3a) Ministry Documents

The German Federal Archives, responsible for the holdings of all Reich and federal government agencies, has a large collection of ministerial documents, also from the Nazi period—although many documents were destroyed in the war. Since all fundamental decisions and precedence-setting verdicts in individual cases are made by top-level government agencies, ministerial documents and those of the highest Reich agencies are of particular importance.

In the following module, we shall look at the different types of ministry documents and discuss their particularities. We shall then look at directives as a central tool for steering decision-making and for handling procedures as well as for cooperation within and between government agencies.


1. Types of documents

It is possible to distinguish between external documents, which either came from or were sent to an external agency or person, and internal documents, which circulated within the institution.

External documents include letters, express letters, circulars, decrees, and telegrams. Their main purpose is communication with the outside world.

Internal documents include short cover letters and responses, as well as file memos, memos of phone calls and conversations, and file notes. They result from government agencies' obligation to provide written documentation of all important operations and issues, so that the current stand of any case can be looked up at any time in the concomitant file. The separation of tasks into varying divisions and the myriad levels of hierarchies and decision-making processes also result in the creation of internal documents.


2. Cooperation within agency offices and divisions and between agencies

Directives are the most important steering instrument regarding administrative procedures, especially decision-making processes. In the usual workflow, each step to be taken is noted on the document in the form of a consecutively numbered list and then handled by the respective officer. The most common directives are directives that a document should be answered by a certain person, "GG" for Geschäftsgang or workflow, meaning that the document should follow the usual route, "zdA" or zu den Akten, directing that it be added to the file. "Wv" or Wiedervorlage sets a follow-up date, Stellungnahme is a request for a response and Mitzeichnung demands a co-signature. Documents passed from one officer or clerk to the next carried by couriers in coloured folders with a grid on the front.

->Video of a lecture on ministry documents and the organisation of work in government agencies


3b) Personal Files

The German Federal Archives in Berlin-Lichterfelde holds a large number of files on various individuals from the Nazi period. Many of these are from the holdings of the Nazi party and its subdivisions, which until 1994 were held in the Berlin Document Center (BDC), run by the Americans, or from similar holdings in what was commonly known as the NS Archives, HA IX/11 in the GDR Ministry for State Security.

Searches in the German Federal Archives for records on individuals active in the Nazi period are usually successful if one or more of the following characteristics apply:

  • Employee in a top-level or high-level Reich agency (i.a. personnel files)
  • Employed by the judiciary between 1934 and 1945 or involved in a trial before the highest German court.
  • Of Jewish decent and a resident of the German Reich (often mentioned in the supplementary file cards to the May 1939 census)
  • Victim of the centralized "euthanasia" operation between 1939 and the summer of 1941 (appr. 30,000 patient files)
  • Sinti or Roma studied by the Criminal Biological Research Centre of the Reich Ministry of Health
  • Known as a member of the resistance to the Nazi regime and/or discriminated against or persecuted by the regime
  • Member of the NSDAP and its organisations—especially the SS—and subsidiary organisations
  • Active in the area of culture and therefore a member of the Reich Chamber of Culture (Reichskulturkammer)
  • The relocation of all so-called Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans who lived outside Germany or Austria) from central, eastern or south-eastern Europe into the Reich or the occupied eastern territories and naturalisation at the central migration office (Einwandererzentralstelle, EWZ)

The following presentation presents numerous examples of personal files, especially those of perpetrators, for example NSDAP membership cards.

PDF presentation on personal files in the German Federal Archives with examples of perpetrator files.


3c) Military Documents

The main sites of the Holocaust were in the East, in the areas taken by the Wehrmacht. Killings took place not only in ghettos and death camps, such as Auschwitz and the Operation Reinhardt camps, but also behind the front by the operations of the Security Police mobile killing units or Einsatzgruppen and the Security Service, the Sicherheitsdienst or SD. The Wehrmacht was involved in these action in many ways, either indirectly—for example through logistical support—and less often directly as a participant in war crimes and mass shootings. Direct involvement of the Wehrmacht was mostly in the suppression of partisans and the concomitant acts of so-called retaliation.

For these reasons, military documents are important to Holocaust research. They were created at all levels of the Wehrmacht from the highest authorities and commanding agencies, down to the armies and the individual regiments. Military staff was organized almost exactly the same at all levels. In order to choose a research path and find relevant documents, it is necessary to understand this structure. In the main, the same or similar rules apply to Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS documents as to documents from civilian agencies. At the same time, there are many particularities that should be kept in mind. For example, in military holdings, there are many papers—including war diaries, military reports and orders, maps, telegrams, etc—that form their own category of document with specific characteristics that need to be understood and recognized for the correct interpretation of the sources.

