Germany agrees to open vast Holocaust archive
19 April 2006, WASHINGTON - Under US pressure, Germany agreed Tuesday to give Holocaust historians access to closely-guarded files with personal data on more than 17 million victims of the Nazis.
19 April 2006
WASHINGTON - Under US pressure, Germany agreed Tuesday to give Holocaust historians access to closely-guarded files with personal data on more than 17 million victims of the Nazis.
Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries broke years of deadlock by announcing that Germany would support opening up the International Tracing Service when governments overseeing the archive meet next month in Rome.
"Getting Germany behind this is quite a significant step forward," Zypries told a news conference at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Critics single out Germany for refusing to lift restrictions on the files. Some say the practices at the agency, based in the western German town of Bad Arolsen, shield perpetrators of the Holocaust.
The US government, Jewish groups and researchers at former Nazi concentration camp sites have pressed for access to victims' personal data contained in some 30 million documents, saying they would provide fresh insight into the Nazi regime and its victims.
"This is the most comprehensive archival collection relating to the fate of people who were targeted and victimized," said Paul Shapiro, the Holocaust Museum's chief researcher.
For instance, the data could deepen understanding of Nazi prisoner transports and the slave labour system, he said.
"We are talking about a significant addition of material," he said.
Historians have had access since 1996 to the archive's data on conditions in the concentration camps, forced labour and other Nazi programmes such as "Lebensborn," Adolf Hitler's organized effort to have Germans bear children to raise a presumed master race.
But the files on individual detainees have been off-limits. They list chilling details such as the date and place of detention and official cause of death, but also whether inmates were homosexual, criminals or sick - all reasons for the Nazis to send them to the camps, where millions died.
Zypries said Germany was not the only country that has balked at the opening. Italy, for example, still has to be persuaded, she said.
German officials have feared that releasing the names of victims would lead to a new raft of lawsuits seeking compensation from Germany, similar to the pressure that led the government and German companies to compensate Nazi-era slave labourers in recent years.
Germany and the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which manages the Bad Arolsen archive, have also cited concern for the privacy of Nazi victims.
Shapiro said the fear of fresh lawsuits was overblown, in part because deadlines in most US class-action settlements of Nazi-era compensation claims had passed.
"I have not heard anyone calling for this material to be opened for that purpose," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
Germany sits on an 11-nation supervisory body that must approve any opening of the archive, set up in 1955 as a repository of Nazi records seized by the victorious World War II allies.
The archive's name comes from its original humanitarian function immediately after World War II, when the tracing service sought to track down non-Germans missing in war and to reunite surviving family members.
The agency later shifted its focus to archiving the fates of concentration-camp and death-camp inmates, slave and forced labourers and children. Critics have long accused the ICRC of excessive secrecy for its role in the archive.
Subject: German news