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June 23, 2008

Mapping the Holocaust archive: MSU prof explores records of Nazi atrocities

BAD AROLSEN, Germany Michigan State University professor Kenneth Waltzer, director of Jewish Studies, is part of a group of 15 other scholars from North America, Europe and Israel who have traveled to Bad Arolsen, Germany, to be the first to examine and study records and items from the Holocaust at the newly opened Red Cross International Tracing Service Archives. 

Waltzer and the others will examine concentration camp, deportation, transport and ghetto records; forced and slave labor records; postwar displaced persons and migration records; and ITS institutional records at an international workshop to identify rich new opportunities for scholarly research. The group will then produce a report and recommendations to be published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is sponsoring the workshop that runs through June 26. 

After World War II and the Allied liberation of the German concentration camps, German records were collected and subsequently deposited in the Red Cross archives. Until recently, only Holocaust survivors and former forced and slave laborers and their families were able to request records and only indirectly through the Red Cross; survivors could not see the records themselves and scholars were not permitted any access at all.  

A recent agreement among the 11 nations represented on a committee overseeing the archives now permits scholars to examine the materials and allows for the digitized distribution of copies of the records to key research institutions in these nations. 

Waltzer’s area of study focuses on the children of Buchenwald concentration camp, where U.S. soldiers discovered 904 boys among the 21,000 surviving prisoners. Among them were 16-year-old Elie Wiesel from Sighet, Romania, later a famous writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and 8-year-old Israel Meir Lau, later the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel and recipient of the Israel Prize. 

Among the records at the ITS are materials related to Anne Frank's deportation to Auschwitz, Schindler's List, numerous camp records and transportation lists, and lists of prisoners who were killed or subjected to medical experiments. Holdings include postwar interviews with newly liberated prisoners.

Waltzer will study these records to better understand the flow of people transported from factory labor camps and from death and concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Poland to Buchenwald (near Weimar, Germany) and their place in the history of the Holocaust and Nazi camp system. Such research will supplement his interviews with survivors who were liberated at Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. 

"In this Internet age, it is relatively easy to find former ‘Buchenwald boys,’ contact and interview them," Waltzer said. 

"They live mostly in the U.S., Canada, Israel, England, France, Germany and Australia. Many have written their memoirs in recent years, or made video testimonies, or engaged in Holocaust education. I have collected more than 80 memoirs and new interviews, and there are more than 100 testimonies at the Shoah Foundation Institute Visual History Archive and another 15 at the Holocaust Memorial in Australia.

“Being able to use the additional materials at ITS in Bad Arolsen will strengthen such memoir, testimony and oral history work and may suggest additional lines of inquiry about the experiences of youths in the camps." 

For more information, and to follow Waltzer’s research and read his journal as he participates in the workshop, visit the special report at:


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