spacer.png, 0 kB
Home arrow Columnists arrow Archives arrow Bad Arolsen
spacer.png, 0 kB
spacer.png, 0 kB
 
Bad Arolsen Print E-mail
Written by Jay Bushinsky   
Tuesday, 22 August 2006

By Jay Bushinsky
September 6, 2006


BAD AROLSEN, Germany -- Prof. Tomas Radil is a survivor.
The white-haired neurologist now in his mid-70's lived through the horrors of Auschwitz where, like thousands of other Czech inmates, he was a slave laborer.  Born in Bratislava, but residing now in Prague, Radil's professional status as a member of the Czech Academy of Sciences spares him the economic hardships that face most of the men and women who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

Hundreds of thousands of Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians and other European nationals (as well Jews living in the diaspora or in Israel) have little or no chance of ever receiving their share of the funds available to wartime forced laborers who toiled in Nazi Germany during World War II.  In most cases, their records exist in the International Tracing Service's vast archive here -- the world's biggest repository of files pertaining to the Holocaust -- and provide ample proof of the hardships they endured as industrial workers, miners and servants for salaries as low as 27 Reichmarks ($8.00) a month.  But the ITS has been painfully slow if not callous about making their data available for compensation claims.

Despite a highly-publicized agreement between the German and U.S. governments concluded in Washington, DC, under the auspices of the American Holocaust Museum, which calls for this unique documentation center to be opened to scholars, researchers and journalists and for its contents to be digitalized and distributed to the 11 countries that supervise it, implementation has been proceeding at a snail's pace.

This situation will be the main topic of discussion at the ITS' Committee of Experts, an international body of Holocaust scholars, which is scheduled to meet in Kassel, Germany, September 12 to 14. Israel, which is one of the 11, will be represented by the head of Yad  Vashem's archive, Yaacov Lozowick.  He did not attribute the lack of access to the Bad Arolsen facility and its failure to digitalize quickly to any nefarious motives.

"After all, most of its material has been photocopied and can be examined elsewhere including Yad Vashem," he said. Jost Riebentisch of the Information Office for Nazi Victims situated in nearby Cologne believes the ITS, which is managed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, "has a structural problem."  He said its material must be reorganized so that it is based only on lists of names.  Some documents could change the view of history," he said, implying that this is contingent on their accessibility.

However, since the multi-national agreement reached last May, the ITS staff has been expanding the criteria on the basis of which scholars and researchers will be able to examine the documents in their archive.  Besides being classified by names, they also will be filed according to the relevant concentration and death camps, ghettos and SS units. Moshe Zimmermann, who teaches modern German history at the Hebrew University, maintains that scholarly research can be pursued on the basis of the names of individuals and expanded thereafter.

The diabolical irony of the forced labor regime is epitomized by what the Nazis termed an "Arbeitsbuch" (work booklet for foreigners), thousands of which have been collected by the ITS.  One of them contains the registration number of Petro Schwarz along with his photograph and date of birth: Jan. 21, 1925.
 
The text, which is in gothic script, includes Schwarz's home address in Poland, gives the location of his employment as Silesia (then part of Germany, but annexed by Poland after the war) and specifies his job as a coal miner.

There are rows upon rows of social security payment stamps on the inside pages, each one emblazoned with the Nazi swastika and all of them pasted with perfect precision. It looks as if Schwarz's employers wanted to make it look as if the economic and social injustice from which they benefited was quite an orderly and normal setup.

The ITS' vast store of documentation was collected initially by American and Allied soldiers in the final months of the war and its immediate  aftermath.  The troops were ordered to collect all the files stashed away by the Nazi SS in the death and concentration camps' offices.

According to Manfred Kesting, a dedicated ITS archivist and German national who has been working for it since 1985, the Allied authorities in the former U.S., British and French Zones of Occupied Germany also ordered the Germans "to report all foreigners" who were in their country during the war.  "Hundreds of work booklets poured in from all over the country," he said.  Later, the Soviet Union transferred its horde of Nazi documents. By that time, the ITS was controlled the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Its budget was allocated by the Federal Republic of Germany and it was subject to German laws, especially on the locally-sensitive privacy issue, but its staff was multi-national and its directors were (and still are) Swiss).  But until the ITS' 50 million documents are digitalized, a process that has been under way since 1998 -- it will not be able to make its documents available to the survivors who need them urgently.  There is a backlog of 320,000 requests, according to the ITS' interim director, Toni Pfanner who arrived at its wooded, park-like headquarter in this baroque-style town only two months ago.

"Anyway," he said in a frank and uninhibited interview, "the deadline for claims has passed."  Pfanner was referring to a special fund administered by the German government most of whose money is drawn from the giant firms that employed the claimants.

