Legal History

Nazi war crimes records now accessible after 70 years


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After 70 years of extremely limited access, investigative records of Nazis and other war criminals are now available in digital formats for public viewing at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., the Los Angeles Times reports.

The United Nations War Crimes Commission records made available this month include roughly 370,000 pages of documents from 1943-1949, not just concerning Nazis but also lesser-known participants, such as Bulgarian forces deporting and killing large numbers of Jews in Macedonia.

“Often we only think about the Nazi leadership in Germany,” Paul Shapiro, director of the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the museum, told the Times. “But here you see the degree of local collaboration and complicity that actually made the murder of 6 million Jews and the murder of the good part of the Roma population in Europe possible.”

Until now, the archive was pretty much limited to investigators and historians because permission needed from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the U.N. secretary-general to view the documents. The digitized database opened to the public this week at the museum is not available online.

Now, for example, the Times reports, visitors can view the damning documents that led to the disgrace of former U.N. secretary-general and Austrian president Kurt Waldheim, whose Nazi past was exposed before his death in 2007.

One document bears this testimony: “I remember certain persons having been murdered at Sarajevo in November 1944. They were executed according to the order given by Waldheim.”

The Holocaust Museum’s web site offers a 14-page backgrounder (PDF) with descriptions of the trove, the digital formats, a summary and history of the documents along with detailed descriptions of how they are arranged and indexed.

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