The following presentation aims to impart just such knowledge and deals with the specifics of military documents, illustrated by examples (in German only).

If you are interested in the German Federal Archives' Military Archives Department in Freiburg, you will also find an overview of the history, authority and transmission of the military archives (in German only).


3d) Documents on the Nazi crime of "euthanasia"

From the end of the nineteenth century, discussions of "mercy killings" of the disabled or "euthanasia" can found in publications in Germany and abroad. In the German Empire, radical proposals were made due to overcrowding in mental hospitals and nursing homes (Heil- und Pflegeanstalten)—in part because of the many former soldiers suffering from traumatic psychiatric illnesses, but also as a result of the continuing economic crisis. But it was not until the Nazis came to power that these theoretical ideas were followed by concrete actions. The first of these was the forced sterilization law, which came into force in 1933 and legalized the sterilization of the disabled. In 1939, administrative preparation for the Nazi "euthanasia" program began.

In a private memo to Reichsleiter Bouhler and Dr. med. Brandt, most likely written in October but predated September 1, 1939, Hitler personally "charged [them] with responsibility to broaden the authority of certain physicians, to be designated by name, to the extent that persons who are judged incurable, to the best of human knowledge and upon a most careful diagnosis of their condition, may be accorded a mercy death."[2]

The Chancellery of the Führer and the Reich Ministry of the Interior organized the implementation of the killings. However neither institution was to appear publicly as the executive body for the "euthanasia" measures. A secret agency was set up in Tiergartenstraße 4 in Berlin for the central management of the killings. Despite Hitler's missive, there was no legal legitimation for killing mentally ill and disabled patients, for which reason the organisation of the murders remained secret and was known only unofficially as "T4." The Chancellery of the Führer set up organizations as fronts, including the Reich Working Group on Mental Hospitals and Nursing Homes or Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft Heil- und Pflegeanstalten. The members of this working group cooperated with the Reich Ministry of the Interior's public health department. The Charitable Ambulance Company or Gemeinnützigen Kranken-Transport-Gesellschaft was founded for the purpose of transporting patients to the killing centres. Accounts were handled by a clearing office also created expressly for the purpose of settling all financial transactions associated with the operation, the Zentralverrechnungsstelle Heil- und Pflegeanstalten. Employer and organizer was the Charitable Foundation for Institutional Care. These institutions formed the organizational core of the T4 headquarters.

In the early phase, one of the main tasks faced by Operation T4 was to gather information about all institutions in Germany that housed mentally and physically disabled people. First, lists of all such institutions were compiled at the Reich Ministry of the Interior. In September 1939, all Prussian District Presidents, as well as all Ministers of the Interior in the non-Prussian states, were required to provide information for the purpose of registering all residential care institutions in the Reich. Some of the documents from this first phase of the murder of the disabled ended up in state archives.

Forms for the registration of individual patients and for the decision, made at T4 headquarters, about what should happen to them, were sent out by region. By the summer of 1940, almost one thousand institutions in the Reich had received such reporting forms with a cover letter. These documents, as long as they were filed and also preserved, can often be found in the administrative files of many institutions.

The state (or in Prussia provincial) administrations were often also involved in sending out the reporting forms. Of the thousands of reporting forms that were sent to Berlin, few individual patient records survived. The reporting forms, evaluated by consulting physicians appointed by the T4 program, formed the basis of the systematic murder of the physically and mentally ill and disabled.

Killing centres were set up for an interim period at six mental hospitals and nursing homes. There, patients from those and other hospitals were gassed and then cremated:

  • Brandenburg                   January 1940 – September 1940
  • Grafeneck                       January 1940 – December 1940
  • Hartheim near Linz         January 1940 – late 1944
  • Sonnenstein/Pirna          April 1940 – August 1943
  • Bernburg/Saale              September 1940 – April 1943
  • Hadamar                         January 1941 – August 1941

Independent of the early "euthanasia" measures taken within the Reich, as well as in occupied and later incorporated Poland, mass killings of physically and mentally disabled people took place as early as September 1939. Patients from institutions in Pomerania and East Prussia were also murdered before the official start of the operation in 1940.

Map of the Nazi euthanasia program killing sites, 1939-1941, highlighting the six T4 killing centres (Grafeneck, Brandenburg/Havel, Pirna-Sonnenstein, Hartheim, Hadamar and Bernburg/Saale) and the various interim institutions connected to these centres.

