Former Nazi death camp Majdanek
Watch towers and barbed wire fence of the former Nazi death camp Majdanek, outside Lublin, Poland. Photo by AP
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The Israel Police tried to track down the Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele for years, but the information it collected did not result in his capture and Mengele died a free man. The police's Mengele file was revealed in Friday's Haaretz in reporting by Ofer Aderet. It's fair to assume that the police did not know about Mengele what the Mossad espionage agency did. Over the years, various versions have surfaced about failed attempts by Israel to capture Mengele. The truth is apparently buried somewhere in the Mossad archives, but those records are not open to researchers.

Mossad files on the hunt for other Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann, have also not been opened to researchers. For this reason, there is no answer to the question of what Israel is hiding on this issue and why. Based on what has already been reported, however, one can hazard a guess why: Nazi war criminals were assassinated without trial in foreign countries. At least two prominent Nazis, Walther Rauff and Otto Skorzeny, were employed by Israel, as Nazis were employed by the United States and other countries after the war. The main finding that might be uncovered in the Mossad files is that Israel did very little, or nearly nothing, to capture war criminals. There were more pressing issues.

All this is subject to disclosure for the same reason that actions and failings by the state are usually appropriate subjects of disclosure: Information on decisions in the past can lead to better decisions in the present and future. But the fact that the issue involves documents related to the Holocaust makes the need for disclosure especially significant. The disclosure of everything related directly or indirectly to the Holocaust is also essential as part of the fight against Holocaust deniers. Secrecy encourages conspiracy theories. The Holocaust and related matters do not need to remain secret.

The State Archives failed in its efforts to convince the Mossad that the spy agency should open its records. We therefore need a directive from the prime minister. While he served as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Benjamin Netanyahu successfully fought to have the UN open its archives on war criminals. Netanyahu should therefore order the Mossad to transfer its files on Nazi war criminals so they can be opened in an orderly, supervised manner at the State Archives.