Netherlands ratifies agreement to open Nazi-era archive

Collection of documents will be scanned and ready for digital transfer by June, and 95% of the entire archive can be digitized within a year.

nazi archive 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
nazi archive 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Netherlands has ratified an accord to open a long-secret archive of Nazi death camp records in Germany, the government said Thursday, another step toward giving scholars access to a vast collection of historically invaluable Holocaust documents. The Dutch became the fourth of the 11 countries on the archive's governing body to complete the legal procedures. Officials said nearly all the others were expected to formally adopt the measures by the end of the year. After years of pressure from Holocaust survivors, the committee voted last year to amend a 1955 treaty to allow research access to the storehouse kept in Bad Arolsen, Germany, run by the International Tracing Service of the International Committee of the Red Cross. But unless procedures are changed by consensus, all 11 countries must ratify the accord before scholars can view the material. The Dutch announced their ratification Wednesday at a meeting of the commission overseeing the Bad Arolsen archive, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gijs Gerlach said. The meeting concludes Thursday. Another round of talks was set for May to finalize procedures for opening the archive and transferring the tens of millions of pages to those member countries which want them. "We deposited the instruments of ratification in Berlin yesterday (Wednesday)," Gerlach said. Both houses of the Dutch parliament had approved the agreement without discussion, he said. The United States, Israel and Poland also have completed ratification. The other countries on the commission are Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Greece, France and Germany. Delegates said it was likely more than half the countries would endorse the treaty before the next meeting in May. All but Italy indicated during Wednesday's closed meeting that they would be finished by the end of the year, the delegates said. Archive director Reto Meister said earlier he would ask the committee for the green light to set up the mechanisms for transferring documents even before the ratification is complete so that no time is wasted. Meister said the most important collection of documents for Holocaust survivors - incarceration records, death catalogs, camp registries and transportation lists - will be scanned and ready for digital transfer by June, and 95 percent of the entire archive can be digitized within a year. The archive has been used since the 1950s only to track persons missing after the war or the uncover the fate of Holocaust victims, drawing on an index of 17.5 million names mentioned in its files. Later, it was used to validate compensation claims.