Analyse am Fallbeispiel der Stadt Osnabrück drei Schritte: Erstens vermisst sie das Sterbegeschehen in den Operationsgebieten des Ersten Weltkriegs und zeigt darüber die komplexen Verknüpfungen zwischen den beiden Sphären »Front« und »Heimat« auf.
Zweitens verortet sie die Toten in der Stadtgesellschaft und macht die Übersetzung des Sterbens auf eine Stadtgesellschaft sichtbar. Beide Schritte verdeutlichen die quantitativen Dimensionen des Sterbens im Krieg und rufen dazu auf, das historische Narrativ einer »Massentrauer« zu hinterfragen.
Der dritte Teil nimmt dies zum Ausgangspunkt und arbeitet heraus, wie eine Gesellschaft, die Trauer zunehmend als Bedrohung wahrnahm, sich selbst disziplinierte und zum Zwecke der Kriegsführung eine neue Kriegskultur gab.

Hands-on-GIS Workshop – Nachbereitung per VideotutoRial

Am 17. und 18. Februar 2020 fand in der Abteilung NGHM der erste GIS-Workshop statt. In dessen Rahmen wurden Mitarbeiter*innen der Abteilung und unseres Kooperationspartners, dem Institut für Zeitgeschichte der Universität Wien, mit Geoinformationssystemen (GIS) vertraut gemacht.

Während seiner Begrüßung stellte Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass die große Bedeutung von GIS für die Arbeit in seinen Team heraus. Die ‘Interdisziplinäre Konfliklandschaftsforschung’ nutzt GIS als Tool, das Fachübegreifende Kommunikation ermöglicht. Vom Team ‘Historical Big Data’ werden GIS in unterschiedlichen Zusammenhängen analytisch eingesetzt.

Anschließend zeigte Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio die Potenziale und Grenzen des Einsatzes von GIS auf und diskutierte dafür diverse Projekte, die in der Abteilung NGHM in den vergangenen sieben Jahren realisiert worden sind.

Lukas Hennies führte die Teilnehmer*innen in die Datenvorbereitung ein, demonstrierte die Notwendigkeit sorgfältiger Datenvorbereitung und zeigte darüber das Maß an Arbeit auf, das bereits vor der Datenanalyse im GIS aufgewendet werden muss.

Malte Schwickert schloss die Reihe der Einführungsvorträge ab und erläuterte in seinem Beitrag die grundlegende Architektur von und den Datenimport in ArcMap 10, dessen Nutzung die Teilnehmer*innen erlernen wollten.

Es folgten vier Hands-on-Sessions, in denen Dr. des, Sebastian Bondzio, Lukas Hennies und Malte Schwickert die Teilnehmer*innen anleiteten, selbstständig GIS zu verwenden. Für die Nachbereitung des GIS-Worksops hat Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio nun Video-Tutorials erstellt, mit denen die Arbeitsschritte des Workshops noch einmal nachvollzogen und vertieft werden können:

1. Einführung in die Video-Tutorials
2. GIS-Basics und Datenimport
3. Datenvisualisierung I
4. Datenvisualisierung II
5. Datenanalyse
6. Tracking-Tool

Zur YouTube-Playlist geht es HIER.

Dr. des Sebastian Bondzio

Gefallene und ihre Heimat – Den ‚Impact‘ des Ersten Weltkriegs empirisch vermessen

Zwischen 1914 und 1918 starben rund 2 Millionen deutsche Soldaten. Sie hatten auf ständig wechselnden Schlachtfeldern des totalen und globalen Krieges gekämpft, getötet und  schließlich selbst ihr Leben verloren. Während es ihren Verlust im militärischen Kontext möglichst rasch zu ersetzen galt, wirkten die Todesfälle in der ‚Heimat‘ der Soldaten nach. Dort hatte man sich um ihr Wohlergehen gesorgt, musste immer wieder um ihr Leben bangen, schaffte es manchmal, sich Hoffnung zu machen, und wurde am Ende doch vom Tod erschüttert.

Während 1918 rund 85 Prozent der Soldaten immerhin lebendig von ihrem Einsatz zurückkehrten, mussten sich rund 15 Prozent der deutschen Familien der Realität des Soldatentodes stellen. Im Forschungsprojekt ‚Gefallene‘ in der Gesellschaftsgeschichte. Das Sterben von Soldaten im Ersten Weltkrieg und seine Nachwirkungen im Westen Niedersachsens haben wir in der Abteilung Neueste Geschichte und Historische Migrationsforschung zwischen 2013 und 2018 die Folgen des Sterbens der deutschen Soldaten im Ersten Weltkrieg am Fallbeispiel der Stadt Osnabrück untersucht.

