Record keeping

As a librarian with a Holocaust organization, I wind up receiving a fair number of inquiries about raw facts that are often easily answered by current events. For example, this weekend I was forwarded a message from a patron who was asking if the 6 million victims reported for the Holocaust referred only to Jewish victims, and how it was possible to be so precise about the number.

Naturally, I told her that it’s impossible to be completely precise about the total but explained that we believe the number of Jewish victims to be between 5.6 and 6.3 million because the Nazis were meticulous record keepers (and many records were duplicated in various locations). In fact, it’s that record keeping that has been at the forefront of Holocaust discussions for the last six months, as the archives in Bad Arolsen continues to flit through the spotlight.

If the Nazis had been a little less bureaucratic we would have wound up with the same kind of situation we’re seeing in Darfur, where the number of deaths are (by necessity) an estimate. I went on to recommend a number of sources to her and commented that if she wanted a nice snapshot of the technocracy behind the Third Reich, she should check out IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black.

When I finished answering her email, I found myself wondering if this isn’t one of the reasons we’re less invested in other genocides. The Holocaust wasn’t the first act of genocide — and as we’ve seen in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, Timor, and Cambodia — it certainly isn’t going to be the last, but the level of documentation was certainly beyond what we’ve seen before or since.

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