Auschwitz plans donated to Israel's Holocaust memorial

Architectural plans for the Auschwitz death camp that were discovered in Berlin last year were handed over Thursday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for display at Israel's Holocaust memorial.

Architectural plans for the Auschwitz death camp that were discovered in Berlin last year were handed over Thursday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for display at Israel's Holocaust memorial.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Bild newspaper chief editor Kai Diekmann look at original blueprints of the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. ((Rainer Jensen/Associated Press))
The 29 sketches of the death camp built in Nazi-occupied Poland date as far back as 1941. They include detailed blueprints for living barracks, delousing facilities and crematoria, including gas chambers, and are considered important for understanding the genesis of the Nazi genocide.

The sketches are initialed by the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, and Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess.

"There are those who deny that the Holocaust happened," Netanyahu said. "Let them come to Jerusalem and look at these plans, these plans for the factory of death."

The Axel Springer Verlag, publisher of the mass circulation Bild newspaper, said it purchased the prints after they were allegedly found by someone claiming they had been stashed in Berlin apartment.

Based on research since they were acquired, however, Bild now believes the documents were probably stored at the Third Reich archive of the East German secret service, the Stasi. Several other documents from this archive have surfaced after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, it said.

The blueprints' authenticity has been verified by Germany's federal archive.

Bild editor Kai Diekmann told Netanyahu and Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev that the paper decided to give them to Israel's Holocaust memorial because they wanted to ensure that as many people as possible could see them.

"These plans have an important function — they remind us of a crime that, with the passing of time, seems ever more incomprehensible," Diekmann said. "It is of the utmost importance to continue to be reminded of it."

While they are not the only original Auschwitz blueprints that still exist — others were captured by the Soviet Red Army and brought back to Moscow — they will be the first for Israel's Yad Vashem memorial, its chairman told The Associated Press.

"This set is a very early one, which was found here in Berlin, from the autumn of '41," Shalev said. "It brings a better understanding of the whole process, and the intention of the planners of the complex, and from this perspective it is important."

Shalev said the sketches will be on display at Yad Vashem beginning Jan. 27, 2010, as part of a special exhibit marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The blueprints include general plans for the original Auschwitz camp and the expansion of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, where most of the killings were carried out.

More than one million people, mostly Jews, died in the gas chambers or through forced labour, disease or starvation at the camp, which the Nazis built after occupying Poland.

Netanyahu in Berlin for meetings

Netanyahu is in Berlin for meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and other officials.

Later, the Israeli leader is scheduled to visit a house on Berlin's Wannsee lake that was the site of the Jan. 20, 1942 "Wannsee Conference" — a watershed in Nazi policy against Europe's Jews.

The building now houses a museum documenting the Holocaust and the notorious meeting, which was once thought to be when the Nazis decided to stop deporting and randomly killing Jews and instead to industrialize their murder.

Though debate continues, most historians now agree the decision was made some months earlier — by Adolf Hitler himself, even though no written order from him has ever been found.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been murdered by the time 15 civil servants, SS and party officials met at Wannsee. It is now believed by many that Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Security Service and Security Police head, called the meeting to make sure everybody knew what Hitler wanted done and to establish SS oversight of the process.

Shalev said the blueprints showing that the construction of Auschwitz was already being planned in 1941 help to reinforce that argument.

"The Wannsee conference … was a kind of co-ordination," Shalev said. "The process of the Final Solution started to be implemented a few months before it, so the plans that were found from late '41 are more evidence."

A large yellowed plan, dated April 30, 1942, and titled "general building plan concentration camp Auschwitz" provides a wider view, showing the barracks but also roads, other buildings and the outlying area.

Another drawing dated Oct. 14, 1941, shows the plans for construction of a "Waffen SS prisoner of war camp" with rows of what appear to be barracks. A notation in the bottom right says it was drafted by a prisoner, "Nr. 471."