Diplomats from 11 countries agreed Tuesday to bypass legal obstacles and begin distributing electronic copies of documents from a restricted Nazi archive, making them available to Holocaust researchers for the first time in more than a half century.
The countries governing the archive, kept by the International Tracing Service, voted to begin transferring scanned documents as soon as they are ready so that receiving institutions can begin preparing them for public use.
The archive contains Nazi records on the arrest, transportation, incarceration, forced labor and deaths of millions of people from the year the Nazis built their first concentration camp in 1933 to the end of the war. It also has a vast collection of postwar records from displaced persons camps.
The name index refers to 17.5 million victims, and the documents fill 25 linear kilometers of shelves. But the archive is indexed according to names, making it difficult to use them for historical research.
Until now, the files maintained in the central German town of Bad Arolsen have been used to track missing people, reunited families, and later to validate restitution claims.