German Cabinet approves opening of Nazi archive

The archive, controlled by 1955 agreements, holds virtually everything Nazis recorded on camps and the prisoners held there.

nazi document 298.88 (photo credit: Yossi Shavit)
nazi document 298.88
(photo credit: Yossi Shavit)
Germany's Cabinet agreed Wednesday to open to researchers an archive of millions of Nazi files that describe the mechanics of the Holocaust. The accord will likely be signed July 26 in Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said. Germany's move follows an agreement to unlock the archive reached last month by the 11-nation governing body of the International Tracing Service, the arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross that oversees the archive in the German town of Bad Arolsen. The strongest pressure to open the storehouse of some 50 million files came from the dying generation of Holocaust survivors and victims' families who feared the histories of their loved ones would be lost forever unless the rules were changed. The archive, controlled by 1955 agreements, holds virtually everything the Nazis recorded on the concentration camps and the prisoners held there. Experts say the opening could provide new insights into the mechanics of the Nazi extermination campaign and help people discover specific information on what happened to relatives. The breakthrough came earlier this year when Germany - which had long maintained that access to the files by Holocaust researchers would violate the country's privacy laws - agreed to ease its policies. Under current rules, information is given out only to former victims. A third party can only access the archives with the express, written consent of a former victim. It remains unclear when researchers will be able to access the archives. Once the agreement is signed, all 11 signatory nations have to ratify it. "How long that will take in each individual case is hard to predict," Jaeger said, adding that Germany was committed to ratifying the deal "as quickly as possible." The International Tracing Service was founded after World War II to trace missing persons. Later, survivors eligible for compensation applied to the archive for documentary evidence of their mistreatment.