Under (West) German law, a district attorney’s office can investigate a crime only if either the crime location or the residence of a suspect is located in its area of jurisdiction. Since many claimed National-Socialist crimes were committed outside of Germany, and because the residence of many suspected perpetrators was either unknown, scattered around Germany or in a foreign country, it proved to be challenging to find any German DA office to put in charge of certain investigations.
In addition to this, local investigators frequently proved unwilling to pursue certain complaints, as it was clear that many witness claims were inconsistent, improbable or outright absurd. (See the entry on Adolf Rögner.) Furthermore, much supportive material was submitted by untrustworthy government agencies of Eastern-Bloc countries with a very transparent agenda to destabilize West Germany or damage the country’s reputation by inflating or inventing National-Socialist crimes and claiming continuity between the Third Reich and West Germany.
To circumvent these problems, the German authorities established in late 1958 a Central Office of State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National-Socialist Crimes (Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen – or Zentrale Stelle [Central Office] for short). This office was staffed with ideologically “reliable” investigators, meaning individuals who would not question the veracity of incriminating claims, whether made by witnesses, published in books and media, “established” during Allied postwar show trials, or submitted by any foreign government agency.
To this end, this Central Office cooperated closely with law-enforcement agencies in Israel and communist Eastern-Bloc countries, as well as with various organizations of former camp inmates – most of which were inevitably dominated by Jews and communists, who had formed the majority of wartime camp inmates. In order to get the expected information from witnesses, it has been reported that “second-degree coercions” were employed, meaning threats of various kinds in case of non-compliance with an interrogator’s expectations.
The most scandalous aspect of the Central Office’s activities were the case files they compiled about certain crime complexes. These so-called “criminals’ dossiers” were made available to all potential witnesses, and to domestic and foreign investigative bodies for the purpose of further dissemination to witnesses. In these dossiers, all supposed perpetrators were listed along with their photographs both from the time these dossiers were compiled and from National-Socialist times, and a description of the crimes imputed to them – as well as such crimes as might have taken place, but for which witnesses and/or clues to the identity of the perpetrators were still lacking. In an introduction, the potential witnesses were asked to keep this blatant and illegal manipulation of witness memories confidential, lest the defense might find out about it and scuttle the entire case. Then, the potential witnesses were asked to assign the criminals to the crimes and to add other crimes which might be missing from the dossier.
With this approach, the German judiciary made sure that the orthodox narrative about the Holocaust – as defined mainly by Allied postwar show trials, organizations of former inmates, communist Eastern-Bloc countries and by Israel – would enter German case law as incontrovertible historical “truth.” Contesting this judicially ordained “truth” was then made a criminal offense in Germany.
Despite the war ending nearly 80 years ago, the Central Office is still in operation. According to the group’s website (as of late 2023), they are still abiding by a 2015 resolution to operate “as long as there exist prosecution tasks to fulfill”; the end of this process is “not yet foreseeable.”