The Bureaucracy of Mass Murder

From Holocaust archive tells many new stories (Arthur Max, Associated Press):

Half a dozen buildings in Bad Arolsen, a German spa town, houses an immense archive of the victims of Nazi persecution. The documents are maintained by the International Tracing Service which is connected to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The fifty million pages of files include “scraps of paper, transport lists, registration books, labor documents, medical and death registers make reference to 17.5 million individuals caught up in the machinery of persecution, displacement, and death."

To operate history's greatest slaughter, the Nazis created a bureaucracy that meticulously recorded the arrest, movement and death of each victim. What documents survived Nazi attempts to destroy them were collected by the Allies to help people find missing relatives. The first documents were sent in 1946 to Bad Arolsen, and the administration was handed over to the Red Cross in 1955."

Anne Frank is listed among the names of Jews picked up from Amsterdam and transported to concentration camps.

“But most of the lives recorded in Bad Arolsen are known to none but their families. They are people like Cornelis Marinus Brouwenstijn, a Dutchman who vanished into the Nazi gulag at age 22 for illegally possessing a radio. In a plain manila envelope are his photo, a wallet, some snapshots, and a naughty typewritten joke about women in the army.”


"Over the years, the International Tracing Service has answered 11 million requests to locate family members or provide certificates supporting pension claims or reparations. It says it has a 56 percent rate of success in tracing the requested name. But the workload has been overwhelming. Two years ago it had a backlog of nearly half a million unanswered queries. Director Blondel says the number was whittled down to 155,000 this summer and will disappear by the spring of 2008. New queries have slowed to just 700 a month."

“Compounding the delay in releasing the files is the cumbrous makeup of the governing committee. Any decision on their future requires the assent of all 11 member nations — Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and the United States.”

Archivist Sabine Stein: "Former inmates and their families want to see some tangible part of their history; they want to tell their stories. What I find most frustrating is that they have all these documents and they are just sitting on them."

Paul Shapiro, of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington:"What victims of these crimes fear the most is that when they disappear — and it's happening very fast now — no one will remember the names of the families they lost.”

PS This post has been conjuring up images of Anselm Kiefer's lead books (Zweistromland, Buch mit Flügeln).