The reporting forms dispatched to the Reich Ministry of the Interior were sent on to the Reich Working Group. Office workers made multiple photocopies of each completed reporting form and sent them to the medical department of the Working Group. There, a copy of each form was sent to three consulting physicians or Gutachter. After the consultants finished their task, they sent the forms back to the Reich Working Group in Berlin. In Berlin, the marks made by the three initial consultants were transferred onto another copy of the same reporting form and passed on to one of two senior consulting physicians. The reporting forms were the foundation for the order to transfer patients from a mental hospital and nursing home to one of the killing centres.

The Charitable Ambulance Company received the forms that had been marked with a red plus and transported the patients from their original institution to an interim home and then to a killing centre. To enable these transports, the respective regional administrations were brought in to help with operating procedures. In Prussia, the Senior President, as head of the Provincial Council or Provinzialverband, personally ordered the transports from the mental hospitals and nursing homes under his aegis. In the other states, these orders were given by the respective state agencies. Private and church hospitals and homes also mandated transfers.

 The files, given to the patients to be murdered when they were transported, were intended to inform relatives of transport and death (though not of the cause) and to be used for settling expenses with the central clearing house.

In September 1940, the Nazis began killing Jewish patients in a special T4 subprogram. The Reich Ministry of the Interior ordered the registration of all Jews in residential homes and hospitals. For each region, large public psychiatric hospitals were chosen as collection points for Jewish residents of homes and hospitals. The Jewish patients stayed at these hospitals a very short time until they could be transported as a group to a killing centre, where they were murdered, often on the day of arrival. The official place of death was given as the psychiatric hospital Cholm near Lublin, which existed only on paper. In December 1940, the Reich Ministry of the Interior issued a decree that all Jews who had not been murdered in the fall of 1940 and still resided in homes and hospitals, should be brought together to a home in the middle of Germany, the mental hospital and nursing home Bendorf-Sayn near Koblenz. In 1942, these patients, together with other Jewish citizen from the area, were all deported to the General Government and murdered.

By September 1941, around 70,000 people had been murdered in the gas chambers of Operation T4. Despite all attempts to keep the "euthanasia" program a secret, knowledge of the crime was wide-spread; it was impossible for the work going on in the killing centres to go unnoticed.[3] Those who lived in the area of course became aware of the buses that regularly arrived at the hospital full and left empty, not to mention the smoke from the crematoria. Public disapproval of murdering mentally disabled and psychiatric patients was a repeated topic of Gestapo reports on the public mood, and it was also occasionally brought up in some pastors' sermons. To calm the public, Hitler ended the central "euthanasia" program on 24 August 1941. However the decentralized murder of this patient group continued until the end of the war.

The T4 office continued its work, first in Berlin, and from 1944, after a few interim stations, at the killing centre Hartheim.[4] It was tasked not only with the management of the killings, but also the registration of new patients on new reporting forms. In late 1944, the office began to destroy all patient files and communication from the various organisations and divisions involved in Operation T4. Around New Year's Day 1945, the T4 employees, together with thirty thousand remaining patient files, were moved to the mental hospital and nursing home Pfafferode in Mühlhausen, Thuringia, where the files remained. In 1960, these documents became part of the holdings of the GDR Ministry for State Security in East Berlin and were taken over by the German Federal Archives in 1990. They can be found in the collection R 179 Kanzlei des Führers, Hauptamt IIb.

In the following PDF file are digital reproductions of documents from 1940 and '41 concerning three victims of the "euthanasia" program run by the T4 central office in Berlin. A T4 reporting from was found for two of these people. These forms, which contain important information on the organisation and implementation of "euthanasia" in the Third Reich, rarely survived the Nazi era.



 [1] The following draws from the historical introduction to the holdings relating to the Nazi crime of "euthanasia" in Germany and Austria on the German Federal Archives homepage: http://www.bundesarchiv.de/geschichte_euthanasie/.

[2] BArch R 3001/ 24209.

 [3] Some doctors and home and hospital directors, such as the director of the Bodelschwinghschen Anstalten in Bielefeld, refused to cooperate with these measures and also made them public to some extent, as did the Protestant Bishop Wurm in Wuerttemberg and the Catholic Bishop Cardinal of Galen in Muenster.


