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Capturing history

A document declassification project, triggered by the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998, has led to revelations about a host of Nazi-era individuals.

The disclosure act mandated that records related to war crimes and criminals of World War II Axis governments be identified, reviewed for declassification and released to the public.

That meant capturing information from 11,400 reels of deteriorating World II-vintage microfilm and archiving it for posterity. The task of handling millions of diverse images and finding key information was made even more difficult by a one-year deadline set by the Army command.

The microfilm reels were in poor condition and difficult to read, with some film scratched or deteriorated, according to a press release issued by Kofax Imaging. Lonnie Manning, a document management expert working with the Army, is quoted as saying, “Until this time, there was no proven technology capable of capturing and organizing the war criminal records, and manual review would take an estimated 181 person-years to complete.”

Kofax goes on to say Ascent Capture software has enabled Manning and his staff to verify 1.2 million scanned documents, validate extracted data, index it for later retrieval and send it seamlessly into a document management system.

Manning built a custom index script to query data derived from the Defense Clearance and Investigative Index database against a collection of names, numbers and keywords associated with Nazi war crimes. Manual indexing for the project included information such as last and first names, aliases, dates of birth, locator numbers, operational terms and code words. The document capture and indexing system enabled the Army to process 60,000 documents a week.

With the information now in electronic format, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., will conduct an audit-and-review process to confirm the reported results. By spring, all the declassified information is expected to be released to the public through research facilities at the National Archives.

Revelations contained in the records include the following:

  • German businessman Oskar Schindler’s rescue of Jews during the Holocaust has been depicted in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List.” The newly reviewed documents, however, reveal his less-known activities after the war, which included helping Jewish survivors track down Nazi concentration camp guards and officials.

  • Theodor Dannecker, a top associate of Adolph Eichmann, was rumored to have evaded justice. However, Army documentation indicates that he committed suicide by poisoning a day after his capture in 1945. Dannecker’s last letter to his wife prior to his suicide is stored in the database.

  • German rocket scientist Werner von Braun was mystified by the Allied bombing of his secret V2 rocket factories. He didn’t know that German industrialist Eduard Schulte was feeding intelligence to Allied forces about Nazi advanced weapons programs.

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