Data collected about citizens have always been used against those citizens in the end, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes genocidal. In the Netherlands, the official population records contained a field for religion from 1851 onward – to help with city planning, and make sure that everybody had a good selection of suitable places of worship close to their residence. The purpose was utterly benign, and the collection wasn’t conceivably dangerous in any way.
When a new administration rolled in to the Netherlands in machines of war in WW2, that benign population register was repurposed for
genocide. We need to consider this and the lessons of history, as today’s administrations collect absurd amounts of data on each and
every individual, with little more purpose or afterthought than “because we can”.
Jacques Mattheij has posted a great summary of these events that is well worth reading:
Since 1851, Amsterdam had a registry that recorded the following innocent pieces of data about the residents: Name, Date of birth, Address, Marital Status, Parents, Profession, Religion, Previous Addresses and Date of Death if deceased. For many years this system served well and was kept meticulously up to date.
Which undoubtedly well meaning civil servant long before World War II came up with the brilliant idea of registering religious affiliation during the census is lost in the mists of time. What we do know is that that little field caused untold thousands of people to die once the occupiers decided to use it to locate Jewish people. And there were many of those in Amsterdam, which was home to roughly 80,000 Jews (Dutch) of the total of about 104,000 in all of the Netherlands at the outbreak of the war. 70,000 of them had their data entered into the Amsterdam registry.
Once the civil registry was in the hands of the enemy, the extermination program for Amsterdam based Jews (those that had not fled) moved into high gear and street after street was raided. Entire neighbourhoods stood empty. The importance of the registry was not lost on the resistance who planned and executed a brave attack (Dutch) to destroy as much of the registry as they could by firebombing it after subduing the guards. The attackers were betrayed to the Nazis and all but two were executed in the dunes near Overveen. Even though the attack was not a complete success a chunk of the registry was destroyed entirely (about 15%), and a large chunk of the remainder suffered substantial water damage thanks to the fire brigades doing their utmost to drown the parts that had not burnt (after dragging their heels as long as possible to let the building burn as much as they could get away with without raising suspicion that they knew what was up).
Read the full article over at Jacques Mattheij.