Opening Of Bad Arolsen Archives – Capitol Hill Hearing Testimony

OPENING OF BAD AROLSEN ARCHIVES – CAPITOL HILL HEARING TESTIMONY

Congressional Quarterly, Inc.
CQ Congressional Testimony
March 28, 2007 Wednesday

Committee: House Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee: Europe
Testimony-By: Paul A. Shapiro, Director
Affiliation: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Statement of Paul A. Shapiro Director, Center for Advanced Holocaust
Studies United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Committee on House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe

March 28, 2007

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Members of the Committee, Survivors of
the Holocaust, Ladies and Gentlemen.

On behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I would
like to thank the Committee for organizing this important hearing
regarding the archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS)
in Bad Arolsen, Germany.

Who would believe that six decades after the end of World War II
an archival repository of 35 to 50 million pages of documentation
relating to the fates of 17.5 million people victimized by the
Nazis would remain virtually inaccessible to survivors and their
families and absolutely closed to scholarly and other research? Who
would believe that 11 democratic governments, including our own,
have exercised supervisory control over the repository and thus,
whether knowingly or not, or placing a higher value on diplomatic
consensus than on human compassion, bore responsibility for keeping
the documentation hidden? And who would believe that those governments
and the International Committee of the Red Cross all with admirable
records of humanitarian good deeds, and many with very positive
records of confronting Holocaust-related issues appeared ready to
see the last remnant of the Holocaust survivor generation disappear
from our midst without providing them with the reassurance that the
records of what happened to them and to the loved ones they lost
would not be conveniently kept under wraps? No one would believe it,
and yet this has been the situation.

The archives of the International Tracing Service constitute the most
extensive collection of records in one place tracing the fates of
people from across Europe–Jews of course, but members of virtually
every other nationality as well–who were arrested, deported, sent
to concentration camps, and murdered by the Nazis; who were put to
forced and slave labor under inhuman conditions calculated in many
instances to result in death; and who were displaced from their homes
and families and unable to return home at war’s end.

Today, major sections of the ITS archives have been digitized, and
those copies could be made available to survivors and scholars through
major Holocaust research institutions like the United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum. But even today we are unable to proceed, because a
formal decision to distribute the copies has not actually been taken,
and because only four of the eleven countries on the International
Commission of the ITS have formally ratified the agreements reached
to make the documentation accessible for research.

These vital Holocaust-era archives have been inaccessible and, despite
considerable progress over the past 12 months, remain inaccessible.

What is the significance of the material? Let me respond to this
question in three ways:

1. Size and scope of the Collections

2. Scholarly significance

3. Relevance in a post-Holocaust world.

1. Size and Scope of the Collections: In 1979, the Report of the
President’s Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Nobel Laureate
Elie Wiesel, called for a focused effort to create "an archive of
Holocaust materials" that would "enable both the general public and
specialized scholars to study the record of the Holocaust" (1). This
recommendation was incorporated by the Congress into the mandate of
the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and has led to a long-term
effort by the Museum to rescue the evidence of the Holocaust wherever
it can be found and make it readily available for research. That
effort has taken us to over 40 countries, and in a decade and a
half we have succeeded in amassing approximately 40 million pages of
documentation, mostly on microfilm or in digital form found in attics,
archives, shredding rooms, neglected garages, abandoned synagogues, and
vermin-infested basements, in China, Uzbekistan, Argentina, Hungary,
Romania, France, and 34 other countries.(2) Finding this material is
a race against time; the paper on which many of the original records
were produced will not last much longer. But thanks to the Museum’s
efforts, the information in the records is secure. A steady stream of
important new books has begun to appear, and thousands of survivors
have obtained compensation under various postwar settlements based on
this rich reservoir of source material 40 million pages accumulated
over the better part of two decades.

Bringing the 35-50 million pages of documentation of the International
Tracing Service to the Museum will essentially double our archival
holdings in one bold step. It will double the documentary resource
through which our institution is able to serve both survivors and
scholars. I do not want to underestimate the resource challenges this
places before the Museum. They are substantial, and will require us
to enhance our information technology infrastructure, archival and
survivor registry services, and our research apparatus. The Museum
takes pride in its status as a public-private partnership, and we are
working aggressively to raise private funds to address the financial
challenge this project represents.

