Date: Fri, 6 May 1994 19:47:52 -0500 Reply-To: German History list
Sender: German History list From: H-GERMAN MODERATOR Dan Rogers Subject: BDC: World Jewish Congress Position Submitted by: Dan Rogers Statement of Elan Steinberg, Executive Director, World Jewish Congress, on the Berlin Document Center before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, April 28, 1994 Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I thank you for the opportunity of allowing me to testify on the impending transfer of the Berlin Document Center from U.S. to German control and wish to commend you on behalf of the World Jewish Congress for the diligence you have shown in pursuing this matter. The World Jewish Congress is the representative body of Jewish communities in eighty countries and was founded in 1936 to mobilize the Jewish people and all democratic forces in the face of the looming threat posed by Hitler's Germany. At the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, the WJC served as counsel for Jewish affairs for the American prosecutors. Our concerns regarding the fate of the BDC are therefore manifest. More than three years ago, when we became aware of plans to remove the archives of the BDC from American control, a WJC delegation visited the site and gave public airing to our concerns which were reported by the Reuter's news agency and The Washington Post. With the hand over of these millions of documents scheduled for two months from now, our concerns, sadly, have not been allayed. There are legal, technical, procedural, practical, and moral dimensions to the issue pertaining to relinquishment of the BDC. The legal and technical matters will undoubtedly be addressed in the statements and testimonies being provided this Committee by the relevant experts at hand. I would, if I may, seek to relate from our experience to the moral and then practical and procedural dimensions. Elie Wiesel -- Nobel laureate; Holocaust survivor -- noted: "It is not enough to know, or to wish to know, everything possible about the victims, we must also try to know as much as possible about the killers. The document center deals with motivation, possibilities, and 'achievement.' All available information must be insured so it will not be curtailed or hidden in any way. That is why the documents should have remained in the hands of the Americans." We will undoubtedly hear how many marks the German government paid to have those documents microfilmed. I would submit the price we paid to acquire these documents was immeasurably higher. The currency of course was the blood of brave young American and Allied soldiers. Is their sacrifice to be redeemed so cavalierly? Do we have the moral right therefore to acquiesce in the relinquishment of this terrible historical legacy? I pose the question of course, but I do not answer it. Our direct experience can serve as an example of what obstacles lay before us if nothing is done before July. The case in this instance is that of Dr. Hans Joachim Sewering. In 1933, Dr. Sewering -- a former head of the German Doctors Guild who runs a medical practice in Dachau near Munich -- was to assume office as president of the World Medical Association. Dr. Sewering however had been a member of the Nazi SS. The WJC obtained from the BDC a thirty-one page file on Dr. Sewering's Nazi past detailing his membership in the Nazi party and the SS. (The WJC wishes to submit this file to the Committee). The international outcry following these revelations and charges of his involvement in the Nazi euthanasia program, forced Dr. Sewering to withdraw from the presidency of the World Medical Association. That was last year. Under current arrangements for the transfer of the BDC, the World Jewish Congress would apparently not have access to the Sewering file after July. German privacy laws would bar that access. It should be stressed that this is because the Sewering case was not a criminal proceeding. We note in this regard the comments by Dieter Kruger, the German archivist who will take charge of the BDC. In the _New Yorker_ article of March 14, 1994 he told Gerald Posner, "I am bound by the law and must protect the privacy of the person for thirty years after his death. I will sometimes have to reject access to original documents." He pointedly added, "If someone is only interested in finding out if a politician was a party member, then that is not historically useful." It might be asked if the matter is moot since microfilm copies will be available here after July. But that's the problem -- copies won't be here in July. The user's copy won't be available for two years or more. Until then -- putting aside technical questions regarding microfilm copies -- unfettered access to the original documents is imperative. The World Jewish Congress salutes the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations for its diligence in insuring that clauses in the agreement with Germany allow it continued access to the BDC. Were it not for OSI's persistence in this matter, even this might have been lost. Unfortunately, scholars, historians, research institutions, and journalists are not included under the current arrangements. And if they are not protected, the public at large is not protected. Mr. Chairman, what we respectfully ask of this Committee is nothing less than a writ of protection for the search for historical truth. At a minimum, we would ask your help in securing continued unfettered access to the BDC. Certainly, it is not too much to ask that this continue until a complete microfilm users copy of the documents is available -- a set which should be scrutinized for acceptability by an independent panel of historians and experts. Until these safeguards are in place, we are shirking our moral and historical responsibility.