INTERAGENCY WORKING GROUP (IWG) PUBLIC FORUM
SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTER, LOS ANGELES, JUNE 24, 1999
Good afternoon. It is an honor and a pleasure to be here today. As a "regular" in the reading room at the National Archives, I applaud the Interagency Working Group's mission in striving to make still-classified wartime records available to the public. I also want to praise the staff and management of the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, in particular, Dr. Michael Kurtz and Dr. Greg Bradsher, who work endlessly and seemingly tirelessly to provide researchers with declassified archival materials on Nazi gold and numerous other matters.
A number of years ago, a man was searching in the desert. He knew what he was looking for, but couldn't find it. He searched in a wide valley, and came upon a secret entrance. Clearing away debris, he found an opening to a stairwell, which led to a chamber. He drilled a small hole into the wall and peeked through. There, he saw, and I quote from his diary:
[D]arkness and blank space.. showed that whatever lay beyond was empty. Widening the hole a little, I inserted a candle and peered in... At first, I could see nothing... but as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details... emerged slowly from the mist... For the moment, I was struck dumb with amazement. Someone asked "Can you see anything?" It was all I could do to get out the words, "Yes, wonderful things."
Now, I will read a second passage about a discovery:
A sleepy suburban community hides one of secret entrances to the underworld... [Where] secrets are buried, literally. It is a long, low building, surrounded by wide, well-mowed grassy fields that yield no clue about what lies beneath... [It is an] underworld below... with levels and levels of hidden nuances, layers of secrets... Small squares of bright light spill out... from the entrances to the vaults [which are] enormous storage caverns... It is like the last scene from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.The first passage I read is from the diary of Howard Carter, the British archeologist who discovered Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922. The second passage I read is from John Loftus and Mark Aarons' book: The Secret War Against the Jews, describing the storage space for classified espionage records at the Federal Records Center in Suitland, Maryland. Both passages describe tremendously important materials, long buried, shrouded in cloaks of mystery and secrecy.
Compared to King Tut's tomb, untouched for over 3,000 years, the documents in question today have only been buried for a short time. However, as the discovery of the tomb changed the realm of archeology, still-secret government wartime records may change the known history and politics of World War II -- and its criminals.
Today, I would like to share my experience as a researcher at the National Archives, and my frustration at encountering numerous obstacles while researching -- because of still-secret wartime documents. I will address three points:
One: What remains classified, and why?
Two: Why do we need THIS SPECIFIC information--What can these materials tell us?
Three: Why now?
First - what is the problem? What remains classified, and why? It has been estimated that the National Archives contains 15 million pages of declassified documents relating to the Holocaust and Nazi Gold. My mother might say that I should finish what I have, before asking for more. However, after reading through box after box of documents, and finding lots of the yellow "classified" cardstock notices where documents should be, I know that I, and other researchers, historians, attorneys, academics, and the public, would like to see the rest.
While fears sparked by the Cold War discouraged the release of documents, it has been ten years since the fall of the Berlin wall, and the wall separating the public from these important materials should be dismantled, as well. As State Department Historian William Slany acknowledged:
A full understanding of Nazi war crimes and the fate of Nazi war criminals is another of those horrible and ugly aspects of the wartime era that were overtaken and overshadowed by the... Cold War. It is certainly time to set the record straight.
Opening these records to the public may serve two conflicting purposes:
First - These documents may expose government coverups and conspiracies, confirm suspicions, and help to identify war criminals. Historian Robert Herzstein considers these materials "potentially the biggest series of revelations since the Nuremberg trials. There will be cases that the authorities would prefer not come out." Fifty years after the end of World War II, big questions remain unanswered: Were the Dulles brothers spies and traitors? Did Roosevelt turn a blind eye to Nazi genocide? How did the world's worst criminals escape justice – and what was the US government's role in aiding and protecting them?
Of course, opening these records to the public may serve the opposite purpose - they may puncture alleged government coverups and conspiracies, quash ongoing suspicions, and potentially vindicate alleged criminals. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis: "Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant." Often, US Government inquiries do not fuel the fires of conspiracy, but instead extinguish them. In 1994, legions of science fiction fans were disappointed when the presumed UFO sightings in Roswell in 1947 turned out to be a military surveillance balloon. And the release of documents along with the 1998 report of the Kennedy Assassination Review Board disappointed scores of Oliver Stone fans and conspiracy theorists worldwide.
Given the potential impact of such a large declassification of documents, I'd like to move to my second point -- why are THESE SPECIFIC documents so important to historians, researchers, attorneys, and the general public?
