The Red Cross and the German government announced Wednesday that the last of the 11 countries that administer the International Tracing Service (ITS) archive in the German town of Bad Arolsen had ratified a 2006 agreement, thereby opening the files to the public for the first time.
The archive, which contains more than 50 million pages of documents stored in six buildings, represents a rich resource for Holocaust historians and is expected to shed new light on the details of the Nazi genocide. Until now, the files have mainly been used to help find missing persons and document atrocities as evidence for compensation claims. Few outsiders have ever seen the documents.
"Today saw the conclusion of a long and difficult process," said Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which administers the ITS. "This dark chapter in German history must never be forgotten."
"Now I hope we will be able to get some information," David Mermelstein, a 78-year-old activist for survivors' causes, told the Associated Press. "We have been waiting, and time is not on our side." Mermelstein wants to examine the files for information about his two brothers, who he last saw in Nazi concentration camps.
In order to provide researchers with more access to the files, the archive provided digital copies of the entire archive to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem in August.
The decision to open the archive was taken by the 11-country governing commission in May 2006 in response to pressure from the US State Department and Holocaust researchers. However the ratification process took 18 months to complete, with Greece being the last country to file its ratification papers with the German Foreign Ministry.
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