Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nazi bean counting: Some exceptions apply

The “60 Minutes” segment “Revisiting the Horrors of the Holocaust” first aired on CBS Television on December 17, 2006. The focus of the “60 Minutes” broadcast was Germany’s massive Nazi-era archive, located at Bad Arolsen, now at last allegedly open to public scrutiny after 60 years.

The archive contained, viewers were told, some 50 million pages of files, documenting the fate of 17 million people, requiring 16 miles of shelving to store. The International Tracing Service, run by the Red Cross, was its custodian.

Host Scott Pelley explained that here were found the “detailed records of millions ... who died in the [Nazi concentration] camps.” And, to illustrate just how meticulous Nazi officialdom’s record-keeping was, Pelley noted how meticulously even the presence of lice among camps inmates was tracked and tabulated. Chief archivist Udo Jost, Pelley’s tour guide, called the Nazi lice inspector a beancounting perfectionist who had documented the size of the lice as either large or small or medium-sized.

Scott Pelley, moved by curiosity (he said), then asked the most obvious question: Why had the Nazis kept all these detailed records -- “If they were gonna murder these people anyway, why keep the paperwork?” He addressed the question to Paul Shapiro, Director of Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

Shapiro’s explanation: “Because they wanted to show they were getting the job done. So, in terms of people whose destiny was to be murdered, recording how well that was being done was very important.” And there
you have it: The Nazi minions who did the hands-on killing were intent on impressing their superiors with their homicidal diligence.

Except ... except that earlier in the show, somewhat blandly and glibly, we had been told that, in point of fact, “the Nazis did not write down the names of those executed in the gas chambers at places like Auschwitz.”

Which, of course, flatly contradicts the stated reasons why the Nazis had allegedly kept such meticulous files on their victims: “Because they wanted to show they were getting the job [of exterminating them] done,” according to Shapiro.

Considering how the theme of the programme was the Nazis’ devotion to
maintaining exhaustive records and how two former Auschwitz inmates “60 Minutes” interviewed for it described witnessing relatives sent off to the mass execution gas chambers, Pelley was astonishingly incurious about why it was that those deaths by gassing (millions, supposedly) at different killing sites should remain nameless victims, whereas in one scene the archivist Jost impressed Pelley with the fulsome documentation detailing the executions by bullet of some 45 prisoners over a 90-minute time-span.

It doesn’t compute. It’s as if the NFL was not even bothering to televise the Superbowl, without telling fans why, but instead simply re-playing a few of the highlights of the season just ended.

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