Die Leitfrage lautete dabei: Wie war es einer Gesellschaft möglich, vier Jahre lang Krieg zu führen, während über die ganze Zeit hinweg Soldaten aus der Mitte der Gesellschaft starben. Die Resultate des Forschungsprojekts gewähren erstaunliche Einblicke in die emotionalen und kulturellen Mechanismen einer deutschen Kriegsgesellschaft, stellen die etablierten historischen Narrative von ‚Massentrauer‘ und ‚Trauergesellschaften‘ deutlich in Frage und führen zu einer neuen Interpretation der deutschen Kriegsgesellschaft.

Auf dem Weg dorthin haben wir uns digitale Kompetenzen erarbeitet und angeeignet, mit denen wir personenbezogene historische Massendaten differenziert auswerten und sodann in unsere Analysen einbeziehen können. Mit ihrer Hilfe konnten wir die Übersetzungsverhältnisse zwischen ‚Front‘ und ‚Heimat‘ aufzeigen und darüber die Rekrutierungspraktiken des Deutschen Heeres adressieren. Entgegen der Annahme, ein Regiment sei traditionell mit der Stadt seiner Garnison und ihrer Einwohnerschaft verbunden, wird auf diese Weise deutlich, wie divers die regionale Zusammensetzung in einem Regiment war. Zur gleichen Zeit zeigte sich bei der Analyse der rund 2.200 Osnabrücker ‚Gefallenen‘, in wie vielen unterschiedlichen Einheiten diese gedient hatten.

Abbildung 1: Geburtsorte der ‘Gefallenen’ des Infanterie Regiments 78
Abbildung 2: Geburtsorte der Gefallenen’ des Reserve Infanterie Regiments 92
Abbildung 3: Geburtsorte der ‘Gefallenen’ des Reserve Infanterie Regiments 229

Die drei wichtigsten waren das Infanterie Regiment (IR) 78, das Reserve Infanterie Regiment (RIR) 92 und das RIR 229. In ihren zahllosen Einsätzen starben die meisten Osnabrücker Soldaten. Zugleich waren sie in jeder der drei Einheiten immer nur eine regionale Gruppe unter anderen. Der Blick auf die Geburtsorte der ‚Gefallenen‘ dieser Einheiten zeigt dies deutlich: Das IR 78 rekrutierte seine Soldaten vorwiegend in Osnabrück, deckte darüber hinaus den gesamten Raum des Regierungsbezirks Osnabrück ab und hatte aber auch einen sehr deutlichen Schwerpunkt in Ostfriesland, wo das III. Bataillon des Regiments stationiert war. (Abb. 1) Das RIR 92 hatte zwar ebenfalls einen erheblichen Anteil Osnabrücker Soldaten, rekrutierte sich ansonsten aber aus einem wesentlich größeren Raum. Einige Soldaten kamen aus dem Westen und Nordwesten Niedersachsens, viele aber auch aus Bremen oder dem Raum um Hamelns, Hannover, Braunschweig und Göttingen. (Abb. 2) Im RIR 229 machten die Osnabrücker dann nur noch eine Minderheit aus. Das Regiment wurde Ende 1914 in Breslau aufgestellt und wurde zu Beginn des Folgejahres mit einem Ersatz-Bataillon des IR 78 verstärkt. Entsprechend komplex ist der Rekrutierungsraum. Die meisten Soldaten waren direkt in Breslau geboren worden und der Rest des Regiments kam aus dem gesamten Bereich der Provinz Hannover. Dabei treten die bevölkerungsreichen Räume um Hannover und Osnabrück wieder deutlich hervor. (Man kann das Chaos im Regiment erahnen, wenn Ostfriesen mit Schlesiern kommunizieren mussten.) (Abb. 3)

Diese Rekrutierungspraxis hatte folgen für die ‚Heimatgesellschaft‘: Zog nun nämlich ein Regiment in die Schlacht, waren die Verluste häufig hoch. Diese trafen im Deutschen Reich aber nicht geballt eine Stadt oder eine Kommune, sondern verteilten sich über die vielen Ortschaften und Städte des Rekrutierungsgebietes. Diese Verteilungseffekte federten den ‚Impact‘ großer Schlachten auf die ‚Heimatfront‘ ab. Für eine Stadt wiederum bedeute dies, dass die Todesnachrichten sie nicht immer wieder schlagartig trafen, sondern vielmehr stetig in geringem Maß aus ganz unterschiedlichen Schlachtkontexten kamen.

