More than 50 million Nazi-era records documenting the fates of 17 million Holocaust victims are now open to the public, 60 years after the archives housing them was created.

The opening of the International Tracing Service records had to wait until the 11 nations that own the archives altered their treaty with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which manages the documents, Deutsche Welle reported. The records will help thousands trace the fates of lost relatives and friends.

Jewish groups have campaigned for years for the ITS to release digitized copies of its collection, so that relatives can discover the fate of their loved ones in the death camps while the last of the survivors are still alive.

For years, only Red Cross employees and next of kin, not historians, other family members or the public, were allowed to see the files, which contain 50 million documents regarding the persecution, exploitation and extermination of millions of civilians by the Nazis.

Computerized copies are being established set up in Jerusalem, Washington and Warsaw. The actual records are in Bad Arolsen, a small German community.

“The sheer dimensions of the collection and its unique nature both enable these documents to make plain the horrors inflicted systematically and on an enormous scale by the National Socialist regime from 1933 to 1945,” Tracing Service Director Reto Meister said. “It will now be possible to carry out detailed research on, for example, the transport of prisoners, the camp populations, and the health of forced laborers.”

The archives began as a British Red Cross card index in 1943. It was first used to reunite families after World War Two.

Deutsche Welle reported the archives include records kept at concentration camps and an index of every non-citizen who was on German soil during the war years.

The tracking service is making forms for tracing the fates of individuals available http://www.its-arolsen.org/en/key_activities/tracing_service/application_forms/online_form/index.html).

Basic information about the archives and how to find information is available on its website in Hebrew, French and Russian. The entire site is available in German, English and French.

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