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The history—and legacy—of the Nazi Census System

The Nazi Census

Identification and Control in the Third Reich

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Götz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth, foreword by Edwin Black, translated by Assenka Oksiloff

"The Nazi Census is a book of great historical originality and considerable topical urgency. The authors provide a chilling historical perspective to contemporary preoccupations with the logics and limits of identity registration and documentation. Unrivalled as a political history of population statistics and identity documentation in Nazi Germany, the book is also not afraid of controversy. Not everyone will accept the authors' grim message about the inherently dehumanizing effects of the statistical process, but their readable and quirkily original book makes a powerful case for seeing data collection as a threat to individual safety rather than a solution to problems of security in the modern world."
Jane Caplan, Marjorie Walter Goodhart Professor of European History, Bryn Mawr College and Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford

A controversial book when originally published in Germany, The Nazi Census documents the origins of the census in modern Germany, along with the parallel development of machines that helped first collect data on Germans, then specifically on Jews and other minorities.

Götz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth begin by examining the history of statistical technology in Germany, from the Hollerith machine in the 1890s through the development and licensing of IBM punch-card technology.

Aly and Roth explain that census data was collected on non-Germans in order to satisfy the state's desire to track racial groups for alleged security reasons. Later this information led to disastrous results for those groups and others that were tracked in similar ways.

Ultimately, as Götz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth point out in this short, rigorously researched book, the techniques the Nazis employed to track, gather information, and control populations initiated the modern system of citizen registration. Aly and Roth argue that what led to the devastating effects of the Nazi census was the ends to which they used their data, not their means. It is the employment of "normal" methods of collection that the authors examine historically as it applies to the Nazi regime, and also the way contemporary methods of classification and control still affect the modern world.

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Excerpt

Read the Forewords, Introduction, and an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

"Originally published in 1984, this controversial study challenges census-taking by examining how the Hitlerian regime pioneered both the concepts and the processes of modern statistics-gathering about populations. No reader of this fascinating study can fail to be moved by the coldly bureaucratic thoroughness and mechanical efficiency with which the Nazis went about their business of targeting Jews, Gypsies, and other socially or biologically unwanted segments of German society."
Michael R. Marrus, Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies, University of Toronto

"[T]here can be few complaints about The Nazi Census as a history of the Nazi period. It is regularly cited in published works for facts about dates of registration programs and change in citizenship policy. As part of Aly's attempt to augment the complicity of silence with the complicity of science, it is also an important work in an evolving historiography on Nazi world-making and -unmaking. The book is also fascinating as a revelation of the recent pedigree of many everyday practices of the state."
H-Net

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Contents

Foreword – Edwin Black
Foreword to the 2000 Edition
Introduction
1. Soldiers of Science in the New Reich
2. Registering, Recording, Sorting
3. Statistics on Jews
4. The Value of a Human Being
5. Siegfried Koller
6. From the Volkskartei to the Reich
7. Personnel Number
Epilogue: The Modern State
Abbreviations
Notes
Illustration Credits
Index

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About the Author(s)

Götz Aly is an independent historian of Nazi Germany.

Karl Heinz Roth is a journalist and author.

Edwin Black is a Washington-based writer and author of the bestselling IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation, and the award-winning Holocaust finance investigation, The Transfer Agreement.

Subject Categories

History
General Interest
Political Science and Public Policy


In the series

Politics, History, and Social Change, edited by John C. Torpey.

This series will disseminate serious works that analyze the social changes that have transformed our world during the twentieth century and beyond. The main topics to be addressed include international migration; human rights; the political uses of history; the past and future of the nation-state; decolonization and the legacy of imperialism; and global inequality. The series will also translate into English outstanding works by scholars writing in other languages.

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