Thursday, August 27, 2009
German Newspaper Gives Blueprints for Nazi Death Camp to Israel
Berlin, Germany - Sketched on yellowing parchment, the 29 blueprints presented to Israel's prime minister Thursday lay out the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in chilling detail, with gas chambers, crematoria, delousing facilities and watch towers drawn to scale.
"There are those who deny that the Holocaust happened," Benjamin Netanyahu said as he accepted the documents as a gift to Israel's Holocaust memorial, where they will go on display next year. "Let them come to Jerusalem and look at these plans, these plans for the factory of death."
Netanyahu lingered over the large sheets spread on a table. Stamped with the Nazi abbreviation for concentration camp "K.L. Auschwitz," one of the largest featured multi-colored sketches, with barracks and even latrines drawn in detail. Other smaller sheets showed architectural designs of individual buildings, drawn from various angles.
The Israeli leader was accompanied by his wife, Sara, whose father was the only member of his family to survive the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II. She watched somberly as the documents, which date from 1941 to 1943, were unfolded.
Also present was Yossi Peled, an Israeli Cabinet minister and former general whose father was killed by the Nazis and whose mother survived Auschwitz in one of the barracks detailed in the blueprints. Peled himself was hidden until age 7 by a family in Belgium who raised him as a Christian. He discovered his Jewish roots in 1948 and was taken to Israel two years later.
In Germany for a visit that combined talks on the Mideast conflict with acknowledgments of the painful past that binds the two countries, Netanyahu drew a clear parallel between the events of the Nazi era and the present day. The world did not do enough to stop the murder of Europe's Jews, he said, and must be careful now to take rapid action against "armed barbarism."
"We cannot allow those who wish to perpetrate mass death, those who call for the destruction of the Jewish people or the Jewish state to go unchallenged," Netanyahu said.
Though he did not explicitly mention Iran, his comments were a clear reference to the Tehran regime and its nuclear program, which Israel sees as a grave threat and wants blocked by stronger international sanctions. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be "wiped off the map."
Axel Springer Verlag, the publisher of the mass circulation Bild newspaper, obtained the Auschwitz blueprints last year from a German man who said he found them when cleaning out an apartment in what was formerly East Berlin.
The publisher and Germany's federal archive have confirmed the documents' authenticity.
Numbering found on the back of the plans indicates they may have been taken from an archive, possibly the collection of documents on the Third Reich kept by the Stasi.
The documents were displayed for several weeks earlier this year in the lobby of Bild's headquarters in Berlin. The newspaper's editor, Kai Diekmann, said the publisher decided to give the sketches to Israel to ensure that as many people as possible could see them.
"These plans have an important function — they remind us of a crime that, with the passing of time, seems ever more incomprehensible," Diekmann said. "It is of the utmost importance to continue to be reminded of it."
While they are not the only original Auschwitz blueprints that still exist — others were captured by the Soviet Red Army and brought to Moscow — they will be the first for Israel's Yad Vashem memorial, its chairman, Avner Shalev, told The Associated Press.
"This set is a very early one, which was found here in Berlin, from the autumn of '41," Shalev said. "It brings a better understanding of the whole process, and the intention of the planners of the complex, and from this perspective it is important."
Shalev said the sketches will be on display in Jerusalem beginning Jan. 27 as part of a special exhibit marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The blueprints include general plans for the original Auschwitz camp and the expansion of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, where most of the killings were carried out. They were initialed by the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, and Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess.
One of the drawings, dated Oct. 14, 1941, shows plans for construction of a "Waffen SS prisoner of war camp" with rows of what appear to be barracks. A notation in the bottom right says it was drafted by a prisoner identified only by his number: "Nr. 471."
German historian Ralf Georg Reuth, who reviewed the documents after they were discovered, noted that it was common to have prisoners draw up the plans for gas chambers where they would later be killed.
More than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died in the gas chambers or through forced labor, disease or starvation at Auschwitz, which the Nazis built after occupying Poland.
Later Thursday, Netanyahu visited a house on Berlin's Wannsee Lake that was the site of an infamous Jan. 20, 1942, meeting at which top Nazis formalized plans for the systematic killing of Europe's Jewish population.
Germany and Israel, which was established three years after the Nazi defeat, today enjoy close ties. On Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined Germany's special commitment, saying it was her country's obligation to "defend Israel always."
After those statements, she and Netanyahu shared a spontaneous and warm handshake.