BAD AROLSEN, Germany - Twenty days of systematic murder of prisoners in the Majdanek concentration camp are detailed in a thick office binder in the huge archive of Nazi documents in this central German city.The binder contains hundreds of pages written on both sides. Each one has a table containing the following information: first name, last name, date of birth, address, date of death - all written out in a careful longhand. The blue ink has faded over the years, but the Jewish names jump out. Lists upon lists of towns and cities throughout Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany. In the last column, the date of death, there is not much variety: one of 20 days in September, 1942. The title on the binder reads: Lublin-Majdanek, crematorium list 08.09-1942-28.09.1942.The lists were apparently brought out of the Majdanek concentration camp after it was liberated by the Russians. On the shelves around this one binder, on the first floor of the International Tracing Service (ITS) complex, are thousands more binders - the original records of the dead at the Buchenwald and Matthausen concentration camps, lists made by the Gestapo of deportees from Holland, who were captured at its headquarters after Germany surrendered, etc. All the documents are cataloged according to the names of victims and survivors, reflecting the efficiency of the Nazi bureaucracy.This is the largest archive of Nazi documents in the world - more than 33 million pages of records, stored in six buildings in Bad Arolsen, a Baroque town north of Frankfurt. The archive was established after World War II by the Allies, taking advantage of the town's location between Germany's four areas of occupation, and the fact that it had suffered practically no damage from bombardment. It is funded by the German government and operated by the Red Cross. Searching among the 17.5 million names recorded there, staffers assist people seeking information on the fate of their families or submitting demands for reparations from the German authorities.For more than 60 years, the archive was open only to survivors and their families, international Holocaust organizations, scholars and journalists. Last week Greece, one of the 11 countries who are members of the archive's council, became the last to approve an agreement opening it to the public.At a time when neo-Nazis are burning copies of "The Diary of Anne Frank," there is significance to one line concealed here among the names of Jews brought to Holland's Westenbork camp on the way to Auschwitz: "Frank, Annelise."The archive contains four collections. The 'imprisonment list' is the most interesting in terms of the information that it provides. It includes documents from concentration camps, ghettos and prison camps dating from 1933 to 1945. It was copied in its entirety in the 1950s by the Yad Vashem Holcaust Memorial and transfered to Jerusalem, but at Bad Arolsen it's more accessible. It has also been copied digitally in recent years and transfered to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and to Yad Vashem, and may soon be accessible on the Internet.The second collection contains 'documents from the period of the war,' with information about forced laborers in Germany beginning in 1939, including places of work and illness reports. The third collection, which is the largest, contains 'documents after the war,' with lists of all refugees and displaced persons who passed through Germany and all of Europe after the war. The fourth collection is information concerning lost children.Inquiries can be submitted by telephone, mail or email. For example, an inquiry about a Jewish survivor of Buchenwald who immigrated to Israel could be answered by a list of deportees from the ghetto, information detailing a certain period in the camp or describing its liberation by the Americans, or lists from transit camps of people immigrating to Israel.The ITS staff will conduct a search according to name, date and place of birth, and send the results to the inquirer, or invite him/her to the archive to look at the original documents. The ITS promises a response within eight weeks. Last year, it received 800 inquiries from Israel.
Last weekend, in one part of the archive, a book of the victims of the Matthausen concentration camp in Austria lay open on a table, where a staffer was working on an inquiry. The book reveals that on April 20, 1942, in honor of Hitler's 53rd birthday, 53 prisoners were executed. Their names were listed with times of death about two minutes apart between 11:20 and 12:54. Cause of death: 'Shot by order of the Reich defense ministry,' with space-saving 'ditto' markings beneath the first entry.One of the names that came up randomly in the Auschwitz death book was M. Schlusser, a Jewish locksmith, who died on February 11, 1943. His parents' names and his place of birth were also noted, along with his age, 22, and cause of death: "exhaustion.""There are apparently no new historical revelations about the Holocaust hiding here," Reto Meister, the ITS director says. "But there is an abundance of private historical information waiting for families of victims and survivors. We want to be a center to which families can come to get answers to the questions that trouble them."And what does Meister say about the huge collection itself? "There is no doubt that human society has a strong need for order, which expresses itself in the recording of history. What for me is inconceivable is how this need was utilized so horrifically to destroy human beings. The obsessive recording of the Nazis was a kind of terrible way to pretend that something completely ordinary was going on."The main feeling one gets from leafing through the well-ordered documents with their careful writing is how those 20 days at Majdanek, or those three years of the Final Solution, were truly ordinary for those who inscribed these lists.
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