[back] Secrecy

The Importance of Arolsen

by Thomas Kues

About a year and a half ago, in Smith's Report #140, Professor Arthur R. Butz published a short piece on the partial and severely restricted “opening” of the International Tracing Service archives in Bad Arolsen, Germany, which contains millions of Third Reich dossiers on concentration camp prisoners and others, captured by the Allies at the end of the war. Butz noted that the archive had actually been available for research until 1977, when it was suddenly was closed to the public.

Recently, British newspapers carried the story of Eugene Black, a Jewish “Holocaust survivor” living Leeds. Mr. Black had made the shocking discovery that his two sisters, who he for sixty years had believed were gassed in Auschwitz in May 1944, had in fact been killed several months later, when Allies air force bombed a German factory near Buchenwald. The discovery was made possible through the Arolsen archives, which Black had partial access to thanks to being a “survivor”. Except for people like Black, the archives are available only to certain accredited researchers. Reportedly out of privacy concerns, information on persons still alive will not be disclosed. As Butz points out, this practice might lead to a Catch-22 where the researcher has to document that the person whose fate he or she wants to find out more about is dead (or at least legally, which may have been the case with Mr. Black’s sisters).

We might assume that Mr. Black is very much an exception. To begin with, few Jews live in Germany, and not many people would travel abroad in order to visit an archive. There is also the factor that most Jews “know” what happened to this or that relative. They would simply not have much incentive to look at the papers. Finally, Jews who like Black discover that certain relatives were not gassed but perished or survived at some other place, may not bother about notifying the press, or Yad Vashem for that matter.

   It has been reported several times during the last few years that the Arolsen documents are to be scanned and made searchable through a database. According to the article on Eugene Black in The Telegraph from August 23, 2008, the post-war archive on displaced persons alone consists of more than 20 million pages.

   What would critically-minded researchers then be able to accomplish if this still-not-complete database was made fully available to public scrutiny? First of all, it is to be expected that the documentation held at Arolsen is far from complete. Other documentation, captured by the Red Army 1944-45, is likely to be hidden away inside archives of the former Soviet Union.

   My suggestion is that revisionist researchers if given the chance should focus on people documented to have been deported to the three “pure extermination camps” of Aktion Reinhardt – Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka. It is alleged that 99% of the Jews sent to these camps were killed there within hours of arrival. Between March and July 1943, nineteen train transports carrying a total of 34,313 Dutch Jews were sent from the internment camp at Westerbork to Sobibór. These transports – in contrast to the alleged mass killings at Sobibór – are well documented. According to the estimates of orthodox historian Jules Schelvis, about 1,000 deportees were transferred from Sobibór to labor camps in Lublin and the Włodawa region, most of them perishing there. Another small group was selected for work within the Sobibór camp. The rest, at least 33,000 people, were allegedly killed in gas chambers utilizing engine exhaust. Only 16 of the 34,313 Dutch deportees are registered as having survived the war. Another case which might be utilized for research involves four French transports to Sobibór which took place in March 1943. It is alleged that all of the 4,000 French Jews carried on those trains, without exception, were gassed at Sobibór.

However, if it could be shown through archival research that a majority, or at least a large number of these Dutch or French Jews had turned up at some other location after their deportation to Sobibór, this would effectively refute the officially sanctioned extermination camp hypothesis, since there is no reason to believe that these Western Jews in the end were treated any differently from the Polish Jews who made up the bulk of deportees to the Reinhardt camps, and since no witness has claimed that large-scale selections were carried out in these camps. The verdict of the 1966 Sobibór trial would collapse in an instant, and the entire official historiography on the Reinhardt camps would get dragged down with it. 

The possibility of said thing happening may naturally be taken as a reliable indication that the Arolsen archives will remain closed to prying eyes. Only some kind of upheaval might change that matter. Until then, exceptional cases like Mr. Black’s will continue to tickle our curiosity.