Thousands of individual stories of Nazi persecution, written in response to a 1960s scheme offering compensation for British victims, have been revealed in new files released at The National Archives.
Around 4,000 people applied for compensation under the scheme after a deal was reached between the British and West German governments in 1964.
A quarter of the applicants received some form of compensation, with a maximum pay-out set at £4,000.
While many applicants simply filled in the standard form provided by the government, others wrote long letters in support of their application, often containing harrowing testimony of their wartime experiences.
These previously unseen papers represent a substantial new resource for historians of the period.
Dr George Hay, a records specialist at The National Archives, told the JC: “We now have a complete collection of witness testimonies, not just British cases, and not just successful cases, but everyone who put in an application. It’s a complete repository which can be accessed, analysed and compared with other records.”
Yet the thousands of stories behind the scheme could easily have been lost to history had the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) not been forced to admit the existence of more than 600,000 hidden files housed in a secret facility in Buckinghamshire, dubbed the “Special Collections”.
The existence of these files was only revealed in 2013 and the collection of Nazi persecution compensation files were later identified as being a priority for early public release. The first set of files were opened in March 2016.
This week the final batch of more than 1,000 files was released at the archives in Kew, south-west London, although around a third of the papers contain redacted names of individuals who may still be alive.
The Foreign Office-administered scheme distributed £1 million to British victims of Nazi persecution, including the relatives of concentration camp victims.
As well as first-hand accounts of wartime suffering and the effect it had on families, the files show attempts by Foreign Office officials to corroborate the stories and to quantify these experiences in terms of financial compensation.
The result was a “unit system” whereby imprisonment in a concentration camp for one week was the equivalent of one unit, valued at £22.
Disability was calculated on a sliding scale from 20 to 80 units depending on the severity of the injuries, and 100 units were assigned to a death.
Only a quarter of the 4,000 applicants were successful, each receiving an average of around £1,000, the equivalent of approximately £18,000 today.
A total of 31 applicants received the maximum £4,000 pay-out.
Many of the more poignant stories in the files concern unsuccessful applicants, as heartfelt testimony came up against the cold efficiency of British bureaucracy.
Among those who received nothing from the scheme was Mali Biberstein from Kew, who submitted an application in July 1965 on behalf of her only son Otto, who was killed in Auschwitz, aged 21.
He was deemed ineligible because he did not hold British citizenship at the time of his death. More than 900 failed applications, around a third of the total, were rejected on the basis of nationality.
Fay Simon, formerly Turgel, a Russian-Lithuanian Jew, described how she and her husband were arrested in Minsk and sent to a forced labour camp where her only child was killed.
She was then transported to Bergen-Belsen where her husband also died. Her wartime experiences had a lasting impact on her health and she would often wake up screaming in the night, something she blamed for the break-up of her second marriage.
However, her application was rejected on the basis that she had been eligible for an earlier compensation scheme. The fact she had missed the deadline for that scheme did not alter the outcome.
More than half the rejected applications were denied compensation because their mistreatment had occurred as Prisoners-of-War, internees, or in other civilian prisons, as only Nazi victims of “concentration camps or comparable prisons” were eligible under the scheme.
Sir Eric Pickles, Britain's envoy for post-Holocaust issues, said: “I welcome this final transfer of Nazi persecution files to the National Archive.
"It is vital these files are available to the public as they offer first-hand accounts of the scale of Nazi persecution and a unique insight into the British story of the Holocaust.”
The files can be searched by name on The National Archives’ website at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk and viewed on site in Kew