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Germany: Names Of Dead From Soviet Camps Published

  • Heather Maher

http://gdb.rferl.org/15186322-0A3E-4513-803F-B4ECFDB2F8CD_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/15186322-0A3E-4513-803F-B4ECFDB2F8CD_mw800_mh600.jpg Many concentration camps in Germany were turned into prisoner-of-war camps by the Soviets after Germany's 1945 defeat (Public domain) January 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A museum in Berlin has just opened a public display of the names of 43,000 people who died in prison camps operated by the Soviet Union in Germany after World War II.

Alexandra Hildebrandt, the director of the Berlin Wall Museum, said she only found out last month that the German Red Cross had a list of the people who perished in Soviet-run camps operating in Germany after World War II. Russian officials turned over the lists in 1992.

After obtaining permission, Hildebrandt said she decided to publish the names in books that the public could look through in the hope of helping people solve decades-old mysteries about the fate of their loved ones, "to give people the possibility to find their relatives."

Disputed Numbers

The German government estimates that 65,000 people died or were deliberately killed in military prison camps run by the Soviets from 1945 to 1950. Historians estimate around 180,000 people were held in the camps.

The prisoners were a mix of nationalities, including Germans who were suspected of being friendly to the defeated Third Reich, and citizens of Eastern European countries, including the Soviet Union, judged hostile to the new communist authorities. Some were guilty of war crimes, but many were simply caught up in postwar sweeps.

Hildebrandt says her late husband, Doctor Ranier Hildebrandt, who founded the museum in 1963, researched the names of nearly 100,000 previously unknown political prisoners who died in the camps.

"I think also it must be more [than] 43,000 people who died in this concentration [camp]," she says. "My husband said it was 96,000 -- 1945 to 1950. And why the Russians gave the German Red Cross now just 43,000 [names], this is a big question, I do not know. We will try to [find out]."

Books Of The Dead

At a ceremony today in Berlin, Hildebrandt and the president of the German Red Cross will officially open the public exhibit where the books containing the names will be displayed on tables for people to leaf through. Hildebrandt says that the museum receives thousands of visitors every day.

The six books contain alphabetized lists of victims' first and last names, the number they were assigned by the Red Cross, their date of birth, cause and date of death, and the name of the Soviet camp in which they died. At this point, there are no plans to put the names on the Internet.

The museum says those held included nationals from Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Lithuania, Estonia, and other nations. But Hildebrandt says the published names are not grouped by nationality, because they have been translated so many times their ethnic origin is often impossible to ascertain.

"This is complicated because all of the names, the Russians, they translated the names into Russian," she notes. "And then, when they gave the lists to the German Red Cross in 1992, they translated it again in German. You can imagine how difficult [it has been]."

From Nazi To Soviet Victims

Until the collapse of the communist government in 1990, no organization in East Germany, including the Red Cross, was allowed to conduct investigations into the fate of the thousands of people captured by the Soviets after their victory in the war.

Often, liberated German concentration camps were converted to Soviet military prisons. Since 1990, excavations at these sites have turned up thousands of mass graves.

On the edge of Berlin is the site of what was the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. It was there that 200,000 victims of the Nazis were imprisoned from 1936-45. A mass grave containing the remains of 12,500 people thought to be Soviet victims was unearthed in 1992. The Soviets ran the camp from 1945-50. Most victims died of starvation and exposure, according to forensic authorities.

The Berlin Wall Museum is a showcase for the nonviolent struggle for worldwide human rights, with a focus on the fight for freedom behind the Iron Curtain. It contains an extensive history of the Berlin Wall and the split between East and West Germany.

It also documents the history of successful escapes from East Germany across the wall, the 1956 Hungarian uprising, Czechoslovakia's 1968 Prague Spring, the Polish Solidarity movement, the end of Romania's Ceausescu era, and the August 1991 putsch attempt in Moscow.

Among the artifacts on display are the typewriter on which Czechoslovakia's Charter 77 human rights manifesto was written, a diary from Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov's death mask.
World War II: 60 Years On

A microsite devoted to RFE/RL's coverage of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in May 2005.

See also:

60 Years Later, Nagasaki Bomb Witness Is Finally Heard

For One Hiroshima Survivor, A Journey From Hate To Reconciliation

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