March 28, 2007
TESTIMONY OF PAUL A. SHAPIRO DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR ADVANCED HOLOCAUST STUDIES UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, SUBCOMMITTEE ON EUROPE “OPENING UP OF THE BAD AROLSEN HOLOCAUST ARCHIVES IN GERMANY”
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:
- Size and scope of the Collections
- Scholarly significance
- 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:
- Jewish Holocaust survivors pouring out their hearts in lengthy statements of what they had endured and when they last saw their families;
- 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
- 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.
(1) President’s Commission on the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, Chairman, Report to the President, September 27, 1979, p.10.
(2) For a regularly updated, searchable catalog of the Museum’s archival collections, see the Museum’s Archival Guide to the Collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, available on-line at www.ushmm.org.
(3) Arthur Max, AP, “Opening of archive likely to spur new generation of Holocaust scholarship,” November 18, 2006; Arthur Max, AP, “Amidst a sea of names, Anne Frank’s name stands out in vast Nazi archive,” November 24, 2006; Arthur Max, AP, “Opening of Nazi documents could aid compensation claims, survivors’ group says,” December 3, 2006; Arthur Max, AP, “Holocaust records help reconstruct lives--An envelope in a vast archive starts the paper trail of a lost life,” December 17, 2006; Arthur Max, AP, “Nazi archive sheds new light on vast network of concentration camps, December 23, 2006; Melissa Eddy, AP, “Holocaust papers—Opening Holocaust Archives may take years,” January 18, 2007; Melissa Eddy, AP, “60 years later, putting Holocaust victims’ names to numbers still a daunting task,” February 10, 2007; Arthur Max and Melissa Eddy, AP, “The Holocaust Papers—Archives detail horrors of Nazi death marches,” March 6, 2007.
(4) “Revisiting the Horrors of the Holocaust,” transcript of 60 Minutes broadcast of December 17, 2006, available at www.cbsnews.com.