Sunday, April 23, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Still: a need to know

Seattle Times staff columnist

The last time Fred Taucher saw his mother, she was walking up the stairs of a Berlin subway tunnel to get some water. He was 12.

Sixty-one years later, Taucher still wonders what happened at the top of the stairs: Was his mother shot by German soldiers, as one archive attests? Or was she forced by Russian soldiers to travel with them back to their homeland? "I need to know," Taucher told me the other day.

He may finally get his chance. Last week, the German government announced that it would drop its opposition to allowing greater public access to a vast World War II archive.

The 50 million documents kept by the International Tracing Service include records from concentration camps and German companies that used slave labor. Up to now, they have been used by the Red Cross to trace victims of the Nazis.

Now they will offer an invaluable — and wrenching — window into how the Holocaust unfolded, and how so many lives ended.

"There are so many questions, still," said Miriam Greenbaum of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, which will host a Community-Wide Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday on Mercer Island.

(The program begins at 7 p.m. with a service at the Holocaust memorial at the Stroum Jewish Community Center, and continues with a program at the nearby Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation.)

The personal stories shared Monday may be clarified by what's found in the archive.

But all of us will benefit from what the archive can teach us about genocide — especially since it continues to this day.

"There will be those who want to pursue the records, and those who want to step back from them," Greenbaum said. "But the more open we are to access ... it helps us all."

Taucher, 73, isn't afraid of what he might find. For the past eight years, he has made an annual journey to Berlin to try to piece together what happened to his parents and their assets. His father was a tailor in Berlin when one day in November 1938, the Nazis arrested him and sent him to Auschwitz.

Records list his father's fate as "verschollen" — "unknown."

"He probably died two days after he arrived," said Taucher, who lives in Everett.

Taucher dodged the Nazis until 1945, when German soldiers got onto a streetcar on which he was riding. When they learned Taucher, then 12, wasn't with the Nazi youth, they made him strip naked, then took him to SS headquarters, where he was beaten and put on a cattle car to Dachau.

He escaped soon after, as Allied forces approached.

"For a 12-year-old to be stripped in a streetcar full of people... ," Taucher said. "If I have a nightmare, it is about that. Or the cattle car."

What he has learned so far about his father has eased his heart and mind.

"You know when you carry a burden and you talk about it, isn't it a relief?" he asked. "It's the same, learning about it."

But what his mother found at the top of the stairs remains.

"It's hard to live with questions," he said. "We like to know."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

She says a prayer for Darfur.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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