Archive Records Arrive in Jerusalem

Posted: 8/21/2007 1:26:00 PM
Author: Associated Press, Washington, D.C.
Source: This article appeared on the Jerusalem POst website on August 21, 2007

Archive Records Arrive in Jerusalem
by Associated Press, Washington, D.C.

The keepers of a Nazi archive have delivered copies of Gestapo papers and concentration camp records to museums in Washington and Jerusalem, providing Holocaust survivors a paper trail of their own persecution.

Six computer hard drives bearing electronic images of 20 million pages arrived late Monday at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Last week, the director of the International Tracing Service, custodian of the unique collection that has been locked away for a half century in Germany released the files for transfer to the two museums.

But it will be months before the archive can be used by survivors or victims' relatives to search family histories. Even after it opens to the public, navigating the vast files for specific names will be nearly impossible without a trained guide.

"Over the years, Yad Vashem has amassed a great deal of experience and knowledge in digitizing archival information and making it user friendly," Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem, said in a statement Tuesday. "However, the material received last night is complex and vast, taken from a number of camps, which is organized in complicated and varying ways. We expect it will take a lot of resources to sift through the material and catalog it."

The hard drives contain the first tranche of digital copies from one of the world's largest Nazi archives, with the final documents scheduled to be copied and delivered by early 2009.

"This first transfer is the beginning of a major undertaking," said the Washington museum's director, Sara J. Bloomfield in a statement Tuesday. "Our goal is to help survivors."

Though the museums' researchers can begin working with the material immediately, the public must wait for legal formalities to conclude _ which could take several more months.

Unlocking the archive required all 11 countries to amend their international treaty. France, Italy and Greece have yet to complete the process. The others on the commission are the United States, Israel, Britain, Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Luxembourg and Germany.

Bloomfield called on three countries which have not ratified to do so urgently.

Historians believe the files, which contain information on some 17.5 million individuals, will add texture to the narrative of misery in the camps, where millions of people were worked to death or were simply exterminated with industrial efficiency. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, one of every three Jews on earth.

The Associated Press has been given repeated access to the archive in Bad Arolsen in recent months. Random searches through its 16 linear miles (kilometers) of files revealed a wealth of mundane yet telling detail on life and death in the camps.

For instance, a researcher can learn that already in 1936, well before Hitler's Final Solution was launched, food rations at the Lichtenberg concentration camp were so meager that an officer complained to his commander that the inmates' health was in jeopardy. The file contains no indication rations improved.

The Tracing Service was created from the papers gathered by the Allies after the war and stored in a disused SS barracks in Bad Arolsen. The Red Cross took over responsibility in 1955. Its task was to find missing people, reunite families or discover how victims died. Later it was used to support restitution claims.