3e) Resources: Legal documents from Investigations of Nazi Crimes: The Central Office and the Holdings BArch 162


The Central Office of the Judicial Authorities of the Federal States for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes was founded in November 1958 as the central agency for conducting preliminary investigations into Nazi crimes. It is situated in Ludwigsburg. The office was tasked with investigation into and systematisation of Nazi crimes as well as finding perpetrators. The first part of this module will look at the foundation and development of the Central Office and its tasks. Since the 1990s, the Central Office's large collection of documents and investigation files are kept in a branch of the Federal Archives in Ludwigsburg, with the reference number B 162. The second section explains the structure of this collection. In the third section, we introduce the Central Office files, in particular the central file, the key entry point to the Central Office documents.


1. The Central Office—Founding, Task, Framework, and Development.

The Central Office of the Judicial Authorities of the Federal States for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes was founded in November 1958 as the central agency for conducting preliminary investigations into Nazi crimes. It was founded as the result of general agreement that a central office with judicial expertise had to be created, first because the authority of the varying agencies was unclear and second because the trials of the Ulm Einsatzgruppen or mobile killing units had shown that regional public prosecutors did not have the knowledge necessary to investigate Nazi crimes. However the original idea of a central federal investigation and indictment unit connected to the federal public prosecutor's office failed due to the opposition of the judicial administrations of some states, who felt that their authority as federal states was threatened. For a while, proposals were considered to institute the Central Office merely as an information clearing house and file collection site without any true judicial authority. It is safe to say that some federal state governments did not want the new administration to be given much institutional weight or judicial authority, because of the highly sensitive socio-political nature of its subject matter. A prime example of this is the reaction of Bavaria, which tried to undermine and subvert the goals of the Central Office by demanding that its authority by expanded to include crimes against German prisoners of war in allied custody and the expulsion of the Germans from Polish territory. While the focus of the Central Office was not changed, its powers of jurisdiction were greatly restricted in comparison with the original plans. The administrative agreement of November 6, 1958 defined the objective of the Central Office's future investigations as follows:

The function of the Central Office shall concentrate in the main on the investigation of those crimes committed in areas where which the Federal Republic does not have jurisdiction, namely:

  • a) crimes against civilians in connection with war operations that were not acts of war per se, in particular the actions of the so-called Einsatzkommandos
  • B) crimes, committed outside the territory of the Federal Republic in concentration camps and similar camps

However the Central Office was tasked only with conducting "preliminary investigations". This terminology, not closely defined in the German code of criminal procedure, was interpreted as gathering information when there was "sufficient and real indications" of a "crime that can be prosecuted."

Adalbert Rückerl, director of the Central Office for many years, described the new agency's mission and its limits as follows:

The mission of the Central Office as formulated in the administrative agreement is to collect all available pertinent documents regarding the crimes it is to investigate, to sift through them, delineate the facts of the crimes, and determine the whereabouts of the perpetrators. The files created in the course of these preliminary investigations are then to be handed over to the public prosecutor of the federal state that has jurisdiction over the (main) perpetrator's place of residence, in order that the state office can open formal investigative procedures.

To this end, the Central Office began to systematically collect material on Nazi crimes—in particular those that had taken place in the eastern European countries—and opened preliminary investigations into well-known and widespread offenses. These investigations aimed at both gathering the facts of the case and determining whether they were indictable as well finding and naming possible perpetrators and witnesses. The office was under time pressure because the statute of limitations for homicide would be reached in1965.

Due to the delineation of its authority and the legal definition of the term "preliminary investigations," the work of the Central Office initially focused on gathering the facts on Nazi crimes and attempting to systematize this information. Following this, they named individuals and groups involved in said crimes. The bylaws of the Central Office stipulated that they create and manage a central file, organised by name, place, and unit, as well as one file on documents and one on criminal trials.

The work done by the Central Office can be divided into phases in which both the object and the scope of its investigations varied. In the first phase, from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, its focus was on gaining a structured overview of the subject matter—in regard to both the facts and the law. It should be noted that in this short timespan alone, an expression of the extreme dedication of the agency's investigative team and the quality of their work, the Central Office, in numerous preliminary proceedings, was able to gain a systematic understanding of the main outlines of Nazi war crimes and genocidal crimes, including almost all of their components. Starting with the violence of the Einsatzgruppen and the murders in the death camps, Central Office investigators very soon had an overview of the workings of the whole police and terror apparatus in the occupied territories of Poland and the Soviet Union: the Order Police, the  Ordnungspolizei or OrPo, the Security Police or Sicherheitspolizei and the regular police force or Gendarmerie. In addition, they had collected information on crimes in the ghettos, concentration camps, and forced labour camps; on the deportation and execution of Jews throughout Europe in the so-called General Government; on the systematic murders and brutal acts of terror carried out by the Volksdeutsche Selbstschutz, the ethnic German militia in Poland; on crimes against Soviet and also Polish prisoners of war; and, last but not least, on the entire structure of the "euthanasia" crimes. In only six years, the Central Office opened around 700 often very broad preliminary investigations, of which 545 were sent to the state public prosecutor's office in charge.

