NEW YORK — The Associated Press is reporting exclusively today that researchers and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum are seeking to open a long-closed archive at U.N. headquarters documenting 10,000 cases against World War II criminals.
The archives belonged to the United Nations War Crimes Commission, which went out of existence in 1948, and have been closed to the public for 60 years.
The story was written by AP U.N. Correspondent Edith M. Lederer, with Randy Herschaft contributing to the report.
Randy obtained a handful of commission documents from the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Md., where some copies reside.
These include the accusations against staff at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald camps. We’ve posted copies of two pages of the documents (seen above), which are explained in the AP report:
“Buchenwald camp leader Max Schobert, described as taking part in all mass and individual executions, was quoted as giving orders to bring him at least 600 Jewish death reports every day, and to take all university graduates and rabbis to the camp gate and bury them alive. He was found guilty of war crimes in 1947 and was hanged the following year.
At Buchenwald, a Gestapo official was described as ‘a particularly bloodthirsty torturer.’ Another officer who was in charge of gardens, was described as a ‘fanatical Jew baiter’ who ‘made prisoners jump into the sewage pool’ where on some days 80 or 90 prisoners suffocated.”
Click here to read the full report: http://bit.ly/IzDW6N
COLLEGE PARK, MD. — It was one of the most celebrated acts of resistance by a Jewish woman at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp: an actress stripped naked and about to be gassed pulled a gun from a notoriously brutal guard and shot him dead.
A 33-year-old Polish timber merchant who was in charge of a filing system in his barracks told British intelligence about the woman’s act in a May 31, 1945 secret report, four months after the camp was liberated.
To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, we are posting here a copy of a rarely viewed 10-page report found in a U.S. Army intelligence file.
The report was declassified in 2010. We obtained it during a visit to the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Md., as part of our ongoing effort at The Associated Press to mine the eight million secret records that have been declassified under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998.
The guard was identified in the document as SS Sergeant Josef Schillinger, who was named in a U.N. War Crimes Commission report. The basic facts in the story have been validated by other scholars. The Jewish woman has not been unequivocally identified, but different accounts have said she was Franceska Mann. However, it may never be known who she was since she was killed after the shooting.
Click the image above to view the full report.
— Randy Herschaft and Cristian Salazar, Jan. 21, 2012
From time to time, we will feature documents obtained during previous expeditions to the country’s most important archives. Click here or on the picture below to get highlights from mobster Al Capone’s Bureau of Prisons file that Randy obtained during a trip to The National Archives at San Francisco, Calif.
Our entry for the “I Found It in the National Archives” contest was picked as a runner-up on Sept. 16, 2011. Our reward? Two copies of “Records of National Life: American History from the National Archives,” described by the archives as a “highly illustrated volume that takes the reader on a journey through American history” and features more than 800 documents, etc.
You can read our entry below:
Digging in the National Archives to uncover secrets of The Pond, US spy group predating the CIA
Few people had heard of the spy network known as The Pond until we wrote about it for The Associated Press in July 2010, using a newly opened collection at the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Md. Our story highlighted the value of reporting from historical archives and revealed new details about American intelligence operations during World War II and the early years of the Cold War.
The Pond was created by the U.S. military intelligence during World War II, under the leadership of Col. Jean “Frenchy” Grombach, as a super-secret rival to Wild Bill Donovan’s O.S.S. At one point, Grombach’s organization operated a network of 40 chief agents and more than 600 sources in 32 countries. It endured for 13 years.
Among the nuggets we uncovered in our reporting: a top secret narrative of the daring night-time rescue by Pond agent James McCargar of top anti-communist Zoltan Pfeiffer from Hungary in 1947; details on the penetration of communist groups around the world by one of its foremost agents, Ruth Fischer (code-named Alice Miller), a former leader of Germany’s prewar Communist Party who worked under her cover as a correspondent; and descriptions of the use of corporations, including American Express and Philips companies, for funding, contacts and radio technology.
A U.S. State Department official said this to us in an email after the story was published: “I can’t believe that any news operation in this age of the Internet and instant information still pays journalists to do this kind of good digging, especially for history-focused features.”
Documents describing the activities of the Pond — Grombach’s personal and organizational records — were found in a barn in Virginia in 2001 and turned over to the CIA for review. Randy, reporting another story in 2007, learned that the collection was about to be transferred to the archives in College Park.
But it was not until the spring of 2010 that the Grombach collection was opened to the public and we had an opportunity to travel down to Maryland to review it.
The recipe for any successful investigation into the past is enthusiastic collaboration, so we enlisted the help of intelligence historians and staff at the archives to help guide us through the tens of thousands of pages in the collection. The resulting story uncloaked the role of the obscure spy organization in the formation of today’s U.S. intelligence services.
By Randy Herschaft and Cristian Salazar, The Associated Press