Gestapo papers and camp files provide survivors with paper trail of persecution.
By JUDY SIEGEL
A database with millions of documents from more than 50 concentration camps and prisons - which include books recording Jewish deaths, transportation lists and medical reports - was handed over Monday to Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority and Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"These documents reflect the most despicable operations of the Nazi era and constitute an essential part of our archive," said International Tracing Service (ITS) director Reto Meister during the official handover at the Washington museum.
The ITS is governed by the 11-nation International Commission for the International Tracing Service (ICITS), set up under the 1955 Bonn Agreements and their 2006 Protocols. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) manages the ITS on behalf of the commission.
The member states of the International Commission are: Israel, the US, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Poland.
Other member states of the commission will receive copies upon request.
The ITS, located at Bad Arolsen in Germany, serves victims of Nazi persecution and their families by documenting their fate and preserving the records and making them available for research.
"Together with the member states of the International Commission, the ICRC has taken the important decision to open the archives to the public. I am satisfied that a first step has now been taken with the handover of copies of the documents to Israel and the US," said ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger.
So far, 12 million documents have been digitized, about a third of the files preserved in Bad Arolsen.
This corresponds to 18 million images and requires a storage capacity of 1.4 terabytes.
"This is a very important moment for the International Tracing Service, and, I think, for the member states of the International Commission. Above all, the victims of the Holocaust, their families and researchers stand to benefit from this development. For over 50 years, the archive's files have been used to document what happened to people persecuted by the Nazis and to provide information to survivors and their relatives. After a long political process, we can now give researchers and the public access to the files," said Meister.
The ITS archives were opened up to historical research under the 2006 Protocol amending the Bonn Agreements of 1955, approved by the 11 member states of the commission.
As soon as ratification of the protocol is complete - Italy, France and Greece have yet to ratify it - the archives will be fully opened.
However, the 11 member states decided last May that even before all of them had formally ratified the protocol, copies of the data stored at the ITS could be transferred under embargo to those states that had completed ratification.
"This allows our partners to begin processing the files and to make technical preparations, in order to be ready for the formal opening of the archives," explained Meister.
During his visit to the US, the ITS director is meeting officials from the US State Department, congressional staff, American Red Cross personnel and representatives of various Jewish organizations, to discuss the work of the ITS and perspectives for future cooperation.
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