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“That was the most spectacular case”

For many years, the journalist Thomas Muggenthaler has been carrying out research at the International Tracing Service (ITS) and other archives on the topic he calls “The Love Crime: Polish Forced Laborers and German Women.” In March 2017 he presented his film—winner of the Bavarian TV Awards—at the ITS and talked about his projects with some eighty visitors. He also took advantage of the opportunity to meet some of the ITS staff who have done research on his behalf, and reported on how important those investigations were for his work.

You’re a journalist for Bavarian Broadcasting with a special focus on the Nazi era. What sparked your interest in the subject?

My masters thesis of 1985–86 was a local study of the little town of Cham in the Bavarian Forest during the Nazi period. There’s a case that plays into that history—the execution of Julian Majka in Michelsneukirchen in the neighboring district of Roding—which I returned to in depth thirty years later. During all the many years between my masters thesis and the research on executions of Polish forced laborers, I concentrated primarily on the history of the Flossenbürg concentration camp. When I started out, there was no memorial there worthy of the name. There was a gardener, and that was it. The grounds belonged to the Bavarian Administration of State-Owned Palaces, Gardens and Lakes. In 1995, former inmates of different nationalities met there for the first time. It was they who got the commemoration process started that has meanwhile led to a memorial worthy of the name.

You mentioned the execution of Julian Majka. Why did that crime catch your attention?

As the new permanent exhibition was being developed at the Flossenbürg Memorial, an American GI provided some photos of the execution of a forced laborer. For years the victim’s identity was unknown. In the framework of the research I was carrying out at the time, I managed to prove that the execution victim was Julian Majka.

That was part of your extensive research work on the topic “The Love Crime: Polish Forced Laborers and German Women.”

That’s right. When the debate over compensation for forced laborers was at its peak, I made a radio feature about Polish forced laborers in Bavaria. I also travelled to Poland in search of former forced laborers. A little book later resulted from that work. In the context of that research, I found a document dating from the post-war period in a Bavarian archive, listing the executions of Polish forced laborers by the Regensburg Gestapo. I was so blown away by the topic that I produced several radio broadcasts about it, plus the book and the film.

How many executions are documented there?

According to the list, twenty-two forced laborers were killed in the region under the jurisdiction of the Regensburg Gestapo. The charges were not always relationships with German women. There were three Gestapo offices in Bavaria—the one in Regensburg and the two Gestapo headquarters in Munich and Nuremberg. I also have lists from these other two, and will hopefully be able to start researching them soon.

Where do you go in search of information, and what archives do you use?

Just about everywhere. In the ’80s I even did research in East Berlin because I was hoping to find records on the German Communist Party. I research every case in a number of different archives. That way I gather biographical fragments that—with a bit of luck—together form an overall picture. Local archives often have information about the historical background. At the Hinzert Concentration Camp Memorial, there’s information about Polish forced laborers who were supposed to prove their “ability to become Germans” in the special SS camp. Since the women almost always ended up in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, I naturally also make inquiries at the memorial there. The ITS is of key importance to me to find out what happened to the people later, and gather information about family members.

Can you give me an example?

There were a lot of things I never could have researched without help from Bad Arolsen. In the film, for example, Julian Majka’s daughter, who I found in Poland, figures in a very striking manner. But it was only through a clue I got from the ITS: “We have some correspondence; there’s someone in Poland. We’ll ask if you can get in touch.” The family’s answer came almost immediately: “Come and bring everything with you.” That was the most spectacular case, but there are others. In one TV report I talked to the sister of an execution victim who I also found with the aid of the ITS. Meanwhile, relatives of the people I research often ask me for help, and I pass their requests on to the ITS.