Date Mon, 9 May 1994 14 23 15 -0500 Reply-To: German History list
Sender: German History list From: H-GERMAN MODERATOR Dan Rogers Subject: What is the Berlin Document Center? Submitted by: Dan Rogers U.S. Department of State Appendix to Testimony before the Subcommittee on International Organizations, International Security, and Human Rights April 28, 1994 Access to Holdings of the Berlin Document Center What is the BDC? The Berlin Document Center (BDC) is the largest repository of personnel and membership records of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) and its affiliated organizations. From July 1945 until October 1953, Nazi Party records captured by the Western Allies were consolidated at the BDC under the authority of the U.S. Army for use in war crimes and denazification trials. Since October 1953, the BDC has been under the jurisdiction of the Department of State, directly subordinate to, first, the United States Mission in (West) Berlin and, since German unification, Embassy Office Berlin. Throughout this history, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) has borne the expenses of operating the BDC. The records at the BDC contain both biographical files and nonbiographical materials. The biographical files, which make up the bulk of the collection, contain Nazi Party membership records and personnel records of the SS, SA, and other affiliated party and state agencies. The BDC Research Collection constitutes the only nonbiographical records still held at the BDC. All other nonbiographical Nazi records that were once held in the BDC were transferred to the FRG Government during the period 1959-62 pursuant to bilateral agreements between Germany and the United States, Great Britain, and France. Much of the returned material was microfilmed at the time under the auspices of the American Historical Society [sic] or the Hoover Institution and has been readily available to scholars in the United States. Under a separate agreement (the Hallstein-Dowling exchange of notes, 1956), German Foreign Ministry files (distinct from Nazi Party records) were turned over to the Foreign Ministry during the period 1956-58. These were subject to selective U.S. microfilming, which on privacy grounds excluded personnel files. While German Foreign Ministry archivists have declined to release these personnel files, they have routinely answered questions from scholars about their contents. Included in the records still held by the BDC are: Approximately 11 million NSDAP membership cards created and maintained by party headquarters. This collections is believed to constitute 90 percent of all such cards created by the NSDAP; personnel files of SS officers; documents pertaining to rank-and-file SS members; and, documents relating to other NSDAP-affiliated organizations, both para-military and civil. Background to the Turnover State Department records indicate our intention as of 1952 to transfer captured German documents to Bonn's control in order "promote friendly relations with the Federal Republic of Germany on a normal basis." Those documents whose release could endanger national security or whose contents dealt with the Nazi Party were to remain in U.S. control, "except where such transfer would not jeopardize the democratic way of life in the Federal Republic." The U.S. and FRG Governments have discussed the transfer of BDC periodically since 1967. Our policy since 1980 has been guided by a bilateral ad referendum agreement which provided for the turnover when microfilming of all BDC records had been accomplished. Following a unanimous 1989 resolution of the German Bundestag requesting the immediate transfer, renewed negotiations culminated in the October 1993 agreement, under which we will transfer to Germany title and control of the German documentary materials contained in the BDC. This transfer is to occur on July 1, 1994, by which time the BDC will have microfilmed, at German expense, all of the BDC records and transferred the microfilms to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Thus far in the microfilming project, over 52 million exposures have been made. The BDC's system of "finding aids," which facilitate research, is being reproduced, and a computer data base of the files is also being created. Some original documents are receiving preservation treatment and are being restored when necessary. Upon completion of the project, the NARA will possess one of the two complete sets of microfilm currently in production (the German National Archives will receive the other set) and will begin making a set for use by public researchers. NARA officials have already begun to examine the 32 series of documents (as organized by the BDC's creators) for the purpose of identifying those series that merit the earliest release for researchers. Access in Germany Our agreement with Germany assures the U.S. Government of continued access to original documents held in the BDC for the official purposes that have characterized our use of the Center heretofore, namely: (1) the purposes of comparing originals with microfilm copies and producing additional copies; (2) forensic purposes; and (3) judicial evidentiary purposes. The Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations and State Department consular officials will continue to have full and timely access to records required in enforcing U.S. immigration law provisions against former members of Nazi-affiliated organizations. Judicial officials in the United States will be able to receive from Germany and hold for a reasonable time any original documents that pertain to war crimes, other criminal, or civil actions before courts here. Many of the fears concerning access to BDC originals are unfounded or based on bad experiences in the past with a system that is no longer in place or that will not apply to BDC access questions. Privacy considerations will limit access, as they have under the U.S. stewardship, but not in the case of scholarly research treating persons in the public eye. Since Germany's adoption of a new federal archives law in 1988, German nationals who desire access to BDC documents have had to apply to the German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv). The Bundesarchiv indicates whether it has any objections to access. BDC management has been in a position, therefore, to monitor how the Bundesarchiv applies its discretion under the German law. The Bundesarchiv has established an excellent track record of openness and accessibility. In 1993, for instance, it posed no