Experts work to open secret Nazi archive for research

By The Associated Press


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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - Technical experts have completed a blueprint to make millions of Nazi documents stored in Germany accessible to Holocaust researchers, but the 11 nations overseeing the massive archive must give the green light, the archive director said Thursday.

The outline approved at a three-day meeting in Bad Arolsen, Germany, for transferring huge amounts of data was a critical step toward opening the long-secret files maintained by the International Tracing Service, an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Holocaust survivors and researchers have waited decades to see information buried in the gray metal cabinets and on shelves in six nondescript buildings in the small German spa town. Many are yellowed and fragile with age.

Among the records meticulously kept by the Nazis are transport documents and death lists, and notes on concentration camp inmates ranging from their hereditary diseases to the number of lice plucked from their heads.

After years of wrangling, the 11-nation oversight body voted last May to amend the 1955 agreement governing the archive to give access to researchers and permit electronic copies.

But each nation must ratify that decision before it comes into force, which could take years. Survivors say they may long be dead by the time that happens.

The member countries are due to meet again in May, when the U.S. and other delegations are expected to propose shortcuts that could open the archive almost immediately.

The task to scan and digitize 30 million sheets of paper was a huge technical and logistic challenge, said Uwe Ossenberg, an expert quoted in a statement from the Tracing Service. He said he knew of no similar project anywhere in Europe or the United States.