The decision that the statute of limitations for murder and manslaughter began in 1949 and not 1945 gave the Central Office four more years for their investigations. Concurrently, the authority of the agency was expanded to include crimes within Germany, which ensured not only a continuation of the office's investigations, but also went hand in hand with an increase in personnel and a broader, more differentiated organisational and institutional structure. The investigators were able to research not only crimes abroad, but also those committed in the concentration camps and their many satellite camps within German, which were subject to a systematic review. New investigations were also opened into the work of the Reich agencies responsible for the realisation of the National Socialist extermination programmes. By 1966, the Central Office had five departments pr Abteilungen and 49 divisions or Referate, mirroring the highly differentiated structure of authority for territorial and material jurisdiction.

Organisation and Structure of the Central Office

  • Department 1 (6 divisions)

Responsible for the occupied countries and territories in the West, as well as the area of the Third Reich as defined by the 1937 borders and Austria.

  • Department II (13 divisions)

Responsible for the occupied countries and territories in the East, namely the Polish territories annexed in 1939, the so-called General Government and its districts, the Operation Reinhardt death camps and the occupied territories in the Soviet Union, the Baltic States, Belarus and the Ukraine.

  • Department III (5 divisions)

Responsible for international legal assistance, gathering and evaluating evidence, and Wehrmacht crimes.

  • Department IV (19 divisions)

Responsible for crimes committed within the system of Nazi concentration camps, for the Reich ministries responsible for or involved in the planning and coordination of the deadly occupation policies, for administrative and active SS divisions, as well as the entire "euthanasia" program within the Third Reich and in the occupied territories.

  • Department V (6 divisions)

Responsible for all tasks pertaining to information and documentation, in particular the central card file, as well as crimes committed in Czechoslovakia, southern and south-eastern Europe, especially the Balkan States, Italy and northern Africa.

The work of the Central Office was dependent on two external factors over which it had only limited influence: on the one hand the judicial and political framework of the Federal Republic of Germany, in particular the statute of limitations, and on the other hand international cooperation and the willingness of other countries to pass on evidence, particularly the formerly occupied Eastern European countries, but also those in western and southern Europe. In 1969-70, the German federal government and the Bundestag voted to extend the statute of limitation for murder from twenty to thirty years. With that decision, the legal prosecution of Nazi murders became possible for a further ten years. However, this positive development was greatly impaired by a change to the German penal code, specifically the Ordnungswidrigkeitengesetz or Administrative Offences Act. This revision made it much more difficult to prosecute aiding and abetting murder, which was now subject to a shorter statute of limitations unless it was possible to prove certain subjective offense-related characteristics. This set a legal policy agenda that made it impossible to bring numerous cases to trial, including a comprehensive preliminary investigation on the Reich Security Main Office. The repeal of the statute of limitation for murder in 1979 was of course a respectable political achievement. However, against this background it should not detract from the fact that it not only became increasingly difficult to prosecute Nazi crimes, but also that in many cases, any legal standing had been made null and void by the Administrative Offences Act. As a result, in most of the investigations that were transferred to state public prosecutors' offices after 1979 all charges were dropped and indictments, not to mention trials, became rare exceptions.

International cooperation between the Central Office and the Eastern European countries in particular was highly dependent upon the course of the Cold War. While both Poland and the Soviet Union did repeatedly send large document packages to Ludwigsburg, cooperation with the Soviet bureaucracy in particular was unreliable and varied depending on the general political climate. This was all the more regrettable because the Soviet Union recorded the highest death toll by far in Hitler's Vernichtungskrieg or war of annihilation. In contrast, despite the global political situation, a very close and constant collaboration developed between the Central Office and Poland or Polish government agencies. Of equal significance and perhaps even greater symbolic importance was the continual growth of cooperation with Israel. This alliance was key to gaining witness testimonies from survivors of the genocide who had made a new home in Israel. At the same time, the flow of information from the countries west of the Iron Curtain was often sluggish or stagnant. Cooperation with Yugoslavia was particularly difficult. As a result, the Balkan States, which in fact were a central site of Nazi crimes, have only a marginal place in the files of the Central Office. In sum, temporary foci or the shifting spotlight of Central Office investigations were always also a result of or dependent on the current state of international relations and the concurrent flow of information from other countries.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Central Office concentrated on murder as part of the everyday terror of the German occupation and on the special jurisdiction of the "General Government" and its territories. The success of these efforts, as measured in prosecutions, was admittedly quite small. Neither did many prosecutions result from the French-German addendum to the Bonn Convention the Überleitungsvertrag, that made it possible to reinvestigate crimes committed on the Western Front that had already been to trial after the war in front of French (military) courts. In the mid-1980s, the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC) provided access to its files, which enabled the Central Office to open a broad evaluation of this new source. The fact that, once again, the results were meagre was on the one hand due to the lack of substance within the files themselves and on the other hand to the significant limitation of the office's legal jurisdiction.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989-90, the Central Office was able to incorporate the knowledge won by investigations led by East Germany, with which there had never been any official cooperation. Yet these new preliminary investigations were also in the main without any concrete results. Neither did much come out of investigations begun in the 1990s into war crimes in Italy and Greece. Nevertheless, it was a milestone that the Central Office was able to carry out those investigations unchallenged—expanding its authority to war crimes in the strict sense of the term, an area that had been explicitly excluded when the agency first took up its work. But this expanded authority did not result in more prosecutions.

A fundamental shift of legal paradigms took place in the conviction of John Demjanjuk in Munich in 2009—whereby Demjanjuk died before the decision could be approved by the highest court. The First District Court in Munich hereby set precedence for the interpretation of "aiding and abetting" In the trials of Nazi criminals by deciding that presence at a clearly genocidal action amounts to accessory to murder. Every preliminary investigation since opened by the Central Office into the crimes of concentration camp or death camp guards who are still alive has been based on that legal basis or assumption. This interpretation of "accessory to murder" was confirmed by the Federal Court of Justice in its verdict on the Lueneburg trial of the SS guard Oskar Gröning. Nevertheless, in light of the age of possible defendants, the future scope of the agency's investigations is reaching its biological limitation and the Central Office is in the late autumn of its existence. All in all, the record of criminal prosecution of Nazi criminals by the German judiciary has been mixed at best. At the same time, the work of the Central Office led to an immense advance in knowledge about the extermination of European Jewry, the reign of Nazi terror and the war of annihilation—the importance of which can hardly be overestimated, which also holds true for the sociocultural impact of this research upon how the Nazi past is now treated in Germany.

The investigation files of the Central Office and NSG files in general (thus named for "National Socialist Gewaltverbrechen" or violent crimes) are of inestimable value to Holocaust researchers in the stead of original files from the Nazi era which were destroyed or lost. For a very long time, it was clear that the German Federal Archives would carry responsibility for securing the documents compiled by the Central Office. When in the course of the 1990s it became clear that action needed to follow this decision, the federal and state judiciary administrations came to an agreement in 2000 to found a subsidiary of the federal archives in Ludwigsburg. Since that time, and parallel to continuing investigations, it has authority over archiving the Central Office files and providing access to the same.


2. Size and structure of the B 162 holdings

B 162 comprises around 1,200 linear meters of records, of which around 800 have been transferred to the Federal Archives. The holdings are divided into multiple, wildly divergent, segments. The general and service files of the Central Office, for example, have around 400 linear meters and have not yet been transferred to the Federal Archives.

The documents collection is already in the Federal Archives holdings. It is made up of copies of evidence and parts of records of varying sizes and provenance. These range from original documents from the Nazi period—mostly seized by Soviet, Polish, and Czech authorities after the war—to legal documents from Eastern European legal investigations and trials and records from war crimes trials held by the Western allies, including part of the Nuremberg Trial documents. Before being archived, this segment of Central Office documents were catalogued for investigative research and inventoried in a document card index by subject and also in finding aids known as "Findbücher." These more than 8000-page registries even list individual pages and are both a part of the holdings and available in digital form for research.

All Central Office files until 2000 regarding general information on proceedings, verification and correspondence are also now managed by Federal Archives (allgemeine Register, AR-Z and AR-Vorgänge).

These files make up the bulk of the transferred documents, both in quantity and quality. They cover more than 7000 proceedings and contain more than 16,000 file references. These files in particular provide a good overview of Central Office investigations. They not only provide exhaustive information about the process of the investigations themselves, but also and especially about the crimes, narrowly defined, committed by the Nazis and how they fit together, but also about possible further avenues of investigation, depending on the state of knowledge and the vagaries of time. They contain not only correspondence pertaining to the investigation, but also numerous minutes of interrogations and other evidence, as well as summarized legal documents such as investigative and final reports, withdrawals of prosecution from public prosecutors' offices, and, when applicable, indictments and verdicts. Unsurprisingly, these files are the most researched of all files transferred.

