Date Fri, 6 May 1994 10 50 36 -0500 Reply-To: German History list
Sender: German History list From: H-GERMAN MODERATOR Dan Rogers Subject: BDC: Historians' Testimony Submitted by: Dan Rogers [moderator's note: Geoffrey J. Giles is associate professor of history at the University of Florida, and chair of the Archives Committee of the German Studies Association] House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on transfer of Berlin Document Center April 28th, 1994 TESTIMONY OF PROFESSOR GEOFFREY J. GILES The recent statements by senior German archivists about probable restrictions of access to the documents in the Berlin Document Center are causing grave concern to historians of modern Germany in this country. The files in this archive are among the most important for the study of the Nazi period, for which much scholarly research remains to be done. My own experience of working in the BDC ranges over the past twenty years. I am pleased that the entire archive is being microfilmed, which will preserve its holdings indefinitely. I am now satisfied, after talking with Dr. Marwell, the director, that the microfilming project has been of the highest quality. Yet I must add that on certain occasions there is no substitute for the original document. This is particularly the case for documents written lightly and untidily by hand in pencil or ink, especially those using an archaic script, of which there are many in the BDC. Often they are almost impossible to read in the original, but copes such as I have received in the past from the BDC or the German Federal Archives are indecipherable. Guarantees of access for historians (and not just government investigators) must be maintained, in order that enquiries into this period of history may be continued uninterrupted. Despite some rumors to the contrary, it appears that scholarly research by historians from this country and others will continue an a "business as usual" basis after July 1st, 1994. That at least is the expectation that Dr. Marwell has of his successor, Dr. Krueger. It is certainly disturbing that Krueger has been restricting researchers on the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, at the Berlin-Hoppegarten archive he currently heads, to two files per day, making their work extremely difficult. The explanation is that Hoppegarten is short-staffed, and that is not expected to be the case at the BDC. Yet that is no reason not to press for safeguards. With the economic situation in Germany still rather uncertain, the government may well be obliged to cut positions at any of its archives in the next few years, which could provide a plausible excuse for severe restrictions not currently expected. In any case, applications for use of the BDC records will increase enormously, as ordinary Germans become eligible for access. In 1993, the BDC conducted 20,000 name searches. A doubling of request might represent the most conservative estimate for 1995, given the experience of the Stasi secret police archive in East Berlin. The staff will be required to meet _some_ of these requests, and scholars may suffer as a result. The German Federal Archives has a generally very good record of cooperation with historians. But it should be noted that that is dependent upon the good will of its leadership at any particular moment. The archives law that regulates access and controls privacy is not in itself restrictive, but such laws can be interpreted in unhelpful ways. The record of the relations of German archives in general toward academic historians, trying to conduct research on the Nazi period, has over the last twenty-five years been at best a mixed one, and sometimes downright obstructionist. Archivists have lied about the existence of files, they have flatly refused to let scholars see them, and occasionally they have even burnt Nazi files rather that reveal the compromising material that they contain. The worst excesses of this type occurred in the 1970s, but with the passage of data protection laws in the 1980s, many obstacles were again laid in the path of those investigating human rights violations under the Third Reich, leading to a widespread perception that it was not (as was the intention of the law) the privacy of the victims that was being protected, but rather that of their surviving Nazi persecutors. For example, the archives law of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg was widely acclaimed as one of the most "research friendly" in Germany. Yet as late as 1988 my own research was completely blocked, when I tried to investigate the case of a university professor who had been unjustly arrested, and probably tortured by the Gestapo into signing a confession. The unfortunate man was then castrated by a prison doctor _before_ his trial (which it was feared would lead to an acquittal), and he was stripped of his doctorate by the University. I was denied access to the files with the argument that the matter was too sensitive. When I publicly deplored this cover-up, the chancellor of the university began to publicly defame me, and it took a feature on the main evening news on German television before the Minister of Education intervened to promise reasonable access to such files. I mention this incident, in order to underline the fact that there are still very many people in Germany, often people in powerful positions, who will do all they can to prevent research into the Nazi history of their institution, city, state or country. The microfilming of the BDC records is a great step in the direction of preventing such abuses, apart from two caveats: 1) I cannot believe that it will take less that two years for the users' copy to become available in the National Archives; 2) The National Archives' own privacy restrictions have not yet been clarified. If all goes well, American researchers will be able to work on the BDC material in this country within the two-year time frame. Yet just as staffing cuts may alter the conditions of access in Berlin, we cannot know in advance what other priorities within the National Archives may remove staff from this particular project, perhaps delaying availability for several more years. During this interim period it is especially important that historians continue to be allowed to use the original documents in Berlin. On the second point, I have to express my astonishment that the National Archives is imposing _any_ restrictions to bona fide researchers on access to the microfilms. While such hindrances have become more frequent in German archives in the last decade, they have never been imposed upon users of the BDC. That is why it has been such a crucial archive for the investigation of the Third Reich. And therefore any such new restrictions that move toward the new German practice will worsen conditions of research, and indeed directly hamper the efficient and speedy completion of research in this area. The prognosis is not good. It looks as though, as a result of the BDC transfer, important research projects into the Nazi period will at best be made more cumbersome. At worst, research into these topic could virtually cease for the next two years, if access to the BDC is not guaranteed to American researchers. This is a serious matter indeed, the more so in light of increased public interest in the Holocaust following the appearance of the movie, "Schindler's List". I believe it to be vital for the Congress to express these concerns in a forthright manner to the German government. * * * * * * * * * * * Testimony of Henry Friedlander, Professor of History, Department of Judaic Studies, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, before the Subcommittee on International Security, International Organizations and Human Rights of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, 