New findings show Holocaust much more vast than notorious concentration camps

New findings show the Holocaust was a widespread phenomenon including more than 42,000 sites in Europe:

The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.

The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington…

The lead editors on the project, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites that they have identified as part of a multivolume encyclopedia. (The Holocaust museum has published the first two, with five more planned by 2025.)

The existence of many individual camps and ghettos was previously known only on a fragmented, region-by-region basis. But the researchers, using data from some 400 contributors, have been documenting the entire scale for the first time, studying where they were located, how they were run, and what their purpose was.

Two thoughts related to these new findings:

1. My Social Research class recently read a more detailed account of the Milgram Experiment of the early 1960s. (Milgram’s own book Obedience to Authority gives even more details.) College students are well aware of the Holocaust but often don’t know the lengths Milgram went to in order to verify his findings about how “normal” people might respond when given orders by authorities to hurt others. We also watched a 2009 replication from the BBC – watch here – that had similar results to Milgram. This tends to help make the 50+ year old experiment more real for students.

2. In my Culture, Media, and Society class, I use a chapter from Jeffrey Alexander’s The Meanings of Social Life that discusses how the Holocaust came to be a universal human trauma rather than one just limited to a trauma for Jews. Alexander argues that the United States approached the Holocaust as a moral superior since the act was committed by Germans and the U.S. helped liberate Europe and then emerged as the leader of the free world. But, a series of events, including the Milgram experiment, changed people’s minds about exclusivity of the Holocaust as even countries like the United States came to be seen as perpetrators of great violence. In other words, we are all capable of acting like Nazis under certain conditions.

“First large scale [lost letter] study” results from London

The results of a lost letter study in London provide some interesting results:

Neighbourhood income deprivation has a strong negative effect on altruistic behaviour when measured by a ‘lost letter’ experiment, according to new UCL research published August 15 in PLoS One. Researchers from UCL Anthropology used the lost letter technique to measure altruism across 20 London neighbourhoods by dropping 300 letters on the pavement and recording whether they arrived at their destination. The stamped letters were addressed by hand to a study author’s home address with a gender neutral name, and were dropped face-up and during rain free weekdays.

The results show a strong negative effect of neighbourhood income deprivation on altruistic behaviour, with an average of 87% of letters dropped in the wealthier neighbourhoods being returned compared to only an average 37% return rate in poorer neighbourhoods.

Co-author Jo Holland said: “This is the first large scale study investigating cooperation in an urban environment using the lost letter technique. This technique, first used in the 1960s by the American social psychologist Stanley Milgram, remains one of the best ways of measuring truly altruistic behaviour, as returning the letter doesn’t benefit that person and actually incurs the small hassle of taking the letter to a post box…

As well as measuring the number of letters returned, the researchers also looked at how other neighbourhood characteristics may help to explain the variation in altruistic behaviour — including ethnic composition and population density — but did not find them to be good predictors of lost letter return.

This is a good example of a natural experiment.

I wonder if there is any equivalent to this in the online realm. Perhaps an email that is mistakenly sent to the wrong address that would require a user to then take a small amount of time to forward the email to original recipient?

On Facebook, it’s not 6 degrees of separation but rather 4.74 degrees

One effect of globalization is that people are more aware of world events and are better connected to others. A new study using Facebook data suggests the average user is separated from any other user in the world by just 4.74 degrees:

On Facebook, however, the average user is only 4.74 degrees away from any other Facebooker…

That conclusion comes from a non-peer-reviewed study of 721 million active Facebook users, released by Facebook in collaboration with the Università degli Studi di Milano, the blog post says…

The Palo Alto, California, company says 99.6% of all Facebook users studied were separated by five degrees or less from any other Facebook user; 92% were separated by only four degrees…

“The average distance in 2008 was 5.28 hops, while now it is 4.74,” Facebook says.

While this is indeed an interesting finding (particularly since it is related to Stanley Milgram’s six degree studies decades ago), there are bigger questions at stake here. With people 4.74 connections away, how exactly does this impact a user’s life or positively influence their life? We know that information and culture passes through networks but how exactly does this work on Facebook? Can the life of a user in Siberia really affect the life of a college student in Arizona?

One issue here is that Facebook itself currently allow for limiting connectability between users. Sources like The Facebook Effect suggest that Mark Zuckerberg would really like a more open network where people could see each other’s information and actually interact with others beyond the “friends” structure. However, it doesn’t appear that most users would want this at this time – most Facebook friends are people users are already know and there are concerns about privacy. How does the company move people into accepting a more open network so that users can openly take advantage of those chains 4.74 people long?

Also, who tend to be the people in the networks that help connect people the most? College students? People who live in larger metropolitan areas? People with the most friends? People with the most diversity in their own friend lists?