Friday, February 02, 2007

Holocaust Records Remain Unavailable to Researchers

Nine months ago I wrote an article, Holocaust Records to Be Made Public. Here's an update on that story. Here's a hint... it's not good news for genealogy researchers.

Opening Holocaust archive may take years By Melissa Eddy, Associated Press Writer from Tri-City Herald. (Excerpted sections of a rather lengthy article.)
Despite pressure from U.S. lawmakers and frustration among Holocaust survivors, a unique Nazi-era archive remains off-limits to researchers, and officials say it could take years before the millions of documents become available for study.

Eight months have passed since the 11 countries administering the vast storehouse of log books, transport lists and death registers agreed to open the archive for research. For nearly a decade, the group had wrangled over objections that disclosure would violate the privacy of some victims.

When German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries announced in Washington last April her nation's decision to drop its resistance, she told reporters that agreement among the member states should take no more than six months. Expectations that the archive would be accessible to researchers by year's end soared.

But that agreement was just the first step in a lengthy legal process to amend a 1955 treaty governing the archive of the International Tracing Service, or ITS, an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the German town of Bad Arolsen.

Only Israel and the United States have so far fully endorsed the amendments adopted last May by the 11-nation International Commission....

...But scholars and groups representing the elderly survivors are exasperated at the pace, contending that urgent access to the material is needed to help refute Holocaust deniers, and that the legislative process can - and must - be expedited...

...Of the other member nations, only Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Poland have indicated they would ratify the agreement before the International Commission's annual meeting in May. Belgium, Britain, France, Greece and Italy are the remaining commission members.

Legislators from both houses of the U.S. Congress have written to other member states to speed up ratification.

Your country ... stands in the way of access to the truth and implementation of the agreement," wrote Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in letters last month to the ambassadors of those countries. "Fulfilling the intent of the agreement requires immediate action."...

...Pending ratification, the arduous process of scanning and digitally rendering the documents is about 63 percent complete, said ITS spokeswoman Maria Raabe.

...Once the agreements are ratified, each of the 11 countries will be eligible to receive a digital copy of the archive, but its use must be closely supervised. The agreement specifically rules out publication on the Internet.

The archives, set up by the Allies after World War II, have been sheltered from public scrutiny for 60 years, except for use by the Red Cross to trace missing people after the war, and later to validate victims' compensation claims. The records contain 17.5 million names.

Historians who rejoiced at last year's announcement are wondering what secrets could be revealed. [More]

This is such very disappointing news. The delay is frustrating. But even more disappointing is the news that this valuable information will not be made available via the internet. I feel sorry for the Holocaust survivors and their families. I feel sorry for all Polish genealogy researchers. Not everyone is aware that a large number of non-Jewish Poles were executed by the Nazis too. I personally have Polish Catholic family members who were executed by the Nazis and was hoping to find out more about the circumstances of their deaths. I wonder how the U.S. will make this information available to researchers.


  1. It seems odd that the information must be closely supervised and that it specifically prohibits publication on the internet. What is being hidden?

  2. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, my guess at the reluctance of the other countries' willingness to ratify the agreement suggests possible fear by those governments that these documents will point to collusion with the Nazis in the Holocaust. One must remember that Jews and Poles were considered subhuman for centuries by many Europeans, not just the Nazis; and it is known that various forms of appeasement took place with Hitler's government before World War II broke full-scale. Also, when various countries were invaded by Germany, their government officials willingly gave up the unwanted members of their populations (Jews, homosexuals, prostitues, criminals, gypsies, Poles, etc.) in the hopes of keeping their positions under Nazi rule. The United States was not innocent in this drama, either; prior to Pearl Harbor, our government refused to give sanctuary to shiploads of Jews attempting to escape Europe. The occupants starved, died of disease, or drowned when their ships were sunk by storms or U-boats; in some cases, they attempted to land in British-held Palestine (present-day Israel), where the occupants were detained in "refugee" camps--or worse, returned to Europe, where most met their fate in concentration camps.

    It's the protection of the guilty that is at stake here, I'm sure. A travesty.

  3. Miriam you make some great points here.

    Apple, you've asked the $64,000 question... "What is being hidden?".

    I suspect that Miriam's conclusion that it's the protection of the guilty that's at stake hits the nail on the head. I think we'll find many guilty parties revealed when these records finally see the light of day. What exactly they're guilty of will probably horrify and disgust us all.