Zweierlei wird aus diesen Befunden sehr deutlich:

1. Darf derjenige, der die Geschichte der Soldaten einer deutschen Stadt studieren möchte, keine Abkürzung nehmen und sich auf ein Regiment fixieren, sondern muss den Aufwand auf sich nehmen, die komplexen militärischen Verflechtungen aufzudecken und dafür zahlreiche und vielfältige Quellen befragen.

2. Bewirkte die breite Rekrutierungspraxis des Deutschen Heeres im Ersten Weltkrieg und die daraus resultierenden Verteilung der Verluste, dass die Herkunftsgesellschaften durch sie in gewisser Weise geschont wurden. Nur durch den gleichzeitigen Einsatz der drei Regimenter zu Beginn und am Ende des Krieges kamen Todesbenachrichtigungen überhaupt gehäuft nach Osnabrück, was dann allerdings unmittelbare Konsequenzen hatte: 1914 verursachten sie einen kulturellen Wandel und führten zur Etablierung einer repressiven Kriegskultur. 1918 versetzten sie die Osnabrücker in Angst und läuteten das Ende des Ersten Weltkriegs ein.

Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio

Mapping the Holocaust: Geocodierung von Massenmorden der Einsatzgruppen zwischen Ostsee und Schwarzem Meer 1941-1944

In Zusammenarbeit mit der Stiftung Denkmal der ermordeten Juden Europas wertet die Interdisziplinäre Arbeitsgruppe Konfliktlandschaftsforschung eine Datenbank zur Lokalisierung von Massenerschießungen der „Einsatzgruppen“ des SD  auf dem Gebiet des heutigen Weißrussland und der Ukraine aus. Die Daten wurden für die Ausstellung „Massenerschießungen. Der Holocaust zwischen Ostsee und Schwarzem Meer 1941-1944“ zusammengestellt und bereits bei kartographischen Darstellungen verwendet.

Der Datensatz erfasst Ortschaften, in denen ab Juni 1941 und Mordaktionen durch Erschießungen durchgeführt wurden. Die Zahl der Opfer liegt zwischen 500 und 55.000 Menschen, die Opfer kamen vor allem aus der jüdischen Bevölkerung der jeweiligen Region. Bei den Tätern handelt es sich vor allem um Angehörige der Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdienstes der SS bzw. deren Hilfstruppen sowie auch um Angehörige der Wehrmacht.

An vielen der dokumentierten Orte ist die genaue Lage der Massengräber bis heute unbekannt und bildet ein geschichtswissenschaftliches und erinnerungskulturelles Desiderat. Die Datenbank dokumentiert also zunächst die Herkunft der Opfer der jeweiligen Massenerschießung, noch nicht aber notwendiger Weise die eigentlichen Grablagen.

Eine Geocodierung der insgesamt 585 Datensätze zeigt die räumliche Verteilung der Tatkomplexe zwischen Ostsee und Schwarzem Meer auf einer topographischen Karte mit den gegenwärtigen Ländergrenzen von Estland, Lettland, Litauen, Moldawien, Polen, Russland, der Ukraine und Weißrussland.

Die im Datensatz angegebenen Opferzahlen erlauben eine graduierte Darstellung der geocodierten Markierungen. Die gelbe Markierung zeigt das weiteste Vordringen deutscher Truppen nach Osten im Jahr 1941, die roten Markierungen zeigen die Orte von Massenerschießung und deuten die Zahl der Opfer an.

Eine Verbindung des geocodierten Befundes mit einer georeferenzierten Karte der Marschwege der Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdienstes der SS in der Sowjetunion 1941 strukturiert den Befund. Die Hauptmarschwege der Einsatzgruppen verbinden jeweils größere Städte, in denen jeweils auch die größten Massaker und Massenmorde stattgefunden haben. Jeweils seitlich dieser Magistralen werden Bereiche sichtbar, in denen eine hohe Zahl weiterer Massenmorde mit niedrigeren Opferzahlen nachgewiesen ist, die vorwiegend entlang der Marschwege der Sonderkommandos der Einsatzgruppen liegen.  

Marschwege der Einsatzgruppen bzw. Sonderkommandos der SS in der Sowjetunion im Jahre 1941; Quelle: Helmut Krausnick/ Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm: Die Truppe des Weltanschauungskrieges – Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD 1938–1942, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1981. Karte unterliegt der Creative-Commons-Lizenz.

Ein Teil der markierten Tatorte deckt sich indes nicht unmittelbar mit den aufgezeigten Wegmarkierungen. Der Befund verweist auf die im Überblick vereinfachte Darstellung der Bewegungen der Einsatzgruppen bzw. Sonderkommandos, die in weiter verzweigten und komplexeren Mustern durch die ihnen zugewiesenen Gebiete zogen. Der Datensatz verdeutlicht die räumliche Dimension des „Holocaust by Bullets“ und die Veränderungen im Mordgeschehen im weiteren Verlauf des Krieges sowie in den weiter östlich gelegenen Regionen der besetzten Gebiete.