28 April 1994 Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, it is a great honor to testify before you about the transfer of the Berlin Document Center (BDC) from American to German control. My first experience working with German documents in Allied custody dates back to 1957, when I did research for my Ph.D. dissertation on photocopies of German cabinet minutes at the British Foreign Office Library in London, and later in the United States on microfilms at the National Archives and the Hoover Institution. Further, in 1958 I worked for the American Historical Association in Alexandria, Virginia, selecting and describing captured German documents for microfilming. My first research experience with the records of the Berlin Document Center, however, came almost twenty years later, in 1975, and has continued until today. The BDC is a unique archive holding personnel records from the Nazi party, its formations, and government agencies. It provides biographical information essential for any historian writing about Nazi Germany. In my most recent research project this involved, for example, information about 79 physicians and scientists involved in the murder of the handicapped, and later also the murder of Jews and Gypsies. As you can see from my summaries, I recorded their dates and places of birth, the years they received their medical degrees and licenses, their specialization certifications, and their memberships in the Nazi party and its formations. Although BDC records are organized by person, not by subject, information about each person is filed in various collections. Thus information had to be compiled from the personnel record of each of the 79 persons in several distinct record groups. This involved documents from at least 632 locations. To compile such 79 profiles from microfilm would be extraordinarily difficult and cumbersome. In the years of American control of BDC, access was total, working conditions ideal, and service friendly and efficient. This will be sorely missed. Microfilms have their uses, but they are not a substitute for the original documents or even good photocopies. They are better than nothing, and thus serve an important security function. But for research they are decidedly inferior. Microfilms do not provide the texture of the original. They make comparisons difficult; one can look at only one frame at a time. Research in microfilms requires a constant change of rolls. And it is usually very cumbersome to obtain copies from microfilms. Further, copies are simply not as easy to decipher as the original, especially in records that include so much handwriting. In some cases copies are almost unreadable, as you can see from those involving the staff of the killing centers Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, which were partly burned. Finally, as I get older, I have discovered that microfilm reading and bifocal glasses are simply not compatible. I therefore believe that regardless of who owns these documents, the originals should remain as accessible as they have been under American custody. I do not quarrel with the desire of the Germans to possess their Nazi personnel files, although I do not understand why they want to spend large sums of money to do so at a time when they find it difficult to pay for the modernization of archives, libraries, and universities in East Germany. Unfortunately, I fear the transfer agreement does not guarantee continued access. My research experiences in Germany, both at the Federal Archives and those on the state level, have shown me that access is often granted or denied in a completely arbitrary fashion. In some places, total access was granted, and copies were provided in an open and efficient manner. I would never have been able to complete my research without the generous support of the state archives in Stuttgart, Wiesbaden, and Berlin. But in other local archives the opposite has been true; the archives in Berlin-Dahlem, Duesseldorf, and Hamburg are notorious for restricting access. The Federal Archives in Koblenz and Freiburg have also been most forthcoming, granting access and providing copies. But there were exceptions, and those are revealing. The so-called Arnold collection at Koblenz contains official German government documents concerning the fate of the Gypsies during the Holocaust. But they are available only with the permission of the donor, the "Gypsy expert" Hermann Arnold, who had received the documents from the Nazi perpetrators. The collection includes minutes of a meeting of senior officials of Heydrich's security police, a document as important for the history of the murder of Gypsies as the Wannsee minutes are for that of Jews. At the 1991 meeting of the German Studies Association in Los Angeles, I publicly asked Klaus Oldenhage of the German Federal Archives, who participated at a panel I chaired, about this document. He denied that any such documents would be kept secret and gave his assurance that he would provide a copy. I am still waiting. My encounter with other types of German records has been useful in placing my archival experiences in perspective. For the last ten years I have conducted research in the postwar judicial records of German war crimes trials. Although there is no obligation to open such recent records for research, I gained full access because state attorneys, even the attorneys general, were anxious to make them available. My dealings with state attorneys have been eminently satisfying, but it was based on personal contacts, and the rules of the justice ministries, which are more liberal and more flexible that those of the interior ministry that controls the archives. Both judiciary and archives demand privacy for individuals mentioned in the documents, the infamous _Datenschutz_, but the judiciary simply asked that the researcher sign an agreement not to mention individuals unless they are "persons of history," which includes, after all, Nazi functionaries; they do not ink out the names. Still, recent changes in judicial regulations require permission from the ministry for access granted to non-Germans (in their phraseology: "persons who do not reside in the territory covered by the German penal code"). I have had no personal trouble to gain this permission, but it shows how easily access could be limited for Americans. Copies of most judicial records have been collected at the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Ludwigsburg. The Ludwigsburg collection is very similar to the Berlin Document Center. Both were originally designed to serve a government function, and have continued to do so while also functioning as a research archive. Both grant easy access, give expert guidance, and provide copies. As in the case of the BDC, the Federal Archives has been anxious to acquire the Ludwigsburg collection. There have been several serious objections to the transfer of records. Opponents have argued that the archives will disperse the documents among various collections, and thus destroy the unity and context of these records. They have also pointed out that such dispersal would make the excellent Ludwigsburg catalogue useless, and that without a knowledgeable staff no one would be able to explain the collection. Many of these complaints apply also to the BDC. Concerning Ludwigsburg, the judicial authorities have so far, fortunately, been successful in resisting transfer to the German Federal Archives. Since even the best microfilms are not a substitute for the original documents, I do hope, Mr. Chairman, that the United States can persuade the German government to guarantee the continued operation of the BDC in its present form, and with continued access for all American researchers without the imposition of privacy limitations on historic records.