The Nazi Census by Götz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth, originally published in 1984 as Die restlose Erfassung by the small German publisher Rotbuch, began almost as a contemporary polemic protesting modern-day plans for registration in Germany. Aly and Roth correctly comprehended and documented that registration in all its forms—from primitive paper-and-pencil records to the use of high-speed Hollerith machines—was the first step in Hitler’s war against the Jews and other enemies. The types of registration covered all modalities, from massive censuses to ongoing population registrations, labor pools, and human numbering systems.
The crucial minutiae of registration are barely mentioned in any of thousands of books on the Third Reich. Aly and Roth were the first. Their pioneering work opened up a new landscape that went far beyond the murders and persecution, and indeed beyond the pivotal enablers—the registrars who preceded the killers. The Nazi Census vividly explains how bureaucrats depended on a separate corps of “scientific soldiers” who counted, quantified, measured, tabulated, recorded, carbon copied, and distilled the social and individual details of Germany, and then most of Europe. Statisticians, bookkeepers, analysts, demographers, form takers, and pencil pushers of all types laid the foundation for much of what followed.