Die Auswertung basiert auf einer noch bei weitem nicht ausreichenden Datengrundlage, unterstreicht aber bereits jetzt, dass eine systematischere Datenerhebung zu Massenmorden und Tatorten der Einsatzgruppen eine Strukturanalyse dieser Dimension des Holocaust ermöglichen würde, die eine eingehende Untersuchung einzelner Tatorte- und Tatkomplexe kontextualisieren und ergänzen kann.

Weiterführende Literatur:

  • Stiftung Topographie des Terrors, Stiftung Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Hrsg.): Massenerschießungen. Der Holocaust zwischen Ostsee und Schwarzem Meer 1941 – 1944
    Berlin 2016.

Malte Schwickert, MA
Dr. Andreas Stele
Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass

Biografische Weltkarte: Ein neues interaktives Web-Portal zeigt die Schicksale und Verfolgungswege von Displaced Persons

Millionen ehemaliger Zwangsarbeiter und anderer NS-Opfer wurden im Zweiten Weltkrieg entwurzelt. Diese sogenannten “Displaced Persons” (DPs) und ihre Bemühungen, umzusiedeln oder auszuwandern führten nach 1945 zu einer weltweiten Migrationswelle. Das Web-Portal “Transnational Remembrance of Nazi Forced Labor and Migration” zeigt erstmals die Lebenswege ausgewählter DPs auf einer Weltkarte. Zusätzlich werden die Geschichten ihrer Verfolgung und Migration erzählt. Schüler und Studenten können das interaktive Portal nicht nur erkunden, sondern auch mitmachen und ihre eigenen Projekte entwickeln.

Kooperation zwischen der Professur für Neueste Geschichte und Historische Migrationsforschung, den Arolsen Archives und weiteren Partner erfolgreich abgeschlossen.

Lesen Sie weiter auf der Homepage der Arolsen Archives.

Das Portal kann unter diesem Link aufgerufen werden.

Die Interaktive Weltkarte mit Links zu den Akten in den Digital Collections der Arolsen Archives finden Sie hier.


Gestapo-Forschung Digital. Historical Big Data und Data Mining in 3D

In der Arbeitsgruppe Digital History und SocialGIS der Abteilung Neueste Geschichte und Historische Migrationsforschung erkundet Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio digitale Methoden zur Analyse der Osnabrücker Gestapo-Kartei. Diese wurde im DFG-Geförderten Forschungsprojekt “Überwachung. Macht. Ordnung. Personen- und Vorgangskarteien als Herrschaftsinstrument der Gestapo” vollständig, maschinenlesbar digitalisiert. In dieser Form kann das in ihr von der Gestapo gespeicherte ‘Wissen’ über rund 48.000 Personen und den Umgang der NS-Geheimpolizei mit ihnen in seiner Gesamtheit z.B. mithilfe von Geoinformationen (GIS) ausgewertet werden.

Als besonders erkenntnisfördernd erweisen sich dabei Technologien der explorativen Datenanalyse. Sie ermöglichen hypothesenfreie Zugänge zu historical Big Data, visualisieren deren immanente Strukturen und geben Historiker*innen damit die Möglichkeit, auch sehr große historische Datenbestände ausführlich zu beforschen.

Für die 3D-Visualisierung der Gestapo-Kartei wurden die rund 40.000 sog. Sachverhalte der Osnabrücker Gestapo-Kartei auf die erfassten Wohnorte der Personen projiziert, auf deren Karteikarten die Gestapo die Sachverhalte vermerkte. Sie wurden mithilfe von Space-Time-Pattern-Mining-Tools in einem Space-Time-Cube aggregiert und in einem GIS visualisiert.

Als Ergebnis ist nun das in der Gestapo-Kartei versammelte ‘Wissen’ der Gestapo in einem Bild zu sehen. Im GIS wird sichtbar, wann die Gestapo über welchen Raum in welcher Intensität ‘Wissen’ produziert hat. Dieser explorative Arbeitsschritt bildet den Ausgangpunkt für tiefgehende historische Untersuchungen der NS-Geheimpolizei.

Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio

Internationale Kooperation in der Digital History des Zweiten Weltkriegs: Griechisches Forscherteam zu Workshop in Osnabrück

Am 17. Dezember 2019 waren Dr. Valentin Schneider, Leiter des Forschungsprojekts ‘Database of German Military and Paramilitary Units in Greece 1941-1944/45’ der National Hellenic Research Foundation, und sein Team zu Gast in Osnabrück. Ziel des eintägigen Workshops war es, eine Datenbank zu testen, mit der im Forschungsprojekt die Daten der Stationierung deutscher Einheiten in Griechenland während des Zweiten Weltkriegs aus militärhistorischen Quellen erhoben werden können.

Einer Einführung in die technischen Grundlagen der Datenbankarbeit folgten Test des Forscherteams mit Originalquellen, um das Datenbankdesign optimal an den Workflow der griechischen Kolleg*innen anzupassen.

Die Datenbank wird vom externen Mitarbeiter des Forschungsprojekts an der Universität Osnabrück, Lukas Hennies, im Rahmen der Arbeitsgruppe Digital History & SocialGIS in der Abteilung Neueste Geschichte und Historische Migrationsforschung entwickelt. Sie dient als Grundlage einer interaktiven WebGIS-Anwendung, die nach Ablauf des Forschungsprojektes der Öffentlichkeit präsentiert wird.

HIER geht es zur Projektwebsite

Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass
Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio
Lukas Hennies, M.A.

Vortrag Online: “Vom Archiv zur Auswertung. Serielle Quellen in der digital History”

Am 4. November 2019 sprach Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio, Senior Researcher und Leiter der Arbeitsgruppe Digital History in der Abteilung Neueste Geschichte und Historische Migrationsforschung, auf Einladung des Arbeitskreises “Offene Archive” im Verband deutscher Archivarinnen und Archivare e.V. in Berlin über seine digitale Arbeit mit der Osnabrücker Gestapo Kartei im DFG-geförderten Forschungsprojekt “Überwachung. Macht. Ordnung. Personen- und Vorgangskarteien als Herrschaftsinstrument der Gestapo” und präsentierte erste Forschungsergebnisse.

Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio spricht beim BStU in Berlin über seine Forschungsarbeit

Link zur Konferenzwebsite:

Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio

Missouri goes to War

Diese Visualisierung nutzt personenbezogene Massendaten aus dem Staatsarchiv von Missouri über Veteranen der US Armee aus dem Ersten Weltkrieg. Dabei wird ein Punkt auf den Wohnort eines Soldaten projiziert zu dem Zeitpunkt, an dem er sich freiwillig zur Armee meldet oder eingezogen wird.

Die Visualisierung umfasst rund 150.000 Datensätze, die Georeferenzierung ist jeweils adressgenau. In größeren Städten konnten jeweils Straße und Hausnummer ermittelt werden, in Dörfern und auf dem Land werden die Wohnorte angezeigt.

Die Animation zeigt am Beispiel des Bundesstaats Missouri den früh beginnenden und dann rasch akzelerierten Aufbau der US-Armee im Vorfeld des Kriegseintritts der USA sowie während der letzten Kriegsjahre – obgleich nur ein kleiner Teil der Rekruten aus Missouri tatsächlich in Übersee eingesetzt wurden.

Das sich ergebende Bild ist so genau, dass einzelne Straßenzüge oder Wohnviertel in St. Louis bzw. Kansas City genau nachgezeichnet werden. An diese Auswertung anschließend wären weiterführende Auswertungen der in den Quellen verfügbaren Angaben über Alter, Familienstand oder Ausbildung der Soldaten denkbar.

Dr. Sebastian Bondzio
Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass


Mapping the Production of Death in Mittelbau Dora

Basierend auf Daten aus dem Totenbuch des Konzentrationslagers Mittelbau Dora lässt sich die “Produktion des Todes” (Jens-Christian Wagner) durch die unmenschlichen Lebensbedingungen der Häftlinge bei der Produktion von Komponenten für so genannte “Vergeltungswaffen” sowie die Gewalt des NS-System GIS-gasiert visualisieren.

Dabei wählen wir den Ansatz, einen Punkt an den Herkunftsort eines Häftlings zu projizieren, der am Tag seines Todes im KZ Mittelbau Dora erscheint. Aus der zeitlichen Abfolge und der räumlichen Anordnung lässt sich der Impact des Sterbens der Häftlinge auf ihre Herkunftskontexte abschätzen. Zugleich wird nicht nur die wechselnde Intensität des Sterbegeschehens deutlich, sondern auch, dass die Opfer zu unterschiedlichen Zeitpunkten aus mit Schwerpunkt aus wechselnden Regionen Europas kamen.

Der Versuch soll das Potential personenbezogener Massendaten aus dem Kontext von NS-Terror und Holocaust für ein verbessertes Prozessverständnis verdeutlichen.

Dr. Sebastian Bondzio
Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass