Nazi-era Germans, what did you do?

  • February 5, 2010
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The German Office for the notification of next of kin of casualties of the German Wehrmacht in Berlin

When visiting Germany, I have discovered that Germans speak openly about their country’s dark past — but most don’t talk about their personal involvement.

Children have little information about their parents’ contributions to Nazi Germany. When I asked my German friends why they don’t know about their parents’ role in the past, they said they didn’t want to ask family members to relive painful memories in a discussion.

Now those children can find out about their parents’ or grandparents’ role in the war by requesting information from a German data archive called the Wehrmachtsauskunftsstelle. The archive has received hundreds of thousands of requests, mostly from young people who want to learn about their relatives’ involvement in the war.

"Everything is done by hand," says an employee who has worked for the agency for 44 years.

Here’s what the Wehrmachtsauskunfststelle, also known as the German Office for the notification of next of kin of casualties of the German Wehrmacht, states about its operations: The office employs 900 people and contains the records of 18 million — 15 million Wehrmacht soldiers, three million members of the SS, the RAD and the various police agencies. Of these 18 million, three million are listed as dead and one million missing.

Endless rows of shelves hold millions of index cards from the Second World War. Based upon various local records, the archive gives information on an individual’s military career, promotions and penalties, and hospital stays. In addition, the archive has medals, personnel files, court records and Army documents about foreign prisoners of war in German custody.

Anyone can make a request for personal or academic reasons. My German friend Gert Krell writes in an upcoming blog at Shadows of the Holocaust (www.shadowsoftheholocaust.com) that he inquired about his father recently.

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