Germany Takes Over Central Nazi Archives
BERLIN (AP) _ The United States gave Germany custody on Friday of the crucial Nazi archives that historians and prosecutors have relied on since 1945 in their pursuit of truth and war criminals.
The archive, known as the Berlin Document Center, was founded by U.S. occupation forces. It was one of 20 such centers maintained by the Allies after World War II and the last to be turned over to Germany.
Friday’s small, private ceremony came 10 days before President Clinton is to visit Berlin and three months before the last American soldier leaves the city.
The archive is housed on the edge of west Berlin’s Gruenewald forest in a former Nazi-era telephone switching station with underground vaults and video camera surveillance.
The contents include nearly 11 million Nazi party membership cards and more than 550,000 personal documents of storm troopers.
Before signing the documents over to Germany, the United States copied the entire collection onto microfilm, the exposures to reside in the U.S. National Archives.
Despite that five-year project, some historians and Jewish groups opposed the turnover, fearing the new German keepers would begin restricting access.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl and other top German officials gave written assurances that scholarly access to the documents will continue unhindered.
For the past five years, German scholars had to apply through the German Federal Archives for access and American authorities said they knew of only one instance where a scholarly request was turned down.
″I consider all this angst unjustified,″ said 89-year-old Kurt Rosenow, who served from 1947-53 as the center’s first civilian director.
Rosenow, a naturalized American born in Berlin of Jewish parents, was an honored guest at Friday’s turnover.
He recalled the first time he walked into the building, in July 1945, two months after the Russians liberated Berlin.
″The Nazi symbol was hanging on the wall there in the entrance room,″ said Rosenow, pointing to the wall. ″But only the eagle remained. The Russians had shot the swastika off the eagle.″