Holocaust-Era Documents to Go on Display

The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 5, 2007; 5:58 PM

VIENNA, Austria -- It started as a clear-out job before a house sale and led to the discovery of a window into the Holocaust.

Members of the Jewish Community Vienna were getting an apartment ready before selling a building the group owned when they stumbled upon 800 dusty boxes and dozens of wooden cabinets filled with about a half million documents detailing the lives of Viennese Jews during Nazi times.

"We knew there were documents in there, but we had no idea they were Nazi-era documents," said Ingo Zechner of the group's 2000 find.

Part of the cache, which includes deportation lists, emigration documents, poignant letters and photos, goes on display Thursday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. A related exhibition opens in Vienna next month.

The Jewish Community Vienna and the Holocaust Memorial have spent five years preserving the materials on microfilm for a wider collection that will include about 1.5 million documents from Vienna currently stored at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem.

When completed, Zechner, who heads the community's Holocaust Victims' Information and Support Center, said the documents and photos will represent "the biggest archival holding of the German-speaking Jewish community ever found."

It's part of a growing trove of wartime and Holocaust documents being made public for the first time in recent years.

The Dutch Red Cross began opening its archive a few years ago on the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands when the war broke out _ including a complete card catalog compiled under Nazi direction by the Jewish Council. More than three-quarters of the people listed on the cards died during the Holocaust.

In Bad Arolsen, Germany, tens of millions of pages of Nazi concentration camp records and documents referring to 17.5 million victims are being copied and will be sent to the Holocaust Memorial under an agreement to prepare them for when the long-secret archive is officially opened.

That archive contains records on the arrest, deportation, incarceration, forced labor and deaths of people from the year the Nazis built their first concentration camp in 1933 to the end of the war in May 1945. It also has a vast collection of postwar records from displaced persons camps.

The Vienna discovery includes reports, financial documents, card files, books, maps and charts that together form a history of the final years of Vienna's Jewish community in the lead-up to the Holocaust.

It's unclear exactly how the boxes ended up in the apartment. Zechner said the offices of the Jewish Community Vienna moved several times in the 1970s and 1980s, so it's possible the archives were stored in the building in between moves in the early 1980s.

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