“We're digitalising our records and were going through everything when we found the decaying cartons,” Meier said of this week's find in the state of Lower Saxony. “While we were trying to organise everything we discovered these were from the Nazi era and called the state archive immediately.”
The files, found among other post-war documents, were difficult to read because they were written in old-style cursive German known as Sütterlin script, Meier said. But with help from experts at the University of Oldenburg, the health authority was able to decipher that they were medical and court records of forced sterilisation cases between 1934 and 1945.
In 1933, the Nazis passed the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), which called for anyone with a “genetic disorder” to appear before a specially appointed court that decided whether they should be sterilised. Hundreds of thousands of people, including homosexuals, alcoholics, and those with physical deformities, mental disorders, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and other ‘abnormalities' were sterilised.
Friesland county spokesperson Rainer Graalfs told regional paper Weser Kurier on Tuesday that officials had believed the records to be lost. “That's why no one looked for them,” he said.
The paper called the Jever region a “brown stronghold,” referring to its particularly strong Nazi party past. But this find is a chance for the relatives of victims to reconstruct their family history and to illuminate Nazi crimes, Meier told the paper.
The Jever health department plans to hand the files over to the Lower Saxony state archives this week for analysis, Meier told The Local, adding that they will then decide whether to release their contents to the public.