objections to access to BDC documents in the 863 cases involving German citizen requests. The turnover agreement provides that "public access to the documents in the Berlin Document Center and the microfilm copies in the National Archives of the United States of America shall be in accordance with the rules of the respective archives." It provides also for a U.S. Government Berlin Document Center Liaison Officer, a diplomatic member of our Embassy Office in Berlin, who will be responsible "for representing American interests in access to the documents until the American copy of the microfilm is fully accessible in the United States of America." Ambassador Holbrooke has assigned this important role to our principal officer in Berlin. Pursuant to internationally-recognized archival principles, German authorities may undertake in the future to reorganize some BDC holdings from their current biographic ordering in an attempt to restore the files to their original provenance. Such a reorganization, if undertaken, would be incomplete and misguided without a concordance that would permit the German authorities to reconstruct the BDC biographic organization. Some of the BDC collections may at some point be distributed or consolidated to complement or complete existing collections held in Germany. However, per the Note Verbale accompanying our agreement, "collections contained within the Berlin Document Center will not be moved from their current location absent prior consultation with the United States authorities and . . . the Agreement will continue to pertain to the documents . . . wherever they may eventually be located." Access in the United States No microfilming project of this kind and scale has ever taken place before. It is the result of careful planning and produces films of the highest quality. (This state-of-the-art project has been highly praised by international specialists, and the BDC consults regularly with German agencies and archives that are planning similar projects.) The U.S. National Archives is satisfied that microfilm as a medium is capable of rendering faithful copies of BDC documents. We know of no instances of BDC documents that could not be microfilmed legibly due to lack of contrast. As with anything involving human beings that is the product of literally tens of millions of single actions, the microfilm produced by the BDC will likely contain some errors (a carefully-planned quality assurance program is designed to identify and correct all but the most random and isolated ones). Any system designed to check the completeness of each individual frame of microfilm would entail staggering costs. Our agreement with Germany provides for access to the originals for the purpose of correcting whatever errors may have crept into films. The NARA will review for release by Autumn 1994 those series of microfilmed BDC files that are now most actively studied, namely, SS officers' personnel files and the NSDAP master membership files. The Archives intends to open access to the 32 series on a rolling basis, as the user microfilm copies of each series are produced, over an expected two years or less starting July 1, 1994. Chronology April 1945 Large caches of Nazi Party documents intended for destruction are discovered at a paper mill near Munich, in a salt mine near Berchtesgaden, and at other locations in Germany. These are consolidated in Berlin with other captured documents under the supervision of U.S. military authorities. 1948-49 Captured German Foreign Ministry records, including many that predated the Nazi regime, are removed from Berlin during the airlift and stored at Whaddon Hall, England. The transfer of these documents, which were _not_ BDC holdings, to FRG control was later the subject of the 1956 Hallstein- Dowling exchange of notes and analogous agreements with Great Britain and France. October 1952 Nearing the close of war crimes trials and denazification actions, the USG establishes its intention to return seized German documents. Those documents whose release could endanger national security or whose contents dealt with the Nazi Party are to remain in U.S. control, "except where such transfer would not jeopardize the democratic way of life in the Federal Republic." March 1967 The BDC's possession of information on Chancellor Kiesinger's Nazi past is publicized and causes tension in U.S.-FRG relations. Consultations with the FRG, Britain, and France on placing the BDC under German supervision begin but deadlock in 1968 due to U.S. concern over private scholars' access to the holdings. At the time, only three of the BDC's 32 Biographic Collections ("series") have been microfilmed in their entirety. 1968-1972 Further BDC collections are microfilmed. June 1979 Formal negotiations convene in Berlin and lead in 1980 Washington talks to an ad referendum agreement, never formalized, under which the FRG and U.S. agree in principle that the BDC should be transferred to FRG control when microfilming of its entire holdings is accomplished. 1987-88 A large-scale theft of BDC documents is discovered. The resulting focus on the BDC reveals many perceived weaknesses in security and management which become the subject of German Bundestag hearings. Some documents are recovered and security at the BDC is improved. The return of the BDC again becomes an issue. 1988 Planning begins for resumption of the microfilming project. The FRG Government guarantees complete funding. Microfilming resumes in June 1989. April 1989 The Bundestag resolves unanimously that the BDC should be transferred to German control. Informal discussions of a turnover resume. October 1992 Acting Secretary of State Kanter approves Circular 175 authority to carry out the concluding negotiations concerning the transfer. An accompanying memorandum of law identifies the statutory authority (44 U.S.C. Section 3302; 36 CFR Section 1228.60) to turn over title to the BDC's holdings to the FRG. June 1993 Negotiations conclude. State Department officials continue to consult with NARA and with interested private groups on the projected turnover. Embassy Bonn staff also in consultation with the U.S. Holocaust Museum and other parties. October 1993 Agreement is signed in Berlin October 18, 1993, accompanied by a Note Verbale treating employment terms for German BDC employees, official USG access, and the need for U.S.-FRG consultation prior to the removal of BDC holdings to another location. December 1993 Congress notified of the agreement and provided a precis of its contents, pursuant to the Case-Zablocki Act.