More than 60 years after the Holocaust, a vast collection of Nazi documents was finally unlocked last week. Stored in former SS barracks in the German town of Bad Arolsen, they are detailed, meticulous records of horrors from 1933 to 1945, ranging from lists of Jews deported to concentration camps to medical experiment documents and even insurance policies taken out by German firms that used conscripted workers.
The archives, which are run by an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross, were established by the Allies to find missing persons and aid in compensation claims by Nazi victims. The repository, which has records on 175 million people persecuted by the Germans,
is a maze of shelves and cabinets stretching for more than 25.6 km. In part because of privacy concerns, few outsiders were allowed inside the archives, and only minimal information was released to survivors and their immediate families. But in 2006, after years of pressure from survivors and researchers who wanted to search and look at the records for themselves, the 11 countries that govern the collection agreed to digitize the documents and allow the public to view them. Last week, Greece was the last of the governments to file its permission.
While historians don’t expect the documents to alter basic knowledge of the Holocaust, the papers can’t help but deepen our understanding. The Associated Press, allowed rare access to the archives at Bad Arolsen recently, delved into records of Holocaust death marches. Along with the signed note by Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler ordering Dachau emptied—“No prisoner must be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy alive”—as the Germans retreated near the end of the war, and maps of the various routes as well as first-person accounts of SS atrocities, was a direct reminder of the very real human cost—a pencilled death certificate on a piece of lined notepaper for Otto S., Dachau prisoner No. 146,529, who died on a march in Wolfratshausen. M
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