The segment dealing with general information, or AR proceedings is also large, but its contents vary greatly. It comprises around 100,000 proceedings from the beginning until 2010. All files older than 1980—around 35,000 proceedings—have already been preserved and catalogued. General information refers to numerous, often widely divergent proceedings. They range from preliminary proceedings or inquiries that were never passed on to a public prosecutor, to correspondence, to investigative proceedings that were set rolling by a public prosecutor without the help of the Central Office, up to requests from academic researchers, groups, institutions, and private citizens.

These three main segments are supplemented and completed by a collection—coupled with an overview of all court cases—of all important indictments and verdicts dealing with Nazi crimes. In the meantime, these have been classified and filed according to the type of proceeding. Furthermore, the holdings include elaborations by the Central Office, external reviews and collections of material on key subjects, none of which however are as large as the other records.

The archive material also includes much information and documentation and the file cards produced to this end; a fundamental task of the Central Office.


3. Indexing the holdings—the importance of the central file

Effective information management was essential if the Central Office was to achieve its goal. To this end, three files were created to which new information was continually added. The largest and most important of the three was the central file. It contains around 1.7 million index cards of which 708,000 are for people, 635,000 are for places, and 378,000 are for units. Next largest is the document file, comprised of eight steel file cabinets with six drawers each. The exact number of index cards is unknown, but it is surely somewhere in the six-digit range. Finally, there is an overview of proceedings in a file with around 100,000 cards referring to individuals who were the object of around 16,000 investigations by public prosecutors' offices.

The central file was conceived to provide quick access to relevant information for preliminary investigations. It also links the facts gathered from all research and investigation results. For this file, the Central Office continually evaluated and evaluates each individual document created or gathered in preparation for legal proceedings and creates and index card for each one. Thus the central file is also a comprehensive register of people and subjects for the entirety of the B 162 holdings. It not only provides a list of all defendants, but also an almost complete reference to witnesses and in fact to anyone who was as much as mentioned in the minutes of interrogations, in investigative reports, or in directives. The significance of this for research on a particular person is clear. Any research subject can be found not only if they were indicted, but also if their name came up at any point during a preliminary investigation. The index cards are the link that connect disparate and scattered information on persons and give a precise reference to the exact document(s) on which their name can be found, even within a very broad lawsuit or across multiple proceedings. This is essential for research on persons, particularly since biographical information is found mostly and often only in minutes of interrogations. However just because somebody was listed as accused in preliminary proceedings does not by a long shot mean that the concomitant file for the proceedings contains relevant personal data. Often the person was not found, or proceedings were closed because, for example, a legal assessment of the facts of the case came out negative, or the person was a marginal figure in a case against a large number of people. The central file therefore acts as a registry to the entirety of the Central Office holdings and is an aid like no other—it makes research possible that would inconceivable using only the registries usually to be found in an archive.




Die Außenstelle Ludwigsburg - Themenheft, Mitteilungen aus dem Bundesarchiv 16 (2008).

Klaus Bästlein: Zeitgeist und Justiz. Die Strafverfolgung von NS-Verbrechen im deutsch-deutschen Vergleich und im historischen Verlauf, in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 63 (2016).

Andreas Eichmüller: Keine Generalamnestie. Die Strafverfolgung von NS-Verbrechen in der frühen Bundesrepublik (= Quellen und Darstellungen zur Zeitgeschichte 93), München 2012.

Rüdiger Fleiter: Die Ludwigsburger Zentrale Stelle – eine Strafverfolgungsbehörde als Legitimationsinstrument? Gründung und Zuständigkeit 1958 bis 1965. In: Kritische Justiz 35 (2002).

Norbert Frei (Hrsg.): Transnationale Vergangenheitspolitik. Der Umgang mit deutschen Kriegsverbrechern in Europa und nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg. Göttingen 2006.

Kerstin Freudiger: Die juristische Aufarbeitung von NS-Verbrechen, Tübingen 2002.

Michael Greve: Der justitielle und rechtspolitische Umgang mit den NS-Gewaltverbrechen in den sechziger Jahren, Frankfurt/M. 2001.

Heike Krösche: ‚Die Justiz muss Farbe bekennen‘. Die öffentliche Reaktion auf die Gründung der Zentralen Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen 1958, in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 56 (2008).

Marc von Miquel: Ahnden oder amnestieren? Westdeutsche Justiz und Vergangenheitspolitik in den sechziger Jahren, Göttingen 2004.

