The Bad Stats of Adolph Eichmann

On January 18, 1943, Heinrich Himmler relieved Adolph Eichmann of his responsibilities as official statistician of the Shoah. Eichmann had botched the job of gathering data on the regime’s kill rate, leading Himmler to replace him with Richard Korherr. It was one of the great humiliations of Eichmann’s career. As Himmler explained to Eichmann’s boss Heinrich Müller: “The statistical documents produced thus far lack scientific exactitude.” The Nazis may have been liars, but when it came to mass murder of the Jews, they wanted to crunch the numbers just right.


  1. adam3smith November 2, 2014 at 7:56 pm | #

    What is it with Americans and ph? It’s Adolf Eichmann, Adolf Hitler, and Rudolf Hess.

  2. BillR November 2, 2014 at 8:04 pm | #

    The “Hollerith System” in the hands of “Soldiers of Science”:

    As Gotz Aly and Karl Roth suggest, the statisticians that oversaw the project of tabulating populational statistics for the Third Reich were considered “soldiers of science,” that is, they were deemed to be just as valiant as those who were fighting on the front lines (Aly and Roth, 85-98). And indeed, as the British census had, the Nazi census of 1933 was perceived to be a response to security concerns and estimates for future food production, but was in fact the most modern and efficient means of social engineering and control, specifically targeting those of “non-German ethnic backgrounds,” which was nothing more than a coded label for Jews.

  3. dcrawford November 3, 2014 at 6:24 am | #

    WW2 was the first war where much of the really significant stuff happened away from the battlefield. It was “won” as much as anything else by Soviet armaments production, which was brilliantly organised.
    Because it was a Total War, questions such as how many weeks’ supply of food the British had, how many tonness of oil the Germans were getting from Rumania or how many kilometers of railway track had been destroyed by bombing, mattered enormously. It was the first war in which statisticians and operational analysts play a really important role (there’s a good fictional treatment of such issues in Pynchon’s 1973 novel “Gravity’s Rainbow).
    It was also the first war where the civilian population and the civilian economy was a major target of both sides. The Germans tried to starve the British into submission, and the British tried to bomb the Germans into submission. The British had a large apparatus of technical specialists and statisticians poring over photographs and damage assessments, trying to work out how many Germans had been killed by bombing, and how they could get improved kill rates per tonne.
    If we have to continue this sick fascination with Eichmann, it’s worth pointing out that he had several jobs, but that one, as far as I recall, was organising the transfer of Jews from Polish ghettoes to the East. The Germans had overrun huge areas of Poland and Russia very quickly, and found themselves with large numbers of enemy nationals behind their lines. Red Army prisoners could be executed or just left to die of cold and hunger, but the civilian population was another matter. There was not enough food to go round, and the priority was obviously the German Army. The non-Jewish civilian population had to be given enough food to work for the German war effort. On the other hand, the Jews, crowded into unhealthy ghettoes, could not simply be left to die, because of the potential public health problems that would bring. So they were transferred East, to an unspecified but (as we know) terrible fate. Accurate statistics of transfer were therefore very important, in enabling food (and logistic effort) to be switched to where it was more needed. It was that kind of war.

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