AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIV , No. 2, Fall 2002

 

Niels Bohr Library Donates Documents on Former Concentration Camp
by Katherine A. Hayes

First page from the photographic report on the Flossenburg
This is the first page from the photographic report on the Flossenbürg camp, originally a stone working facility (Erd-u. Steinwerke). It shows a partial view (Teilansicht) of the camp located in the mountains of Bavaria. The report was assembled for a proposal to turn the camp into an aircraft assembly facility using slave labor.

In April the Niels Bohr Library received an e-mail refer- ence request from Germany. This was not unusual, as our Web site is well known to historians around the world. However, this query was unique in that it diverged from the kinds of questions we usually receive. In late February, a German scholar doing research in the Niels Bohr Library had noticed some unusual materials in one of our most heavily used collections. He brought them to the attention of colleagues in Germany, who checked our holdings in the online finding aid. The request began:

Flossenbürg concentration camp memorial site (Northern Bavaria/Germany) is currently enlarging its collection of archival materials related to the history of Flossenbürg concentration camp and its about 100 sub-camps. A German colleague pointed out your collection of the Samuel Goudsmit papers to us. As your excellent finding aid shows, Goudsmit's collection also contains (photographic) material of Flossenbürg.

Physicist Samuel Goudsmit led the ALSOS mission in 1944-1945, pushing into Europe just behind the advancing allied armies. Seeking to discover how far Nazi Germany had gotten in the race to build atomic bombs, the ALSOS team visited a variety of research and industrial sites. After Goudsmit's death, the Niels Bohr Library took in his papers. We do not normally seek the papers of individual scientists, but Goudsmit was never associated with a university that had an archival program, and we took in the papers to be sure they would not be lost to posterity.

Responding to the request, we found a scrapbook with photographs of the buildings at Flossenbürg, exterior and interior. The site was built upon caves, and labels indicated areas devoted to stoneworking and prospective underground aircraft assembly. There were two large maps, one of Flossenbürg itself and one locating it within its region. There were also several folders of photostats of Third Reich documents. In his book Alsos, Goudsmit wrote that these documents appeared mysteriously on his desk in Paris. He tried returning them, but no one knew why they had been sent and no one wanted them back. He learned they were papers of the staff of Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and document an attempt by the SS to relocate aircraft assembly factories in the caves of Flossenbürg, and to use concentration camp prisoners as a labor force there. (The attempt failed, thanks to infighting among Nazis and German labor and industry.)
Overall location  and views of aircraft assembly
This map is one of many in the photographed documents that Goudsmit received from an unknown source, donated by the Niels Bohr Libary to the Flossenbürg memorial archives. Labelled "Secret" at top with the SS logo, it shows the overall location and top and side views of the tunnels proposed for aircraft assembly. The stamp at lower left is the U.S. Department of Energy's certificate that the document is unclassified.

The longstanding policy of the Center for History of Physics is to place materials at whatever repository is most appropriate, aiming for the best public and scholarly access. Time and again we have taken in materials that were endangered, only to let them go years later when a more appropriate repository was found. The Flossenbürg materials were clearly more relevant to the memorial and archives of the camp than to the historians of science who are the main users of the Niels Bohr Library. We therefore decided to turn over the originals to the Flossenbürg archives. We are keeping photocopies of all except the maps (which are large and expensive to copy). Shortly after the materials were shipped, we heard by e-mail: "We received the scrapbook, map and other documents concerning Flossenbürg today. Thank you very much! Coincidentally, this weekend the annual reunion of former prisoners of Flossenbürg is being celebrated. I already had the opportunity to show the scrapbook to a former prisoner (who now lives in New York) who recognized the place that he was forced to work in. As you can imagine, sources like the ones you donated are very important not only for our scientific efforts but especially for the memories of the former prisoners. Therefore, I once again want to thank you and the AIP for this generous donation."


Return to Newsletter Table of ContentsRETURN to Fall 2002 Newsletter Table of Contents

AIP History CenterCenter for History of Physics
Email: chp@aip.org
Phone: 301-209-3165
American Institute of Physics 2003 American Institute of Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740-3843. Email: aipinfo@aip.org Phone: 301-209-3100; Fax: 301-209-0843