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Newly found documents may answer Holocaust questions

November 12, 1996
Web posted at: 4:10 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Documents released last week by the United States government show that U.S. and British intelligence knew that Hitler's Germany was systematically eliminating Jews as early as 1941.

The news could benefit many survivors of the Holocaust who have long sought answers, and in some cases retribution, against their Nazi tormentors.

And for historians, the 1.4 million pages of decoded German messages shed light on little-known elements of the Nazi execution of Jews in the Soviet Union.

University history professor Richard Breitman said he believes the Americans got the documents from the British during the war and kept them. Breitman got the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request, and found them stamped "Most Secret, to Be Kept Under Lock and Key, Never to Be Removed From the Office."


Breitman said that the terminology is something he had never seen before and suggests that "this was about as secret as you could get."

Secrecy prevailed, historians say, because the Allies did not want the Germans to know their code had been broken. But the Allies also did not want to pursue the war against Hitler on the basis of saving the Jews.

The United States was not even in the war at the time the Germans were ravaging what was then the Soviet Union.

The newly released messages include a number from Nazi police regiment commander Friedrich Jeckeln to his superiors, detailing information such as the number of Jews shot by his officers while they "suffered no casualties."


Breitman says prosecutors in other countries would have made great use of the information, had it been available, immediately after World War II.

But German officials note that there is no statute of limitations on the war crimes of murder and genocide. A German government spokesman said that if the documents reveal new perpetrators, the government could open new prosecutions.

Correspondent Charles Bierbauer contributed to this report.


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