Duck Duck Book

3 – nazi census
09.23.2004, 12:03 am
Filed under: social sciences

The Nazi census : identification and control in the Third Reich / Gotz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth ; translated and with a foreword by Edwin Black, with additional translation by Assenka Oksiloff.
Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 2004.
[MCL call number: 314.306 A477n 2004; two copies, no holds]

This book has something of a lurid cover, black with giant orange and white letters spelling out the title, and I picked it up initially because I thought, “Nazi census, huh?” Which I guess is the idea behind the cover design. (Later on I had a hard time not being embarrassed to be seen reading it while on the bus.)

The book was written partly to illuminate a shadowy piece of Germany’s history, and partly as a contemporary political argument against the planned implementation of a census in the early 1980s. It traces the statistics-keeping practices and policies (including censuses, compulsory identity cards, and requirements that institutions such as hospitals and grammar schools snitch, I mean report information on people they served) of the Third Reich, from 1933 through the end of the war in 1945, and the careers of prominent Nazi statisticians after 1945 (many continued to work as statisticians for the German government). The authors argue that the information gathered by the government was used to restrict political opposition and free speech, and to classify the population in preparation for exterminating or terrorizing “antisocials” and the “genetically diseased.”

Part of the reason I read the book is that right about the same time I was enticed by the orange and black cover, I read an article from the New York Times about a scandal involving the United States Census Bureau. In 2002 and 2003, the Census Bureau provided the Department of Homeland Security with a list of cities in which more than 1,000 Arab-Americans lived, and also a more detailed zip-code tabulation of the number of Arab-Americans, broken down by country of origin. (N.b.: All this information is available on the Census Bureau’s website, though it’s not pre-compiled; the data is set up to be viewed one geographical region at a time. That is, it’s easy to find out how many people of Pakistani origin were living in zip code 97214 during the 2000 census, but if you want to know for all the zip codes in the US, you’d be at the computer for awhile. Also, as far as I know it is not only legal but compulsory for the Census Bureau to provide this kind of data to other federal agencies.) Arab-American and privacy rights groups got mad. The story was not followed up in the media, as far as I could discover.

And then shortly after that, one of my co-workers received the new American Community Survey from the Census Bureau, which replaces the long form from the 2000 census, and is compulsory. She brought it to work, I looked at it, and dang are they nosy! So, food for thought.


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