Hidden Nazi Archives

NEWSLETTER 12 – 2007
By Roger Stanton

After over sixty years of being hidden away, a long secret German Archive is now open to the public. The archive houses a mass of information regarding 17.5 million victims of Nazi persecution. Located in the town of Bad Arolsen, the archive has over 50 million pages of documents, on 16 miles of shelving, in thousands of filing cabinets, in 6 buildings. The information covers political prisoners, Resistance and Escape Line prisoners, Jews, Gypsies, forced labourers, homosexuals, mental patients, handicapped people, slave labourers, Catholic priests and many other victims of Nazi persecution who were deemed “undesirables and displaced people”.

The documents are varied, and cover many aspects of life under the concentration camp system. Scraps of paper, notes, and lists of transportation to the camps, registration books, labour documents, medical records, and death registers. They all record the arrest of victims, the transportation to camps and extermination of the victims in the camps. The famous ‘Schindler’s List’ can be easily found, recording the names of the 1000 prisoners that he saved. There are the records of Anne Frank, from Amsterdam to her death aged 15 at Bergen-Belsen. The death book from Mauthausen concentration camp, records in meticulous handwriting, how on April 20 1942 (Hitler’s birthday), the Commandant ordered that a prisoner should be executed by being shot in the head every two minutes for 90 hours, as a birthday present for Hitler! The names of the victims are all recorded. Records of the Gestapo are also available.

In the spring of 1945, advancing Allied troops entered concentration camps and found immaculate paperwork amongst the degradation of the camps. This documentation was collected from all over Germany and Poland and taken to the town of Bad Arolsen. However, in the later phases of the war many victims of the camps were taken from trains to the crematoria without registration, so some victims remain unrecorded; Auschwitz is an example. The records were partially sorted, stored and locked away, then in 1955 the International Tracing Service of The International Committee of the Red Cross was given charge of the archives.

Under the Bonn agreement of 1955, Germany opposed any public access to these records, regardless of much ill feeling among Holocaust survivors. Despite this, in 1999 the International Tracing Service of the Red Cross started to scan the records and declared itself in favour of opening up the records to the public. Perhaps, not surprisingly, the German government may have objected to the release of the documentation because of the fear of paying reparations to victims’ families, and entanglement in legal actions with Nazi collaborators and firms in Germany who had used slave labour during WW2. It is thought that reparations could bankrupt Germany, which has already paid out over $80 million dollars to victims of the Nazis, and also bring into question many other problem areas regarding German business activities in WW2.