Blog Prologue- In writing about this topic, I am compelled once again to express my commitment to stand with Israel at this moment in history, to do what I can in my small way to oppose anti-Semitism, to pray for Israel and its leaders, and to encourage other Christians to express practical and prayerful support for the Jewish state. During my research, I was vividly reminded not only about the Holocaust imprinted into Jewish lives but the magnificent achievements attained despite the past. Am Ysrael Chai!
The Associated Press carried a significant announcement this week from the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The archive was established to track millions of displaced, deported, and murdered Jewish and other communities ravaged by the Nazis. The ITS has recently released over 13 million records-on 2.2 million victims- meticulously documented by Nazis including death and prisoner notices. Now re-named Arolsen Archives–International Center on Nazi Persecution, records are now online with improvements for searches increasing. Arolsen Archives’ Short Profile states, “The collection has information on about 17.5 million people and belongs to the UNESCO’s Memory of the World. It contains documents on the various victim groups targeted by the Nazi regime and is an important source of knowledge for society today.”
Arolsen Archives will and should remain in its preeminent place as a source of knowledge TODAY. Yet, could the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), among others, have done more in their oversight from 1955-2012 in the many YESTERDAYS, long before the advent of the Internet? Even though the Red Cross is an irreplaceable aid organization on the world’s stage, their failures reverberate until today. In a document approved by the ICRC Assembly itself on 27 April 2006, they assert, “This failure is aggravated by the fact that the ICRC did not do everything in its power to put an end to the persecutions and help the victims. The organization remained a prisoner of its traditional procedures and of the overly narrow legal framework in which it operated.”
During and after World War II, PASSIVE anti-Semitism joined its horrific twin of ACTIVE Anti-Semitism which delayed more help, reconnections, and rescue of the Jewish community. The International and German Red Cross were not alone in their passive, bureaucratic, or obstructionist policies.
Colossal amounts of research and articles address the WW II statistics and stories of Jewish Genocide and other groups of victims. Categorizing and answering requests about family members was an impossible task given the numbers in the aftermath of WW II. In 1943, the British Red Cross set up the Central Tracing Bureau and later the International Red Cross took over the daunting tasks. Six million is the general figure used to document Jewish murders in concentration camps, but this does not include, for example, “shooting operations” in Poland, Italy, Romania and Russia. Add to this the fact that there is no single WW II Master List. Here is just one numerical challenge the International Red Cross faced: 250,000 Jewish displaced people from 1945-1952. Other factors on the ground in Europe coalesced into a mind-boggling array of numbers, confusion, and devastation.
In post-World War II, a coalition of nations was tasked in 1948 to oversee the Bad Arolsen archives. The 15.5 miles of document shelving were stashed in former SS Barracks and a castle in the small wooded town located in the American Occupation Zone. The archives, among many other resources, contain 50 million index cards on 17.5 million people. Originally nine countries served on the International Commission: Belgium, France, Federal Republic of Germany, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States. Greece and Poland joined later.
I saw my first horror camp on 12 April 1945…I have never been able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain however, that I have never at any time experienced an equal sense of shock… Some members of the visiting party were unable to go through with the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures.
I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and the British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.
—Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, 1948
Beginning in the immediate post-war years when Jewish survivors desperately searched for relatives and friends, the 9-country commission eventually sank into a bureaucracy of infighting over policies, who should do what, and a myriad of issues which delayed their purpose of reunification, placement, and searches for missing persons. Disagreements over privacy questions about victims’ personal data clogged the process along with the Cold War era which slowed down the archival work. As the lack of adequate funding and staff problems intensified, ITS ineffectiveness compounded the victimization of the Jewish community. Charles-Claude Biedermann, the Red Cross official for 2 decades, seemed to embody the most troublesome staff. He stood in defiance of the 2006 US push to open the archives. Already he had enforced a policy of restricted access even to certain buildings, gluing himself to a very narrow definition of whom could be helped. Tracing work languished with 400,000 requests. Finally, Biedermann was fired. In 2008, the ITS finally opened its archives. In May 2012 the ICRC withdrew from management and the German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) took over partnership in January 2012.
On the positive side of its current institutional health, Arolsen Archives and Yad Vashem are a winning partnership.
They have worked closely together for decades. Yad Vashem’s technology is a tremendous asset and Arolsen Archives still process 20,000 requests a year. The eleven member states on the Commission are now matched with 240 employees and $14.14-euro funding.
Click Here to Access the Archive:
While I have attempted to synthesize some of the history of the Arolsen Archives, I highly recommend an excellent, detailed article written in 2013 by Jean-Marc Dreyfus, “Opening the Nazi archives at Bad Arolsen.”