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            
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     
                           * * * * * * * * * * *                                
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.