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Wraps taken off data on 3.5 million post-WWII refugees

Berlin — Copies of a formerly confidential card index to 3.5 million foreigners trapped in Germany after the Second World War were handed over last week to Poland, Israel and the United States, a Red Cross archive in Germany said Tuesday.

The index of displaced persons is the latest information hoard to be released by the International Tracing Service (ITS), an agency at Bad Arolsen, Germany, after pressure from historians to see the data before the last eyewitnesses to the War die.

Displaced persons or DPs were the millions of sick and malnourished Europeans, stranded and sometimes without any homes to return to in the vast destruction after the Nazis had been crushed.

DP records from Germany were lodged with the ITS in 1955 and the Red Cross was appointed manager.

DPs in Germany were often former concentration-camp inmates, press-ganged laborers from abroad or former prisoners of war.

The release of 7 million digital images, comprising both sides of the 3.5 million record cards, is the third handover by the ITS since November, after 18 million images of Nazi concentration camp records and the ITS main name index of 42 million images.

The Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the National Institute of Remembrance in Warsaw will invite relatives and historians to search in the documents.

The ITS said they were handed over during a meeting last Tuesday and Wednesday at Bad Arolsen, north of Frankfurt, with organizations from the 11 nations that are in charge of the ITS.

The Washington museum led a campaign for the ITS to end the secrecy of the files. The recipients are expected to spend years indexing the data and putting it into a new computer database.

ITS director Reto Meister said the next release would be of documents on forced labor in the summer of this year.

Around 70 per cent of the documents at ITS have so far been scanned. The entire holdings are to be digitized by 2011.

DPA with Expatica