Dear List,

In reference to Fran Assa and Jan Stottmeister's recent posts, I would add that during research for my forthcoming book, I spent time at the Neuengamme concentration camp memorial. (Neuengamme was the camp where Sergei Nabokov died.) The archivist at the Memorial let me set up shop on site and use the memorial's copiers and computer databases. He spent most of the time I was there working with me. He has answered follow up questions without hesitation. On that local level, at least, the German government was not hiding information at all--quite the opposite.

Similarly, the Gestapo's arrest warrant for Sergei Nabokov was part of a Berlin exhibition fifteen years ago (see, which indicates an openness to documenting his life in a broader sense as well.

But given the massive destruction of records that was ordered in early 1945, one of the challenges of doing this kind of research is the difficulty of linking up all the pieces of an individual's arrest, detention, and his or her life in a camp. Neuengamme sits in the far north of Germany, and so it was liberated very, very late in the war. Camp officials had weeks during which to destroy camp records before the British arrived. The Neuengamme archivist mentioned to me that the only reference to many of those known to have perished in the camp was a single mention preserved in medical test results or the Book of the Dead, both of which were hidden away by prisoners, who knew they would need evidence to back up their claims of what had happened there.

There can, however, be a good deal of bureaucracy around requesting information about where/when/how people were arrested and held before their entry into the camp. Perhaps there is some new relaxation of the regulations that limited access police information--that might be news. But as far as my own research into Sergei's fate, no official hampered that research in any way or refused me anything, except for information which in all likelihood burned into cinders back in 1945 and is beyond retrieval.

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