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Commission begins work on timetable to open Nazi records

But access to the huge archive will be limited.

Published May 15, 2007


AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - The commission controlling millions of wartime Nazi records began work Monday on a timetable for making the historical trove available to researchers, but Holocaust survivors complained their own access to the documents may still be restricted.

The two-day annual meeting of the 11-nation commission caps a yearlong process to open the files of the International Tracing Service, or ITS, kept in the German town of Bad Arolsen.

"This is so long overdue - 62 years since the war. How much longer?" asked David Schaecter, of Miami, who testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month before it adopted a resolution urging the speedy opening of the ITS files. A similar resolution passed the House of Representatives.

Last year, the International Commission of the ITS voted to amend the 1955 agreement putting the immense archive off limits to all but Red Cross officials seeking to trace missing people.

The vast collection of concentration camp registries, death lists, transport documents and internal Nazi communications has references to 17.5-million victims. The files are indexed according to names, making them difficult to use in historical research.

The agreement to make a single electronic copy available to each member state requires the ratification of all 11 countries. Four have yet to complete the legal formalities, including France, where national elections have disrupted legislative action.

To expedite the process, the Amsterdam meeting was considering a proposal to begin transferring scanned documents to Holocaust institutions under embargo until the ratification is complete. Once transferred, the material would take several months to prepare for the public.

Even then, access will be limited under the terms of last year's agreement, which stipulated the material may be used "on the premises of an appropriate archival repository."

The arrangement has distressed some U.S. survivors, who said it is unreasonable to expect aging and often ailing people to travel to Washington for information they have waited decades to see.

[Last modified May 15, 2007, 01:58:36]

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