(JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought back original blueprints of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp to Israel from Germany seven years ago, likely without knowing he was doing something illegal, according to a German journalist.
The blueprints were given to Netanyahu on a trip to Germany, Kai Diekmann said in an interview for the latest issue of the expat Israeli magazine Spitz in Berlin with publisher Tal Alon. They are now in the archives at Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial.
Diekmann, the former chief editor of Bild Zeitung, Germany’s most-read daily, told Spitz the German Federal Archives and Ministry of Interior wanted to hold on to the historical documents, which were drawn by an Auschwitz prisoner and include the signature of Heinrich Himmler. But Diekmann thought they belonged in Yad Vashem and presented them to Netanyahu in August 2009 in Berlin.
Netanyahu could not have been prosecuted for simply accepting the gift and bringing it home, Diekmann said.
Diekmann’s colleague, Sven Felix Kellerhoff, an editor for Die Welt and the Berliner Morgenpost, apparently had agreed that the documents belonged in Israel.
The Bild Zeitung had decided to buy the drawings “because we did not want them to get into the hands of neo-Nazis or other such terrible people,” Kellerhoff told JTA in 2009. He also said in an email that it was significant that “we have originals of [these] plans in Germany.”
Holocaust historian Robert Jan van Pelt, one of the experts who helped verify the documents, told JTA on Wednesday that Kellerhof informed him in August 2009 “that the drawings would go to Yad Vashem. Nothing … suggested a cloak-and-dagger operation.”
The story of how these building plans came to light in the first place remains mysterious. An antiquities dealer reportedly offered them to the Bild Zeitung, an Axel-Springer newspaper, in 2008. The documents may have been held for years in the former East German secret service archives.
Historian Ralf Georg Reuth, a senior correspondent for Welt am Sonntag, told JTA at the time that he suspected the documents came “through the black market.” He noted that East German secret service authorities often “took over material that was used to discredit Western politicians.”
They were then found when an apartment was cleared out after its occupant’s death and later bought by the Bild Zeitung.