Jewish Journal

Jewish Surveys Neglected by Jews…Non-Jews are Doing and Have Done it For Us

by Pini Herman

April 5, 2012 | 11:16 am

I have mixed feelings about writing this blog.  I love it when someone takes the trouble to produce good information about the Jewish community and share it as a public service.  I don’t want them to stop gathering the information and hesitate to question their motives as they probably share my view and interest that the Jewish community is worth studying. I am just fascinated that at this juncture of history it’s again not the Jewish community who is doing it, but non-Jews.  Its even more fascinating when one looks at the historical provenance of the non-Jews who are doing it.

The 2012 Jewish Values Survey, a new national of survey 1,004 Jewish Americans – the first of its kind conducted by a non-Jewish research organization. The news coverage highlighted that the survey found that two-in-three Jews will vote for Obama.  I found especially interesting that the survey mechanism created by an organization which was an outgrowth of German 1930s consumer research asked about the Holocaust and its importance to contemporary Jews political beliefs and activities:

More than 8-in-10 Jews say that the experiences of the Holocaust (87%) and having opportunities for economic success in America (85%) are somewhat or very important for informing their political beliefs and activity. Seven-in-ten (70%) Jews cite the immigrant experience in America, and approximately two-thirds (66%) say that being a religious minority in America has a somewhat or very important influence on their political beliefs and activity.

This poll is very recent.  It’s last day in the field was March 5, so its about a month.  The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is now perhaps legitimately boastful of being the first non-Jewish research body to research Jews.  The same Knowledge Networks panel of 1,004 Jews used by Brandeis for their 6.4 million (mistaken) estimate of Jews in the U.S. is the source for the data of this survey.  So PRRI, having rented the panel for this survey from Knowledge Networks found a quick inexpensive way to piggyback on an existing panel survey.  The Knowledge Networks (GfK) panel is only nationally “representative” and can’t get down to the state or the LA geographic level.  Overall, I think its a pretty accurate representation of Jewish attitudes that it researched.

There’s an another interesting story here, which I hesitate to bring up—but will anyhow, and let you make the judgement about its worth.  There may be a historical irony in that non-Jews are researching Jews and the provenance of the non-Jews who enabled this research to take place.

A book by investigative journalist Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust, which details the business dealings of the American-based multinational corporation International Business Machines (IBM) and its German and other European subsidiaries with the government of Adolf Hitler during the 1930s and the years of World War II. In the book, Black outlines the way in which IBM’s technology helped facilitate Nazi genocide against the Jewish people through generation and tabulation of punch cards based upon national census data. 

Earlier, in the spirit of German statistical enthusiam, In 1916 the German Military High Command created a “Jewish Census” (Judenzählung). This was a measure instituted during the upheaval of World War I. Designed to confirm accusations of the lack of patriotism among German Jews, the census disproved the charges, but its results were not made public. However, its figures were leaked out, being published in an antisemitic brochure. The Jewish authorities, who themselves had compiled statistics which considerably exceeded the figures in the brochure, were not only denied access to the government archives but also informed by the Republican Minister of Defense that the contents of the antisemitic brochure were correct.

The German government remained an enthusiastic creator of statistics and user of IBM , then called DEHOMAG (German Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft mbH), census machines. German censuses were implemented in 1933, 1939, 1942 and 1943, every two-and-a-half years, carefully noting people’s religions, information which was later utilized to locate and round up Jews.

GfK [Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (Society for Consumer Research)]  is Germany’s oldest market research company, established 77 years ago at the University of Erlangen-Nurenberg in 1934/35.  In a GfK history it points out that:

The first “GfK Office” reopened at the end of 1945: it was a room in a severely bomb-damaged flat. Together with three female employees from the pre-war time and a handful of young students, [Georg Bergler, a founder and later chairman of GfK,] sifted through all the remaining material. He found a real treasure with which he could make a new start: an IBM collator. But there were two obstacles in his path: the law and finance. The occupying authorities only issued GfK with a licence to conduct market research in 1947.

The GfK entered Vienna in 1938 at the time of the German Anschluss as a research branch and in 1941 the organization took the form of “The Vienna Institute for Economic Research” (Weiner Institute fur Wirtschaftsforshung—Vienna Institute or IfW) while GfK retained its management and income.  German economics minister, Walter Funk, put IfW under the control of a body created by the Reich Ministry of Economy, the Sudosteuropa-Gesellschaft (SOEG, South Eastern Europe Society) which was funded and tasked by the Nazis as an agency that would establish and administer a new Nazi Europe.  The SOEG’s president, Baldur Von Shirach, had been the head of Hitler Youth in 1940 and was Gualeiter of Vienna where he was responsible for the movement of Viennese Jews to concentration camps. The SOEG was tasked with making Southeast Europe the breadbasket and buyer of manufactured consumer products of Germany.  Herman Goering highlighted the findings of the IfW research on south eastern Europe in his presentation of his Four Year Plan that gave him wide economic powers in Nazi Germany.  So, it appears GfK and its Viennese branch IfW were integrally intertwined and financially dependent on the Nazi party and government.

The corollary is that Knowledge Networks which developed this Jewish panel is owned by Gfk having a perhaps tenuous historical lineage of another group known for researching Jews.  I just find it interesting and somewhat ironic that an organization that originally had some board members who were prominent members of the Nazi party is now the main data source about American Jewry. The official history of GfK is told that:

After the German capitulation in 1945, [Dr. Georg] Bergler took over leadership of GfK, which was required to apply for a business license from the Allied authorities. Because GfK was relatively untainted by any direct relationship with the Nazi party—it had never conducted research for the party, and indeed had established close ties with members of the German resistance—the license was duly granted and the cooperative resumed operations in 1945, now backed by 70 member companies. The devastation of Nuremberg had destroyed much of GfK’s archives as well; nonetheless, the group was able to begin reconstructing its correspondents network


I once asked my mom how the Nazis knew whom to roust in Vienna at night when she had to go to scrub the graffiti off the streets and she replied, “They used the addresses from a recently conducted census.”

Just something to ponder.  Even if we Jews can’t bring the resources to bear to do our own research, non-Jews still find us interesting enough to do it for us.

Pini Herman, PhD. has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography,  Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work,  Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position (I was recently notified that with 40,000 visitors this year the 15 year old study of the LA Jewish populationwas third most downloaded study from Berman Jewish Policy Archives in 2011) and is immediate past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: pini00003@gmail.com To follow Pini on Twitter:

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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