US researchers open up world's largest Holocaust archive
In a victory for Nazi survivors, documents from Germany are available at a Washington museum.
Washington (dpa) - Millions of documents from a long-restricted Holocaust archive in Germany opened to the public Thursday at a Washington museum, marking a victory for Nazi-era survivors after years of tense international negotiations.
Nearly 70 million scanned copies of camp, transport, ghetto, arrest and name records are now available to victims, family members and researchers at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The remaining 30 million images, on slave labour and Allied displaced-person camps, are to be transferred in stages by 2010.
In all, the now-opened International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Germany, has records on some 17.5 million Nazi victims, Jews and non-Jews.
Pressed by Jewish groups and the US government, countries overseeing the collection agreed last year to give copies to institutions in the US, Israel and Poland.
"These millions of documents open a new window on the daily fate of people who were targeted by the Nazis and their allies," said Paul Shapiro, the museum's head of research.
"Often they reveal not grand strategy ... but the grinding routine of man's inhumanity to man, of a prisoner's effort to survive just one more day," he said.
Last week, the Washington museum said it was ready to begin providing information from the archive.
Set up by the victorious Allies after World War II and formally administered by 11 Western nations since 1955, the ITS was virtually off-limits for more than five decades.
Even today, piecing together a victim's fate under the Nazis requires painstaking, time-consuming searches through name records, file cards and German documents.
In a key breakthrough, the German government in April 2006 dropped objections on privacy grounds to opening the archive. A month later, the other 10 countries followed suit.
"Opening the archive wasn't easy. It required convincing governments that were not inclined to act that they had to act," Shapiro told reporters.
Privacy grounds were cited as a prime reason for restricting access to Bad Arolsen. But critics blamed indifference by European governments and alleged fears by some of them that the documents could expose Nazi collaborators.
The new ITS material will also add to the collection at Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial, which has had microfilmed copies of part of the tracing archive since the 1950s.
Since the ITS documents are not machine-searchable, people who want to see them have to fill out an online form. Victims of Nazi slave and forced labour will be among those whose requests will get priority, Shapiro said.
Jewish representatives and US members of Congress say opening the archive was important also to combat resurgent anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, including statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"With the rise of Holocaust denial in recent years, we really determined to do an all-out effort to open this archive and to give to survivors and their families what had been so long overdue," said Sara Bloomfield, head of the US Holocaust museum.