The larger scope of warfare

From AP-  A nice look at the challenges that occur on the boundaries of warfare…

BAD AROLSEN, Germany – Looking back at the first weeks after World War
II, a French lieutenant named Henri Francois-Poncet despaired at ever
fulfilling his mission to establish the fate of French inmates of the
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

For
the living skeletons who survived the Nazi terror, the Displaced
Persons camp set up two miles away offered little relief from misery.

A bleak picture springs with stark immediacy from typewritten
reports by the Allied officers, found in the massive archive of the
International Tracing Service in the central German town of Bad
Arolsen. The Associated Press has been given extensive access to the
archive on condition that identities of victims and refugees are
protected.

People still died at the rate of 1,000 to 1,500 a day. Corpses were
stacked in front of barracks, to be carted away by captured SS guards.
“Bodies frequently remained for several days in the huts, the other
inmates being too weak to carry them out,” Francois-Poncet wrote in a
report for the Allied Military Government.

“As most of the survivors could not even give their own names, it
was useless trying to obtain information as to the identity of the
dead,” he wrote. He reported a meager 25 percent success rate.

When the Third Reich surrendered in May 1945, 8 million people were
left uprooted around Europe. Millions drifted through the 2,500 hastily
arranged DP camps before they were repatriated.

Far from scenes of joyful liberation that should have greeted the
end of Nazi oppression, the files reveal desperation, loss and
confusion, and overwhelmed and often insensitive military authorities.

Many had nowhere to go, their families among the 6 million Jews
consumed in the Holocaust, their homes destroyed or handed out to new
occupants. Those who wanted to get to Palestine were shut out by a
British ban on Jewish immigration to the Israeli state-in-waiting.

“Owing to ill treatment by the Germans, most DPs have a distrust and
fear of the Allied authorities,” said a September 1945 report signed by
British Lt. Col. C.C. Allan. “Many DPs have sunk into complete apathy
regarding their future.”

Liberated concentration camps were transformed into DP camps. Food
was still scarce — often just coffee and wet black bread — and medical
care was insufficient, said a report written for President Harry Truman.

Inmates were kept under armed guard to maintain order. They still
wore their old striped, pajama-like concentration-camp-issue uniforms
and slept in the same drafty barracks through a bitter winter.

Compounding their misery, they could watch through barbed wire
fences and see German villagers living normal lives. In some places,
those villagers were forced to tour the camps and help with the burials
or at least face up to what their Fuehrer had wrought. But it was scant
comfort to the victims.

“As things stand now, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis
treated them, except that we do not exterminate them,” wrote
presidential envoy Earl G. Harrison in his famously quoted report to
Truman after visiting that summer.

Known for its unparalleled collection of original concentration camp
papers, the ITS, a branch of the International Committee of the Red
Cross, also safeguards the world’s largest documentation on postwar DP
camps. It has nearly 3.4 million names on its card index of those who
sought designation as refugees eligible for aid.

Until now, the documents have been used only to trace missing people
and verify restitution claims. But now the full breadth of the archive,
filling 16 miles of shelf space, is to be opened to historians for the
first time. At a meeting last week in Amsterdam, Netherlands, the
archive’s 11-nation supervisory commission agreed to begin transferring
electronic copies this autumn to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in
Washington and to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Within weeks after the war, U.N. agencies and volunteer charities
took over the DP camps, processing applications for relief and
emigration. By 1947, a quarter million Jews — a piteous remnant of
European Jewry — shared space with displaced Eastern Europeans fearful
of return to what was now the Soviet bloc.

Also among the DPs were ex-Nazis.

Adam Friedrich’s 1949 application to the International Refugee
Organization to join relatives in St. Louis, acknowledges that for
three years he belonged to the Waffen SS, the combat arm of Hitler’s
dreaded paramilitary organization. He also noted he had been imprisoned
for 20 months after the war.

An IRO official scribbled on his form, “The applicant was
forced to report to the SS in Jan. ’42. Served in the infantry and took
part in fighting.”

Friedrich was rejected.

But U.S. authorities did not have that information four years
later when he applied again through the U.S. Refugee Relief Act. Then,
Friedrich reported he had been in the German army but said nothing
about his SS service.

Decades after he obtained citizenship, the Justice Department
uncovered Friedrich’s past. He was stripped of his citizenship in 2004,
lost a Supreme Court appeal, and was due to be deported when he died
last July.

At Bad Arolsen, questionnaires and affidavits are stuffed into
400,000 envelopes which, including families, refer to 850,000 displaced
people, and fill binders spreading over several rooms of
floor-to-ceiling shelves.

The last DP camps were closed in 1953, so “when you feel the
paper tug as you try to pull it out, that means no one has opened it
for 40 or 50 years,” said Rudolf Michalke, head of the archive’s
postwar section.

Some files contain detailed histories of survivors and the
tortures they endured. Refugees relate their futile struggle to
resettle after the war, and their hopes of rebuilding their lives far
from Europe.

An Austrian pastry chef recounts the hostility he found when he
returned to Vienna. “Given the large and increasingly negative climate
against Jews, I have not been able to get a job and am forced to
emigrate,” he testified, seeking passage to Australia.

Others describe their tormentors, hoping they will be prosecuted.

A Polish Jew writes about “Workmaster Batenszlajer,” one of about a dozen guards he named as particularly cruel.

“He made selections. Those who lost their strength because they
were exhausted and looked bad were picked out and shot down,” he wrote.
Batenszlajer would pick four girls at a time and hold them for several
days. “He raped them and afterward he took them into a wood and shot
them down.”

In a world where racism was rampant, finding a new home was not
easy, as one Yugoslav-born man with Asian features learned. “Being a
Kalmyk of Mongolian race, (he) is ineligible for most Anglo-Saxon
countries,” authorities scrawled on his form.

“The doors are closed to unmarried mothers,” said a note from strongly Catholic Ireland.

Lining up employment in a new country was critical for obtaining
a visa. Yugoslav-born Nikolai Davidovic, a mathematics professor who
spoke seven languages and authored two textbooks, left for America in
1950 with his wife Larissa — but only after she had been promised a job
as a maid.

Friedrich was not the only war criminal to slip through the
screening process. Dieter Pohl, of the Institute for Contemporary
History in Munich, estimates that up to 250,000 Germans and Austrians
had participated in the Holocaust, but only 5 to 10 percent were ever
punished — most of them in the Soviet zone. Altogether, an estimated
500,000 to 1 million people committed crimes against humanity, he said.

But no one knew who the perpetrators were. “More than 90
percent of files on Nazi war crimes were destroyed,” Pohl said in a
telephone interview.

The U.S. zeal in pursuing former Nazis came late. In the war’s
aftermath, the Americans were more concerned about the looming threat
from Stalin’s Soviet Union.

In 1979, the Justice Department created the Office of Special
Investigations to pursue ex-Nazis who committed visa fraud by lying
about their past. Since then, it has won 104 prosecutions and denied
entry at the U.S. border to 175 people from its watch list of 70,000
suspected persecutors.

“We are still very busy with World War II cases,” said OSI
director Eli Rosenbaum. “We have always routinely checked Arolsen’s DP
holdings when we’ve been investigating someone,” he told the AP.

But the ITS files are far from complete, and unlike Friedrich,
most former SS members concealed their crimes with lies or half-truths.

John Demjanjuk, a Ukranian-born camp guard who became an auto
worker in Cleveland, reported in his refugee papers, seen in Bad
Arolsen, that he had been a “worker” in Sobibor. Although Sobibor later
became infamous as a death camp in occupied Poland, few people had
heard of it after the war because it had been dismantled in 1943.
Demjanjuk was awarded DP status.

In 1977, the U.S. government moved to revoke his citizenship,
misidentifying him as “Ivan the Terrible,” a notorious guard at
Treblinka extermination camp. He was extradited to

Israel,
tried and sentenced to death in 1988. The sentence was overturned on
appeal and Demjanjuk returned to the U.S., where his citizenship was
restored — only to be taken from him again for concealing his work for
the Nazis. He is now fighting deportation.

The file on Valerian Trifa, who became the U.S. archbishop of
the Romanian Orthodox church and who once gave the opening prayer for
the U.S. Senate, sheds light on the deceptions he deployed to win a
ticket to the U.S.

Trifa, a leader of Romania’s fascist Iron Guard, told refugee
officials he had been interned in Dachau and Buchenwald, but he said
nothing about the privileges or protection he received from the
Germans, according to Paul Shapiro, who investigated the Trifa case in
the late 1970s for the Justice Department. Shapiro is now director of
the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust
Memorial Museum.

Shapiro saw Trifa’s file at ITS for the first time when he
visited Bad Arolsen last year with an AP reporter. “I knew the facts
that are in here, except for the manner in which he was treated in
terms of his Displaced Persons status,” he said, flipping through aging
pages in the manila folder. “It’s quite shocking when you actually see
it.”

Trifa relinquished his citizenship in 1980 after it was
discovered he gave a speech in 1941 in Bucharest that unleashed a
pogrom in which more than 150 Romanian Jews were killed. He left the
United States in 1984 for Portugal, where he died three years later.

“To see someone receiving citizenship based on lies is not a
great thing,” Shapiro said. “If this stuff had been available then (in
the 1970s), his case would have been resolved earlier. He would have
lived fewer years in the United States.”

___

AP correspondent Melissa Eddy in Bad Arolsen and AP
investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to
this report.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s