German publisher says he used Netanyahu to smuggle Auschwitz plans to Israel
Seven years ago, in August 2009, Kai Dickman, the publisher of the German daily BILD, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the chairman of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, to present them with the original blueprints the Auschwitz extermination camp, the largest of the Nazi death camps during World War II.
Following the handover of the plans, which Netanyahu called a “gift of truth,” they were brought to Israel, where they have since been on display at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.
In an interview with the Berlin-based Hebrew-language paper Spitz, Kai Diekmann, an outspoken supporter of Israel, now revealed that the plans were taken out of Germany illegally and that he devised the plan to invite Netanyahu in order to smuggle the historic documents to Israel.
BILD acquired the plans in late summer 2008 in order to make them available both to the public and the academic world and after verifying their authenticity with the German Federal Archives, the paper had to decide what to do with them.
“We had to decide what to do with the drawings. I was convinced that they need to get to Yad Vashem,” Diekmann tells Spitz, adding that he “thought it was the place where they belong.”
The National Archives of Germany, however, did not agree with Diekmann’s plans.
“They and the German Interior Ministry told us that these documents belong to the government of Germany, because the German government is the legal successor of the Third Reich,” he says.
Diekmann was warned that he would be arrested if he would attempt to take the documents out of Germany.
“‘If you try to take them out of the country, you will have a problem, we will stop you at the border’, they told me. I thought, okay, what do we do? I still believe they have to go to Yad Vashem,” Dickman tells Spitz.
His solution was to recruit someone who would be able to pass the Germany border without being stopped by the authorities.
“Then I had an idea: to find someone who can take them past the border, someone who would not be arrested.”
And that someone was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We asked him if he would come to Berlin and attend a ceremony during which we will give him the documents – and that’s what happened,” said Diekmann.
Diekmann however, gave no indication that Netanyahu was aware of Germany’s opposition to the drawings being taken outside the country.
“These plans have an important function: They remind us of a crime, that, with the passing of time, seems ever more incomprehensible”, Diekmann emphasized during the ceremony in which he handed the documents to Netanyahu.
“Auschwitz, like nothing else, stands for the guilt and the blindness of an entire nation. Something so huge, it can hardly be grasped by new generations. That is why it is of the utmost importance to continue to be reminded of it. Because only those that know the past can act responsibly in the future.”
The blueprints are the only original documents of this kind to have been discovered in Germany.
BILD’s acquisition of the plans raised a small scandal in Germany at the time, as it was not clear how the paper was able to obtain the documents.
While it claimed they were found in an abandoned apartment, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported at the time that they belonged to an heir of one of the architects of the infamous death camp and that BILD bought them through a broker for an undisclosed sum.
The German authorities never formally raised any claims against BILD, Yad Vashem or Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel even said at a press conference in 2009 that this was an “important” gift which moved her deeply.
The 29 sketches of the death camp that was built in Nazi-occupied Poland date back as far as 1941, and include detailed blueprints for living barracks, delousing facilities and crematoria, including gas chambers.
Diekmann, an outspoken supporter of Israel, most recently met with Netanyahu in May this year and has led numerous delegations of young German journalists to Israel.