May 17 2007

What’s the risk of a national ID card?

Some people don’t understand why we oppose a national ID card. “It’s just a piece of paper,” they say. “What does it matter?”

Historian and law professor Eric Muller of the University of North Carolina has been trying to find out exactly what happened to his great-uncle Leopold Muller, who was deported from his home in Germany in 1942 and never heard from again by those of his family who survived. Most likely, he was eventually murdered at the death camp called Belzec.

Recently, in the course of his research, Eric found his Uncle Leopold’s German national ID card. He also found his Uncle Leopold’s medals for his service in the German army in World War I, during which he lost the use of one arm. But his Kemmkarte identified him boldly on the cover as Jew, not a decorated war veteran. Perhaps that’s why he arrived at the “evacuation” center without his ID card:

The Jew Leopold Israel Müller … will be evacuated to the East on April 25, 1942. He alleges that on April 24, 1942, he lost the kennkarte that he formerly had in his possession…. Müller is therefore without identification papers.

Was the ID card “just a piece of paper” to the Nazis? Was it sufficient that they had the person they wanted in their custody, and would soon send him to his death? No. They immedietely sent the police to search his empty house, find his kennkarte, and dutifully forward it after him (although by the time it arrived, he had been sent on, presumably to his death). The card itself mattered. To “lose” the card was, perhaps, to escape the fatal consequences of the definition it imposed.

Eric tells the story much more eloquently than we could. But what we think is noteworthy in contemporary context is the importance the national ID card played in defining the individual, and involuntarily binding the actual person to the designation (in his case, “Jew”) and categorization imposed on him by the government.

We are people, entitled to define (and redefine) ourselves. We are not, and we should not be, “identified” solely by which pigeon-hole(s) a government decides to put us in.

3 thoughts on “What’s the risk of a national ID card?

  1. Those who think it’s “just a card”: Will you think it’s “just a card” when you’re detained for not having it on you because you’ve left it at home or have just lost your wallet?

  2. Turkey has a national ID card. Your religion is listed as well as your marital status. If you are an unmarried woman your marital status is ‘virgin’. By law you must carry your ID card at all times.
    Recently un-uniformed police asked a man for his ID, he asked to see the ID of the police first he was thrown into a car and severely beaten.
    In south eastern Turkey police don’t investigate murders of women with never registered for ID papers. To the police these women never existed. (In Turkish)

  3. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article s the risk of a national ID card?, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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