In terms of the sheer magnitude of the project, then, acquiring copies
of the archival records of the International Tracing Service is a
daunting undertaking. Moreover, beyond acquiring the 35-50 million
historical documents themselves, the project involves the creation
and/or translation of multiple finding aids. Just the central name
card index associated with the documentation constitutes an additional
digital database of over 40 million items!

Completing this job is a matter of utmost urgency, and not just because
the paper is crumbling. Survivors have a right to direct access to
records that relate to them and to their families, without the lengthy
delays that characterized exchanges of correspondence between survivors
and the International Tracing Service throughout most of its history
(in 2001/2002 there was a 500,000 request backlog of inquiries from
survivors), and without requiring rigorous international travel by
survivors, and even their children, who are now advanced in years.

Beyond issues of individual closure, that is, of enabling survivors
and their families to learn about the fates of lost loved ones; and
beyond issues of restitution and "compensation" for lives, years,
and aspirations lost, for which in fact there can never be real
"compensation"; we know from survivors across the world, including
those who volunteer at our Museum, that one of their great anxieties
today is that once they are gone, no one will remember the names of
their loved ones or remember what happened to them. For survivors,
opening the archives of the International Tracing Service represents
an insurance policy against forgetting.

The International Commission of the ITS publicly committed itself to
open the archives in 1998. Nearly 10 years have passed, and in those
10 years much of the Holocaust survivor generation has disappeared
as well. We have a moral and humanitarian obligation to get this
job done before additional survivors disappear from among us. The
timetable for this project is not a diplomatic timetable. Nor is it
a typical archival project timetable. The applicable timetable for
ITS is the actuarial table of the survivor and eyewitness generation.

Every month of additional delay means more survivors gone an
irreversible benchmark of the consequence of delay.

2. Scholarly significance: In addition to the overriding importance
of this material to individual survivors and their families, there
can be little doubt that the millions of pages of records in the ITS
collections will provide important new insights into the workings
of Nazi regime and the fate of its victims. Long described as just
"lists of names," detailed information about the full extent and
diversity of materials to be found in the ITS archives was denied
even to member states of the International Commission. Fortunately,
we now have a list of collections that runs to over 18,000 entries.

We are working in partnership with the new leadership of ITS to make
it available in English. I have had the opportunity to explore some
of the collections, and can provide a few vignettes of what can be
found there.

Some of the collections are massive: 111,440 prisoner registration
documents from the main card file of the Ravensbruck women’s camp,
for example, or 101,063 Gestapo arrest records from the city of
Koblenz. Others are tiny, but poignant. There is a list a few pages
long sent to the ITS after the war by a former Jewish prisoner at
Brunnlitz one of Oskar Schindler’s Jews. He was forced to record
the arrival first of the 700 men, and later of the 300 women that
Schindler saved during the Holocaust. The former prisoner points out
his own name on the list, and explains that he kept a copy of the list,
despite the risk, because he knew that punishment for losing track
of someone on the list might be death. The risk of keeping the list,
he reasoned, was less than the risk of not keeping it which tells
us something about incarceration under the Nazis even in the most
"benevolent" of situations.

The millions of pages of documentation from concentration camps across
Europe open a window on the daily fate of those who were targeted by
the Nazis and their allies. This was not grand strategy, as history
is so often written, but the grinding routine of man’s inhumanity to
man, of prisoners’ efforts to survive one more day, of perpetrator
calculations of how to reap the most benefit from the disposable
human assets consigned to their control.

The documentation of forced and slave labor reveals the workings
of the system at ground level and the horrendous consequences of
seeing human beings as mere "assets" to be used up. It also shows
the numerous ways in which money crossed hands between government,
industry, the SS and other consumers of human beings.

