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Germany agreed Tuesday to clear the way for the opening of Nazi records on some 17 million Jews and enslaved laborers who were persecuted and slain by the Nazis and their collaborators more than 60 years ago during the Holocaust.
Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said at a news conference in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum that Germany would work in partnership with the United States to assure the opening of the archives, held in Bad Arolsen, Germany, and allow historians and survivors access to some 30 million to 50 million documents.
Until now, Germany resisted providing access to the archives, citing privacy considerations. "We always put it forward that way in meetings," Zypries said.
But in a meeting Tuesday with Sara Bloomfield, the museum's director, Zypries said Germany had changed its position and would seek immediate revision of an 11-nation accord that governs the archives.
She said that should take no more than six months.
Speaking in German, the minister said, "We now agree to open the data in Bad Arolsen in Germany," she said. "We now assume the data will be safeguarded by those countries that copy the material and use it, and now that we have made this decision, we want to move forward."
In an interview, Bloomfield called the decision "a great step; a really important step." She said, "I will be completely thrilled when I get the material in the archives."
For 60 years, the International Red Cross has used the archived documents to trace missing and dead Jews and forced laborers, who were systematically persecuted by Nazi Germany and its anti-Semitic confederates across central and eastern Europe before and during World War II.
The archives have remained off-limits over the decades to historians and the public.
Zypries and Bloomfield credited France and Poland with being especially helpful in trying to resolve the dispute. However, the German minister said, "The ICRC has not been particularly helpful."