Sources & Perspectives

The edition’s sources are generally written with occasional transcribed sound recordings from the Nazi period between 1933 and 1945. Photographs were not included as they could only document events but not developments or motives for decisions and actions; the circumstances surrounding photographs is also often difficult to ascertain. This applies equally – for other source-critical reasons – to memoirs, reports, and legal documents from after May 8, 1945.

One exception to this editorial principle was made for PMJ 16 on Auschwitz and the death marches: In order to present the perspective of Jewish survivors, who were only able to record their experiences in writing once they were liberated, reports were accepted that were written through the beginning of July 1945. These however appear chronologically in the edition according to the dates of the events described and not the dates that they were written.

The sources were put together from over 200 archives and from individual estates, with the majority of the documents being published in German for the first time. The sources document the activities and reactions of people with different life experiences and convictions, at different places, and with variously limited horizons, scopes of possible action, and intentions. Of particular interest to the editors were personal letters, diary entries, and calls for help on the part of persecuted Jews. Because, as Saul Friedländer wrote, “theirs were the only voices that conveyed both the clarity of insight and the total blindness of human beings confronted with an entirely new and utterly horrifying reality.” Especially as it is being prepared in Germany, the edition also needs to include a representative selection of documents left behind by the persecutors. Only that way can their motives and behavior be brought to light. 

While the chronological order can lead to unlikely juxtapositions between individual documents, it also encourages readers to change their perspective, leading to a larger, necessarily fragmented and yet multilayered overall picture. Such a picture is then accessible to different analytical approaches.

© Institut für Zeitgeschichte