The immediate postwar documentation is unprecedented and unlike
anything that exists elsewhere. The displaced persons card file
contains the names of 3,387,612 people who sought designation as
bona fide DPs. These records contain millions of immediate postwar
testimonies responses to questions asked by Allied authorities in
which what had happened to people who survived, how they survived,
and what they knew about relatives and friends who they feared did not
are recorded. This is a unique source of information, in the voice of
the survivors, never before brought to light. In just a brief visit,
I saw three types of file:

a) Jewish Holocaust survivors pouring out their hearts in lengthy
statements of what they had endured and when they last saw their
families;

b) non-Jewish survivors of Nazi brutality, like the Armenian whose
story I stumbled across, who described fleeing from his home village in
Turkey to Greece, only to be put on a list by local Greek authorities
in 1942 when Greece’s Nazi occupiers demanded forced laborers to
be sent to the Reich, where he worked under the brutal conditions
reserved for "stateless" persons until the US military overran the
last labor site in which he was interned; his conclusion "There is
nowhere in Europe for someone like me!"; and

c) perpetrators of varying nationalities and culpability, who sought to
abuse the displaced persons system to gain DP status, and thus have a
hope of escaping Europe altogether and evading possible prosecution for
their crimes. How did some of the most objectionable perpetrators of
the Holocaust get out of Europe and in some cases to our shores? Part
of the answer lies in the records at Bad Arolsen.

For Jewish survivors, the displaced persons camps and resettlement
process represented the first steps toward the reconstruction of Jewish
life in a dramatically changed world. For the non-Jews emerging from
prisons and forced labor camps, some of whom saw their homelands
falling under the Soviet yoke, this was also a critical period of
reevaluation and new beginnings. Beyond the millions of individual
stories of displacement, life and death during the Holocaust era,
these documents also illuminate how Allied authorities dealt with the
post-genocidal situation they inherited with victory both the successes
and the failures of policy in unprecedented circumstances. In a world
still facing genocidal situations such as that in Darfur, in a world
still challenged by millions of displaced refugees, there is much to
learn at Bad Arolsen.

I had the opportunity last winter to visit Bad Arolsen with two
distinguished journalists from the Associated Press. Since then,
they have published a series of articles on what they saw, including:
a) thousands of depositions taken by US Army soldiers from inmates in
camps liberated by American forces, regarding the crimes witnessed and
the maltreatment suffered in the camps; b) documentation regarding the
tragic death of a non-Jewish Dutch youth arrested in the Netherlands
and sent to Gross-Rosen for owning a radio in Nazi-occupied Holland;

c) extensive documentation on a camps and ghettos infrastructure
far greater in size than previously thought documentation that
will enhance a massive Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos in Nazi-
Dominated Europe currently being prepared at the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum; d) testimonies by the local population
and town and city authorities about the SS-led "death marches"
of concentration camps prisoners directly through their towns; e)
near complete documentation of the infamous Buchenwald Concentration
camp, to which the last survivors of the death camps in Poland,
including thousands of Hungarian Jewish children slated for slave
labor at Hitler’s "superweapons" complex at Dora, were sent in the
last months of the war; and f) documentation regarding citizens of
virtually every European nation who perished in forced labor camps run
by the Nazis and their collaborators, as well as Himmler’s orders that
concentration camp inmates be liquidated rather than allowing them to
fall into the hands of the Allied armies.(3) Scholarly exploration of
all of these topics, and many more as yet unidentified in the miles of
archives housed at the ITS, will definitely enrich our understanding
of the Holocaust the defining event of the 20th century.

3. Relevance in a post-Holocaust world: Why now? The ITS archives
have immediate relevance on multiple levels:

a) The memorial significance of a set of records that identifies 17.5
million human beings who were victims of the Nazis and their allies
does not require further explanation. A person’s name, a human fate
these records give the victims their identity. They were not numbers,
though the Nazis wanted to reduce them to that; and they are not
mere statistics. They were people. They had individual identities
and aspirations, like you and like me. It is essential to our own
dignity, and to theirs, that we remember them not just as victims,
but as people.

b) We have a moral obligation an obligation that speaks to who we
are to the last remnant of the survivor generation to relieve their
anxiety that when they are no longer here what happened to them and
to their loved ones might be forgotten. The Holocaust illustrates all
the potentials of human beings. All can become perpetrators; all can
become victims; all can style themselves bystanders turning away and,
in the process of believing that what happens to someone else is not
their concern, thus empowering the perpetrators of violence, bigotry
and genocide; and all have the potential, like the rescuers who were
too few in number 65 years ago, to perform incredible acts to help
people to whom on the face of it they owe nothing, or to save the
child of someone they do not even know. In fulfilling our obligation
to the survivors and the victims, we reinforce lessons critical to
the way we live in our local communities, our nation and the world.