Hans H. Pöschko (Hrsg.): Die Ermittler von Ludwigsburg. Deutschland und die Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen. Herausgegeben im Auftrag des Fördervereins Zentrale Stelle e. V., Berlin 2008.

Adalbert Rückerl: NS-Verbrechen vor Gericht. Versuch einer Vergangenheitsbewältigung, Heidelberg 1982.

Andrej Umansky: "Geschichtsschreiber wider Willen? Einblick in die Quellen der „Außerordentlichen Staatlichen Kommission“ und der „Zentralen Stelle“", in: A. Nußberger u.a. (Hrsg.), Bewusstes Erinnern und bewusstes Vergessen. Der juristische Umgang mit der Vergangenheit in den Ländern Mittel- und Osteuropas, Tübingen 2011, S. 347-374.

Annette Weinke: Eine Gesellschaft ermittelt gegen sich selbst. Die Geschichte der Zentralen Stelle in Ludwigsburg 1958-2008, Darmstadt 2008.

Dies.: Die Verfolgung von NS-Tätern im geteilten Deutschland, Paderborn 2002.


3f) Resources: Legal documents from Investigations of Nazi Crimes: The Oberhauser and Dubois cases


Werner Dubois: Some stations of his life and the preliminary investigation into crimes committed in the Nazi period

In many respects, the biography of the metal worker Karl Werner Dubois and the course of the investigations into his participation, along with others, in the murder of hundreds of thousands of people at the Bełżec death camp, is paradigmatic for the path taken by Nazi perpetrators and for how the Federal Republic of Germany addressed Nazi crimes in the judicial system. Dubois' career prospects were not good as a young man. Early on, he became used to mass murder in the "euthanasia" program. He then helped to murder people in the Operation Reinhardt death camps, spent a short time as an American prisoner, lived as an inconspicuous wounded veteran in the post-war period until becoming a defendant in legal proceedings that started well after the end of the war. The Munich Bełżec trial also followed a common pattern: The indictment of the state public prosecutor was well-founded due to intensive preliminary research by the Central Office in Ludwigsburg and numerous witness testimonies. Nevertheless, the District Court refused to hear the case—arguing, among other grounds—that the defendants had only acted under orders. The public prosecutor went into revision but because the defendant died, the case never went to trial.

A chronological overview of Dubois' case follows. The file references to documents in the Federal Archives after each station are not meant as thorough evidence or as a foundation for an extensive analysis of the proceedings. They are provided as an example of the types of sources and legal files that can aid our understanding of the holocaust—and how it was dealt with later—and to illustrate the value of these sources for research.

The following is a timeline of stations in Werner Dubois' life and of the proceedings against him as a Nazi criminal. Some of these stations have footnote numbers. The documents to which these numbers refer are listed at the end.

1 Voluntary Labour Service and Reichs Labour Service (BArch B 162/3173, fol. 1997)

2 Preliminary proceedings are opened in Ludwigsburg on murders committed in the Bełżec death camp (AR-Z 252/59); after identification of the main suspect, Josef Oberhauser, the case is passed on the First Munich Public Prosecutor's Office on Feb. 16, 1960 (BArch B 162/3164, fol. 1 and BArch B 162/3167, fol.  607)

3 On Sep. 17, 1961, the day of the West German federal elections, Dubois is heard by the Bavaria State Criminal Police Office as a witness in the case against Josef Oberhauser for murder in Bełżec. After these hearings, he is added as a co-defendant (BArch B 162/3170, fol. 1382 and fol. 1400)

4 Dubois is accused of accessory to murder of 360,000 people in the Bełżec death camp (StA München I 22 Js 68/61) (BArch B 162/3172, fol. 1767 and fol. 1771)

5 On Jan. 30, 1964, Munich's First District Court rules not to open a trial against Dubois (BArch B 162/3172, fol. 1849 and fol. 1877)

6 On Dec. 20, 1966, he is sentenced to three years in prison for accessory to murder of at least 15,000 people in the Sobibor death camp (Landgericht Hagen 11 Ks 1/64) (BArch B 162/14239, fol. 2 and fol. 5)

7 June 9, 1971: once more accused of accessory to the murder of at least 300.000 people in the Bełżec death camp (StA München I 22 Js 68/61) (BArch B 162/3173, fol. 1995f.)

8 Dubois is interrogated again on Sep. 15, 1971 as part of preliminary court proceedings (BArch B 162/3173, fol. 2026 and fol. 2032)

9 At the Central Office in Ludwigsburg, the preliminary proceedings against Werner Dubois are terminated and archived (BArch B 162/3173, fol. 2074f.)