Massive Nazi Archive to Open
Excellent news for historians researching the Holocaust: the 11-nation governing body of the International Tracing Service, which oversees a massive archive of Nazi documents in Bad Arolsen, Germany, has voted to begin distributing the documents electronically to member states:
The archive contains Nazi records on the arrest, transportation, incarceration, forced labor and deaths of millions of people from the year the Nazis built their first concentration camp in 1933 to the end of the war in May 1945. It also has a vast collection of postwar records from displaced persons camps.
The name index refers to 17.5 million victims, and the documents fill 16 miles of shelves.
Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, which sent a representative to the meeting, welcomed the decision. “I am delighted to see this project moving forward,” said the memorial’s director Avner Shalev.
“This was a huge hurdle for many people” on the commission, said J. Christian Kennedy, the State Department’s special envoy for Holocaust issues. He said the U.S. government would work to ensure the final four countries ratify the accord quickly.
Those countries — Italy, Greece, Luxembourg and France — have all pledged to endorse the agreement by the fall, Meister said. The U.S., Israel, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Germany have already finished the legal process.
Meister said the first 10 million pages — about one-fifth of the documents — will be ready for transfer to the countries by early September, with another huge batch following in November.
The U.S., France and Germany pledged to donate more than $700,000 to offset costs for preparing and transmitting the papers, Kennedy said, just short of the amount needed.
Seized by the Allies from concentration camps and Nazi offices after the war, the files were closed under a 1955 agreement to protect the privacy of survivors and the reputation of the dead who may have undergone humiliating medical experiments or been falsely accused of crimes.
Few people were allowed to see the actual papers. Since 1955, the archive has received more than 11 million requests for information, but it often responded with form letters giving minimal information. Sometimes, copies of documents were given to families.
If only every genocidal regime was so meticulous about documenting its atrocities, the practice of international criminal law would be much easier.