West Berlin is full of anomalies. Formally it is still under occupation by the World War II Allies, 36 years to the month after the end of hostilities. Its old elevated trains belong to and are run by the East German Reichsbahn, the only official institution East or West still carrying the name of the Reich. It is surrounded by the incredible Berlin Wall and an electrified fence.
And it has the Nazi Document Center --that repository of all Nazi Party, SA, and SS records that the West German government won't go near with a 10-foot pole.
The United States has run the center ever since the war, and although negotiations for its transfer to West German hands have been going on for five or 10 years, nothing ever seems to come of them.
The reason, numerous critics charge, is that the average age of people in the card files is still only 68. Too many of those in public life might still be embarrassed
Present access policy to the quaintly uncomputerized card files excludes anyone but friendly governments or approved scholars. "Friendly" is defined basically as the Western allies plus Israel, though two Yugoslav researchers, plus a Czech and two Poles, have used the facilities in the past eight years.
Under these rules -- and the additional ban on giving out information about any living person -- Simon Wiesenthal, the renowned tracker of the murderers of those 6 million Jews, is excluded. So is any private person who might himself be on file here but has no government office to back his search for his own information.
This confidentiality is reinforced by a shrewd guarding even of the 65 percent of documents that have been microfilmed as spares in case fire or any other catastrophe destroys the originals. The microfilm has deliberately been kept here and not in the US National Archives, where it might be subject to freedom of information suits.
The reason for all this secrecy, says Daniel Simon, a retired US Army major who is the center's director, is to protect privacy, especially since the center "can't verify the truth of the records."
How the center's confidentially works was illustrated in the tragic case of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the late member of the Diamler-Benz board and president of both major West German industrial associations. Mr. Schleyer was kidnapped by leftist anarchist terrorists in 1977, held for seven weeks, then murdered. After his death the Hamburg police called the Berlin Document Center to refute some leftist press reports that Schleyer had been in the SS.
When Simon checked the records, he found that Schleyer had been an SS official in German-occupied Czechoslovakia.
One exception to the prohibition on revealing information about living persons has been made in the case of Bavarian Premier Franz Josef Strauss, who was the conservative candidate for West German chancellor in last fall's election. Despite widespread leftist suspicions about his past, there is not a scrap of evidence linking him to the Nazis, Simon says.
Those who do have access to the Document Center include West German prosecutors and West Germany's own document center on Nazi crimes at Ludwigsburg , the Central Office for the Clearing-up of National-Socialist Crimes.
Queries from prosecutors, scholars, and other officials come into the Berlin center at a steady 4,000 a month. They are processed by a staff of 30 West Germans, two Americans, and one African.
The 25 to 30 million records stored under-ground here in what used to be a secret SS telephone-bugging office were captured by advancing Allied troops at the end of World War II. Some of them were seized as they were going to be destroyed in a pulp mill.
They include membership cards of 10.7 million Germans who belonged to the Nazi party; documents of 200,000 SA members and of 600,000 SS officers and enlisted men, including "racial purification files" proving Aryan ancestry back 300 years; 2.5 million immigration files of ethnic Germans (mostly from the East) who became citizens of the Reich; and separate files on Nazi doctors, teachers, actors, and other cultural figures (though not judges and lawyers).
The immigration dossiers are the most com prehensive, and it is these that have been the most used.The court records are also available to researchers.