On March 31, 1999, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, together with California Governor Gray Davis, acting in his capacity as a private citizen, field a lawsuit against German Banks and German companies accused of benefitting from the looting of Jewish and other assets, and from the use of forced and slave labor. My law firm is one of the firms that filed this case. Looted and "Aryanized" businesses and assets were turned over to the Nazi bank, the Reichsbank. The great reference source, the Guinness Book of World Records, lists the disappearance of the Reichsbank gold as the "GREATEST ROBBERY OF ALL TIME." Important records -- documents that directly relate to our ongoing litigation -- remain classified.
For example, Record Group 319 - records of the Army Staff. This record group contains the papers of the Investigatory Records Repository or IRR, which includes reports, memos, interrogations, and other records collected in the investigation of individuals and organizations. In the index to these records, one file after another is marked classified. There is a still-secret file on Walter Funk, the wartime Director of the German Reichsbank. Did the US know about the tons of looted gold in the Reichsbank? Did US officials have any idea that dental gold from Nazi victims had been smelted and sent to the Reichsbank, or that such looted gold was then sold to Switzerland and other countries?
Another troubling question involves the Nazi-Vatican link. Did the Vatican aid the Croatian Ustasha regime in sending looted funds to Switzerland, or aid in the escape of Ustasha leaders following Hitler's defeat? Did the US aid this escape? The second Eizenstat report mentions these troubling questions, and calls for the opening of relevant archives in Croatia, Serbia, and the Vatican. I suggest that the State Department add another country to the list -- the United States. The Army Investigatory Records Repository contains a file on the USTASHA, and it remains classified. What did the US know, and WHY is this file still withheld?
Moving from looted assets to slave labor - one of the worst exploiters of slave labor was the Siemens concern. Siemens exploited as slaves close to 100,000 foreign workers, POWs, and concentration camp inmates from over 20 separate concentration camps. In the IRR records, there is a file on Herman Siemens, the wartime head of Siemens. This file, too, remains secret. What did the US know about Siemens' wartime activities? And why is this file still classified?
What were the wartime connections between American and German industrialists? Why were German industrialists not severely punished after the war? Why were many compensated by the Allies for bombing damage of their companies -- even though their companies were manufacturing war materials and weaponry for the Nazi regime?
Charles Higham, author of Trading with the Enemy- the Nazi-American Money Plot, described his difficulties in researching such questions:
Because of the secrecy with which the matter has been blanketed, researching it presented me with a nightmare that preceded the greater nightmare of discovery. I embarked upon a voyage that resembled nothing so much as a descent into poisoned waters in a diving bell.
Additional IRR files that remain classified today include those of Charles DeGaulle, Emperor Hirohito, Charles Lindbergh, and even Douglas MacArthur. Incidently, the IRR file on Adolf Hitler was only declassified in 1990...
The wartime activities of German bankers and industrialists were not business activities -- they were criminal activities. Their complicity in wartime acts was not "business as usual" -- it was complicity in genocide. These were not business executives -- but war criminals.
The absence of such important files leaves glaring gaps in our understanding of the Holocaust and World War II. As John Loftus and Mark Aaron noted in the Secret War Against the Jews:
The holes in history are what make sense of the thing. The hidden motives, secret agendas, classified purposes: All these tell the WHY of human events... The holes are the unwritten history of covert operations...Working on behalf of Holocaust survivors, we rely on these records as key legal evidence of wartime atrocities. In many cases, these records are all that remain, and still-secret documents might potentially impact ongoing historic, unprecedented litigation against the companies -- and the criminals -- involved.
I've already covered my first two questions: What is still classified? And why do we need it? I will now address my last question: Why now -- What's the rush?
The average age of a Holocaust survivor is 82. They do not have time to wait. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a co-sponsor of Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act stated, "Those who suffered from the Holocaust are reaching the end of their life span. We owe it to them to make available as much information about that terrible period as possible."
As this window of opportunity closes, we need to write the last chapter of the history of the Holocaust. We must fill in the blanks with answers to even the most uncomfortable and ugly questions -- Who were the criminals that got away? Who helped them flee? And even the question -- where are they now? There are no statutes of limitation on genocide.
Two weeks ago, outside of Cairo, a donkey tripped over a hole. The hole turned out to be an entrance to an area holding thousands of Egyptian mummies. Unlike the archeological excavation now beginning in the Valley of the Kings, no digging is required -- WE KNOW where the still-classified documents are buried at the Archives and other government agencies. With the help of this important Group, and the talented staff and management of the National Archives, I look forward to having the opportunity to request such boxes, peek inside at these historical treasures, blow off the dust, and continue my research.