Ashes to Ashes

Over the last 10 or 15 years large German commercial enterprises, those that are around not just since yesterday and have developed a kind of tradition and pride, but also political institutions, have decided to write their own history –  or allowed historians to write their history, especially covering the 12 years from 1933 to 1945. A common practice is to form a commission of historians, of course accepted scholars, and allow them access to the own archive. Emphasis is put on the fact that the commission is independent. Basically that is what Deutsche Bank does, Daimler Benz accepted its responsibility, and of course the Auswärtige Amt did it exemplary.
So maybe it is about time for the German foreign intelligence service, BND, to have a look into the own history. The soon retiring head of the organisation Ernst UHRLAU (Ger., Eng.) had exactly this idea and established a commission of historians (German article – the author is not quite content with the whole action, and describes it as a nice cover-up – in January 2011).
Said commission, regardless whether the members are qualified or not in the eyes of critics, should basically see anything in the archives.
Yesterday, the commission made public (Ger. example) that the BND destroyed the personnel files of circa 250 former officials, who had held high positions in the SS, SD, or Gestapo (English article here) – in 2007.
It’s not very likely that Herr UHRLAU even knew about this, and indicates that a part of the organisation simply took things in its own hands.
How terribly stupid and short-sighted. As if it would be great news that the BND and it’s predecessor institution Organisation Gehlen (Ger., Eng., pre 1945 known as Fremde Heere Ost (Ger., Eng.)) was a collecting tank for old Nazis, there was nobody unencumbered and free of guilt.

BTW I found this interesting website, they have a weekly newsletter for free.

12 thoughts on “Ashes to Ashes

  1. Very interesting. I have magazines from that time mostly in 30’s. Before Hitler ever was in power. It is a quarterly report of the World. It would be interesting to compare what the commission says now and what was said then.

  2. But if a company or organization writes its OWN history, will it write what it WANTS the world to know, or an accurate history? Even if all those records had not been destroyed, what would have made it out into the public?

    I love the new look you have here, Mago… especially your header. Very classy!!

  3. What was shown then, and what the commission can find out now – that is the crux with everything when you look at it historically – it’s always a look backwards, a view that depends on the sources and that never is free from the knowledge of what has happened. Yes, Joyce, that would be an interesting comparation!

    Thank you, Ponita. But I received complains about the readability of the text, the grey on black would be too “flau”, not enough contrast. I am still looking for a solution, I want it to be readable!
    The “independent historical commissions” that were installed by the Foreign Ministery (Auswärtige Amt), the works done with/by/under the influence of the Deutsche Bank received good critics – the historical guild (die Zunft, as they call themselves, the professionals in institutions etc., the scientific public) had one or another point to critizise, but the institutions were lauded for the way they led the scholars in.
    Basically, I think, its about “image” – if one starts to work with these professoral types, one must know how to handle them. It is a receipe for bad press and lousy image if an institution or a company starts to manipulate them – normally these people are professionals and know how an archive works etc. – at least I hope so … you know I worked in the archive of a company, there’s always the possibility to hide things, as long as it is small – the larger an archive, the more difficult it is to disguise things, you never hide all traces.
    Anyway: If they allow scholars in, they must live with the results. The space for real manipulation is small, things may be interpreted differently, but that is part of the ongoing discussion.

    But: The case of the German foreign secret service is a bit different. We sadly have no comprehensive history of the service(s). This destroying of files is so goddam stupid and contra-productive, it’s beyond description: The only chance to influence the public opinion is gone, its baseless from now on – there is nothing to discuss about, because the files are ashes. Now THIS is open to manipulation, interpretation, spin-making!

  4. The more I think about it, the less I understand it. WWII ended in Europe on the 8th of May 1945, nearly 62 years ago. It is impossible that one of the men who was working for one of the ns-organisations, later for Gehlen and then for the BND is still on the job – even a person who was 18 years old in 1945, born 1927, well over 80 (!) today, simply could not have that much to hide, that it would be worth to destroy a file. And those on active duty through the late thirties until the sixties would be well over 90 today – I seriously doubt that there is still one alive.
    So – why?
    I always thought that any kind of intelligence is based on knowledge, that is history, that manifests itself in things like records, Akten – one always keeps the records! One can not simply grab a bunch of files and burn them. Who ever did this. must have hated Uhrlau, must have been under the impression that whatever he wants to hide is worth to be hidden and stay unknown, must have had access, and either is a genius or a complete fool. If the files were unique, he’s a criminal; if they are not he’s a fool and things can be reconstructed, it takes a bit longer then. If there is a political will.
    What stays is a public relations desaster – hell, yeah, the Germans – in doubt they burn the shit and that’s it. Just go for the easy solution, never explain, never excuse.

    GOtt, wie blöd darf man sein.

  5. This makes me think of two things:

    It would be naive to poke around in the past, especially 1933-1945, and not expect to find something that would be as minimum embarrassing by contemporary standards.

    Sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime. In this case destroying historical records versus the uncomfortable facts that may have been found.

  6. It’s sad when we lose any opportunity to add to our understanding of history. Although, the action of burning those records is in itself an act of history in the making which we should equally seek to understand.

  7. PS:

    As an example, consider the NASA moon landings. Arguably the high point in US history and one of our great accomplishments as a species. Of course, there is a direct path in the development of the technology and personnel to the V1s and V2s of Peenemünde and photos of Werner von Braun in an SS uniform with you-know-who.

  8. Thank you Chris … *blush* …

    Yes, LX, and what I find extra embarrassing is, that I am sure that nearly everything already IS known. I am sure that of all these files a copy exists in the US or in a British archive, lest forget the Russian archives, which form a kind of exo-planet …

    I trty to understand, LGS, believe me I try. Maybe in the end, as one author already suspected, it may be based on personal relations – the service seemingly preferres to hire people over time , who were related to each other or stood in another close connection. Maybe it was just such an attempt to whitewash. Or it was simply ineptitude. Maybe the fact that the service is moving to Berlin into a new building plays a role. The oh so secret plans of the house btw were lost within the first months …

    There you are completely right, dear Lionessa! And I thank you very much for dropping by now and then.

  9. Funny that you mention old Henry – only some days ago a recension about a new book on “Fordlandia” was published – a very euphoric recension btw, it seems to be worth a read:
    Grandin, Greg: Fordlandia. The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City. London: icon books 2010. ISBN 978-1-84831-154-1; XII, 416 S., 54 SW-Abb.; £ 9.99 / EUR 11,99
    It is saied to be also a kind of biography of Henry and deals with the more bizarre sides of the man too.

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