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At the end of World War II, the Western Allies seized pretty much every official German document they could find and moved the lot out of Germany and often overseas. They had, effectively, taken the German past. And they kept it for the better part of a decade. Why did they take the records and why did they eventually return them? In her fascinating book The Struggle for the Files: The Western Allies and the Return of German Archives after the Second World War (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Astrid M. Eckert explains. The Western Allies saw that the archives could be used for a number of purposes: military intelligence (the Germans knew a lot about the Soviets), occupational administration, prosecuting war criminals, and making sure that the history of World War II was written just the way they wanted it written. And they used them in all these ways. The Germans, of course, wanted their documents back. They wanted to write their own history. But the Western Allies were skeptical that the Germans could really manage their archives (many German archivists had been active Nazis) or portray their past truthfully (it was, after all, a rather ugly past). In the end, the Allies relented and the archives were given back, new archivists were trained, and Germans faced their past themselves.
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