c) I have already addressed the scholarly significance of the material
and its potential for enhancing our understanding of the Holocaust,
the system of forced labor in which millions of Jews and non-Jews
lost their lives and suffered indignity after indignity, and the
displacement and trauma associated with the immediate aftermath
of genocide. I want to be clear that even the scholarly need to
access the ITS archives has urgency written all over it. Some of the
documentation in the collection will be impossible to understand in
the absence of eyewitnesses who can explain it. Thus time lost will
be permanent loss to scholarship and understanding.

d) Jews were particular targets of Nazi Germany, and roughly one
quarter of the documentation at Bad Arolsen relates to the fate of
Jews. The rest deals with the fates of millions of non-Jews Poles,
Ukrainians, Frenchmen, Italians, Yugoslavs, Romanians, Hungarians,
Russians, Belgians, Dutch, etc. who were victimized during the era of
National Socialist dominance in Europe. The survivors and families of
people lost also have a keen interest in learning about the fates of
loved ones and studying the impact of unbridled disregard for human
dignity on their nations. The Museum looks forward to enhancing its
ability to serve as a resource to these communities, also victimized
by the Nazis, through the acquisition of the ITS archives.

e) At a time when we are witnessing a resurgence of antisemitism in
many parts of the world, the ITS archives serve as a warning. The Nazi
regime set out to target the Jews. But once ethnic and religious hatred
became enshrined as government policy, once the hatred unleashed by
antisemitism came to center-stage, the suffering was not limited to
Jews. There were terrible consequences for the Jews, to be sure, but
also for everyone else in the vicinity. Three fourths of the records
at Arolsen testify to the historical reality that while antisemitism
is obviously very damaging to Jews, it is also extremely dangerous
for non- Jews. Awareness of this fact is critical in our own day.

f) Finally, let me address the issue of Holocaust denial. Holocaust
survivors, through their presence, testimony and teaching, have served
as the most powerful force against denial for the past six decades. As
their voices fall silent and in decades and centuries to come, it is
the documentation of the Holocaust those tens of millions of pages
of irrefutable evidence to which I referred at the beginning of my
remarks that will serve as the strongest guarantor of authenticity
and our most potent weapon in the fight against denial.

In a recent 60 Minutes segment dedicated to the archives at Bad
Arolsen, one survivor who was seeing the documentation of his own
experience for the first time concluded "for those people who said
the Holocaust didn’t happen, like the president of Iran. . ..If they
have any questions about it, please come to Bad Arolsen and check
it out for themselves."(4) As so often in the past, we will do well
if we heed the voice of the survivor generation. The ITS archives
represent a vital tool in the struggle against Holocaust denial. In
light of recent developments internationally and even on some of our
own campuses in the United States, it is a tool that we need today.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to testify before the
Committee. I hope that I have communicated the significance of the
material in the ITS archives, the imperative of finally making it
truly accessible to survivors and to scholars, and that time is of
the essence.

The Museum hopes to receive the first sections of the ITS archives
in digital form this summer, and to be able to make at least those
sections available to the public later this year. We are working
closely with the new leadership of the International Tracing Service
to address technical and organizational issues associated with the
transfer of the materials. Great strides have been made, in cooperation
with the International Committee of the Red Cross, in preparing over
ten million pages of deportation, concentration camp, Gestapo, and
arrest records, as well as the Central Name Index, for transfer.

In order to meet this timetable, the governments on the
International Commission still have to approve the transfer of
digitized documentation in June and conclude their ratification
formalities, or agree to grant provisional access in advance of the
final ratifications, at the same time as we prepare the materials
for public access. Proceeding on two tracks, our objectives are a)
to have the materials ready when the formal opening of the archives
for research is authorized through the diplomatic process; and b)
to ensure that when the material is ready, no further postponements
in providing access occur because of delays in the diplomatic process.

Tomorrow, Sara J. Bloomfield, the Director of the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Dr. Klaus Scharioth, Ambassador of the
Federal Republic of Germany to the United States, will host a meeting
of diplomatic representatives from the countries on the International
Commission of the ITS to evaluate the work that needs to be done
before the International Commission meets in Amsterdam on May 14-15.

If every country takes the necessary steps in a timely way, if all
of the national parliaments conclude their ratification procedures,
the long overdue resolution of the problem of access to the archives
of the International Tracing Service may finally be at hand.

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