- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

LUXEMBOURG — Armed with key concessions from Germany, an 11-nation commission was finalizing arrangements yesterday to open a vast archive documenting the death, enslavement or oppression of 17 million Jews and others deemed undesirable by the Nazis.

The move to unlock the storehouse of some 50 million files in the German town of Bad Arolsen comes under pressure from the dying generation of Holocaust survivors and victims’ families who fear their histories will be lost forever unless they gain access to the files.

For 60 years, the archive administered by the International Committee of the Red Cross has been used almost exclusively to trace Holocaust survivors or track the fate of victims.

The proposed changes would give historical researchers immediate access for the first time to the cavernous rooms at Bad Arolsen containing concentration camp registrations, death certificates, transit lists and other minutiae of evil that the Nazis meticulously recorded.

The archive holds virtually everything the Nazis recorded on the camps, the prisoners held there and how they operated. Experts say the opening could provide new insights into the mechanics of the Nazi extermination campaign and help people discover specific information about what happened to relatives.

Some of the information on Jewish victims in Bad Arolsen already is duplicated in the huge archives at Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington.

But Jews were only half of the 12 million people exterminated by the Nazis, and the files held by the International Tracing Service, the Red Cross custodian of the archive, have far more comprehensive accounts of Nazi operations.

There are files on some 17.5 million people in all, and the index cards listing the archive’s contents fill three rooms.

Until now, the only way to access the information was to submit a request to the International Tracing Service, and await their response.

But the service has fallen far behind in fulfilling the requests that still flow in by the tens of thousands every year. It now has a backlog of more than 400,000 inquiries about those who disappeared during the Nazi regime.

The 11 countries on the oversight commission are Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Israel, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Britain and the United States.

The proposed changes would allow each of the 11 countries to obtain a digital copy of the Bad Arolsen archive and to make it available to researchers and victims’ relatives in those countries under controlled conditions.

Once the commission reaches consensus, each government must ratify the changes. Some countries will require parliamentary approval, but the State Department can endorse the amendments without congressional consent.

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