This situation helps explain why death camp survivors and former slave laborers living in Prague and countless other cities all over the world have had little if any contact with the ITS.  Although the Bad Arolsen archive contains data about inmates of the Nazis' various genocide centers, Tomas Radil, a Czech citizen, who was interned in Auschwitz told a Czech journalist the he knows nothing about it.

The Czech Republic's wartime internees have been applying to the Czech-German Future Fund for compensation.  It cooperates with the ITS, reqiring that applicants comply with Bad Arolsen's regulations: -- documents issued by the (wartime) German Labor Office or former employers, insurance companies, photographs, letters and post cards with "readable address, signatures and postage stamps."  The latter are deemed "direct evidence."  -- if this material is not readily available, the survivors must write a detailed description of the place where they were held and submit confirmation from at least one other person. Dr. Jack Terry, a retired psychiatrist who lives in New York, wrote to the ITS 10 years ago to find out what happened to his father, the late Chaim Szabmacher, who was deported to Poland's Maidanek death camp in 1942.

"I wanted to know what information was available about his fate," Terry said.  "Nothing happened for years; and then, in 2004, I received a verybrief note saying, he ''died'' in 1943.  I had given up on ever getting a response because by then several years had passed since my letter was sent to the ITS."  Terry, whose original name was Jakob Szabmacher, was a teen-age inmate of Nazi Germany's Flossenburg concentration campwhen it was liberated by the U.S. Army in 1945.  He is the only member of his Polish-Jewish family who survived Nazi internment. Personal access to the ITS' office and archive here has been strictly limited for the past 50 years.  Only bona fide survivors or relatives who were granted power of attorney by them were admitted.  Researchers and journalists were barred. This situation appears to have changed since the conference held in Luxembourg last May in which the 11 nations which govern the ITS (including the U.S.) voted to amend the treaty on which its policy is based.

However, the impression given by subsequent reports in the American news media that the barriers are about to be lifted is misguided and unrealistic.  The amendment adopted unanimously by the conferees must be ratified by each of the governments represented, a process originally expected to last four months, but which Pfanner expects to last much longer.  He noted that a "signature ceremony was scheduled to take place July 27, but has been "delayed." Italy and Belgium are among the countries which have reservations.

They do not want information about suspected collaborators and informers to be made available.  Germany, which covers the ITS budget, has strict privacy laws and therefore opposes the release of documents which could incriminate its citizens.  Like Israel, which is one of the governing countries, it is wary of evidence which could implicate Jewish survivors known in the Holocaust jargon as "Kapos," (concentration camp police), some of whom may be suspected of having killed other Jews by order of their Nazi captors).

Above all, the effort to digitalize the ITS lore is very slow and costly.  The German government, which provides the ITS with its budget, is covering the cost.  With only 400 persons on its multi-national staff, it will take at least eight more years to complete. It took the past eight years to digitalize nearly 60 per cent of the archive's contents.

One restriction is certain to be imposed: The data will not be made available on the Internet.  Another is that the general public will not be admitted to the ITS facilities here. As for the researchers expected to converge on Bad Arolsen, Pfanner said, "The International Committee of the Red Cross will not take responsibility for the outcome of their research -- a principle which the ICRC applies to its own Holocaust archive in Switzerland." Radil was deported in 1943 along with the rest of his family.  All of its members perished except his father and he.

Most of his contemporaries in Eastern Europe did not apply to the ITS for evidence of their incarceration and virtual enslavement.  However, they did benefit from the compensation offered locally.  In his case, the Czech German Future Fund granted him 15,000 German marks (the equivalent of $8,200) in two payments.

Comments (0) >> feed
Write comment
quote
bold
italicize
underline
strike
url
image
quote
quote
Smiley
Smiley
Smiley
Smiley
Smiley
Smiley
Smiley
Smiley
Smiley
Smiley
Smiley
Smiley

busy
 
< Prev   Next >
spacer.png, 0 kB
spacer.png, 0 kB
Copyright © 2005 - 2017 - MGI NEWS - All rights reserved. Web Design & Maintenance By: AA TECH DESIGN spacer.png, 0 kB
MGI News is the sole U.S. incorporated news and programming organization specializing in the Middle East directed by Jay Bushinsky, founding Bureau Chief of CNN Jerusalem. Topics from President Barak Obama, Binyamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamas, Hizbollah and more...

Topics include: Middle East News, President Barak Obama, Netanyahu, Abbas, Ahmadinejad, Hamas, Hizbollah, Goldstone Report, Nobel Peace Prize,Al Qaeda, Terrorists in the U.S., Iran, Palestinians, Israel, Enriched Uranium, Two-State Solution, UN Security Council, Human Rights Commission, Paelstinian Authority, Yitzhak Noy, Elif Ural and more...