WASHINGTON (Oct. 1)
U.S. Jewish groups have welcomed a decision by the International Red Cross to make available a wealth of data on Nazi concentration camp victims recently acquired from the Soviet Union.
But the Simon Wiesenthal Center, while praising the new offering, has called on the Red Cross to make available to advocacy groups documents that could help them in their search for Nazi war criminals.
Diane Paul, program manager at the American Red Cross’ new Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center, said, however, that no outside scholars will be able to access the archives any time soon.
“Confidentiality is such an important principle for the Red Cross movement,” she explained.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, acknowledged the privacy consideration. But “the price for safeguarding their privacy was to make it much more difficult to find the Eichmanns, to locate the Mengeles and to capture the Barbies,” he said, referring to three of the more notorious Holocaust criminals, Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele and Klaus Barbie.
Paul, whose Baltimore-based facility started operations last week, said that Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, and several scholars have expressed an interest in conducting research at the Red Cross’ Holocaust archives, which are based in Arolsen, West Germany.
She defended the policy on several other grounds, including a concern that revisionist scholars may “want to use the information in a distorted way to represent to the world that the Holocaust never happened.”
For example, she said, the American Red Cross “never debates numbers with people and never releases original documents” because once documents are released, it “opens it up to all kinds of questions and debates.”
HUNDREDS OF CALLS
The policy, Paul explained, is necessary to preserve the “neutrality” of the Red Cross, whose certificates ascertaining a concentration camp victim’s death, internment or forced labor are “recognized as valid proof by over 40 countries,” including the United States.
The certificates, which sometimes contain excerpts from the original documents, can be used to receive retirement benefits.
The latest additions to the West German archives include 46 books containing nearly 70,000 death certificates from the Auschwitz concentration camp; the names of 130,000 prisoners used for forced labor in German firms; and 200,000 names of victims in other camps, including Buchenwald, Dachau, Gross Rosen and Sachsenhausen.
The documents, and some of the estimated 46 million more on file in Arolsen, can be accessed by filling out forms with the American Red Cross. The forms can be received by calling (800) 848-9277.
Tracing services are available in the United States and Canada by contacting local Red Cross chapters, and in other countries through their national Red Cross office, or by directly contacting the West German facility.
Paul said that since the Baltimore center opened Sept. 24, it has received hundreds of calls from people seeking traces.
Cooper called the new access for survivors to the Soviet archives a “very wonderful gesture” to help them “deal with their grief, both as individuals as well as collectively.”
But the Red Cross “has not really come forward in any significant way to get involved in the final hunt for Nazi war criminals,” he added.
The Wiesenthal Center would like to examine the group’s documents that specify when postwar refugees boarded ships to America and what day they got off.
Cooper said that in the last two years, the center has uncovered 900 possible war criminals. He argued that had the Red Cross records been released decades ago, the number could have been as high as 25,000.