Revisiting The Horrors Of The Holocaust

Millions Of Nazi Documents Are Being Made Available To The Public

This segment was originally broadcast on Dec. 17, 2006. It was updated on June 21, 2007.

For the first time, secrets of the Nazi Holocaust that have been hidden away for more than 60 years are finally being made available to the public. We're not talking about a missing filing cabinet - we're talking about thousands of filing cabinets, holding 50 million pages. It's Hitler's secret archive.

The Nazis were famous for record keeping but what 60 Minutes found ran from the bizarre to the horrifying. This Holocaust history was discovered by the Allies in dozens of concentration camps, as Germany fell in the spring of 1945.

As correspondent Scott Pelley reports, the documents were taken to a town in the middle of Germany, called Bad Arolsen, where they were sorted, filed and locked way, never to be seen by the public until now.

The storerooms are immense: 16 miles of shelves holding the stories of 17 million victims – not only Jews, but slave laborers, political prisoners and homosexuals. To open the files is to see the Holocaust staring back like it was yesterday: strange pink Gestapo arrest warrants as lethal as a death sentence, jewelry lost as freedom ended at the gates of an extermination camp. Time stopped here in 1945.

Pelley walked through the evidence with chief archivist Udo Jost. He showed 60 Minutes a list of 1,000 prisoners saved by a factory owner who told the Nazis he needed the prisoners labor. This was the list of Oskar Schindler, made famous by the Steven Spielberg movie.

"Here are the 700 men and the 300 women whose names were on Schindler's list," Jost explains.

The 60 Minutes team also found the file of "Frank, Annaliese Marie," better known as Anne Frank. It's her paper trail from Amsterdam to Bergen-Belsen, where she died at the age of 15.

But most of the names here are of unknown people. While the Nazis did not write down the names of those executed in the gas chambers at places like Auschwitz, they did keep detailed records of millions of others who died in the camps. Their names are listed in notebooks labeled "Totenbuch," which means "death book." The names are written here, single-spaced, in meticulous handwriting.

"Here we see the cause of death: executed. And you can see, every two minutes they shot one prisoner," Jost explains.

"So they shot a prisoner every two minutes for a little over an hour and a half?" Pelley asks.

"Yes. Now look at the date: it's the 20th of April. That was Adolf Hitler's birthday. And this was a birthday present, a gift for the Führer. That's the bureaucracy of the devil," Jost says.

The devil is in the details - the smallest details. Pelley and the 60 Minutes crew were amazed to see the Nazis kept records of head lice.

"You can see the names and numbers of each prisoner, and the amount of lice that were found," Jost says.

The Nazis couldn't have disease spreading among slave laborers. "You can see he was a perfectionist. He even put down the size of the lice. Large, small or medium-sized lice," Jost comments about the Nazi lice inspector.

Paul Shapiro helped pry open the archive. He's Director of Holocaust Studies of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

"I'm curious. Why did the Nazis keep all these records? If they were gonna murder these people anyway, why keep the paperwork?" Pelley asks.

"Because they wanted to show they were getting the job done. So, in terms of people whose destiny was to be murdered, recording how well that was being done was very important," Shapiro explains.

And those records make up the largest Holocaust archive anywhere. Run by the Red Cross, the International Tracing Service was set up after the war to trace lost family members. Survivors could write for information, but there was a backlog of 400,000 unanswered letters. And neither survivors nor scholars got past the lobby.

"What was the stated reason for keeping these documents out of the public eye for more than 60 years?" Pelley asks.

"A respect for privacy of individuals was the most-often cited reason," Shapiro says. "On the one hand, you had governments stating 'We're protecting people's privacy.' And on the other hand, you had those very people saying 'No, no, we want the material to be open.'"