Commission meets to work on opening Nazi archive

15th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

15 May 2007, AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ The commission controlling millions of wartime Nazi records has begun work on a timetable for making the historical trove available to researchers, but Holocaust survivors complained their own access to the documents may still be restricted.

15 May 2007

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ The commission controlling millions of wartime Nazi records has begun work on a timetable for making the historical trove available to researchers, but Holocaust survivors complained their own access to the documents may still be restricted.

The two-day annual meeting of the 11-nation commission, held at a 15th-century cloister in central Amsterdam and which began Monday, will cap a yearlong process to open the files of the International Tracing Service, or ITS, kept in the central German town of Bad Arolsen.

Last year, the International Commission of the ITS voted to amend the 1955 agreement that had put the immense archive off-limits to all but Red Cross officials seeking to trace missing people and reunite families. Later, the files were used to validate claims for compensation by Holocaust survivors and victims' families.

The vast collection of concentration camp registries, death lists, transport documents and internal Nazi communications makes reference to 17.5 million victims. The files are indexed according to names, making it difficult to use them for historical research.

The agreement to make a single electronic copy available to each member state requires the ratification of all 11 countries. Four countries have yet to complete the legal formalities, including France where national elections have disrupted legislative action.

To expedite the process, the Amsterdam meeting was considering a proposal to begin transferring scanned documents to Holocaust institutions under embargo until the ratification is complete. Once transferred, the material would take several months to prepare for the public.

Even then, access will be limited under the terms of last year's agreement, which stipulated the material may be used "on the premises of an appropriate archival repository." It also said each government was expected to take into account "the sensitivity of certain information" the files may contain to protect the privacy of both the living and dead.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and Israel's Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem have requested copies.

The arrangement has distressed some U.S. survivors, who said it is unreasonable to expect aging and often ailing people to travel to Washington for information they have waited decades to see.

"This is so long overdue _ 62 years since the war. How much longer?" said David Schaecter, of Miami, Florida, who testified to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month before it adopted a resolution urging the speedy opening of the ITS files. A similar resolution passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

Schaecter said files should be made available to selected universities, smaller museums and Jewish communities which have large survivor populations.

"I'm anxious, because 105 people from my immediate family did not make it. I am the only survivor. How do I obtain what I am rightfully entitled to obtain _ (to know) what happened to these 105 people," he said.

Esther Finder, president of the Association of Holocaust Survivor Organizations, said survivors were confused and uncertain by the arrangements. They "don't know what will be available, how soon they can get it and what they will have to do to get to it," she said, speaking from Rockville, Maryland.

What was important to the survivors is being able to search for names in the ITS index, she said.

"I can see my dad sitting down and trying to track down his relatives and neighbors," she said. "The kind of thing that he wants to get his hands on himself, he doesn't need a trained archivist for that. He just wants to know what happened to the people in his life before."

The seven countries that have ratified the treaty amendments are the United States, Israel, Poland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain. Endorsement was still pending by Luxembourg, Greece, Italy and France.

AP

Subject: German news

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