Millions of secret files on concentration camps and their victims are likely to be opened by the end of the year.
Representatives of the eleven nations that comprise the governing commission of the International Tracing Service voted on Thursday to begin the process to publicize the papers, AP reports. The Service controls between 30 and 50 million pages of Holocaust documentation.
The body approved a set of recommendations for copying and transferring files to Holocaust institutions for use by survivors, victims' relatives and scholars. Two obstacles still remain, however: A more formal vote to be taken two months from now, and a unanimous ratification of a previous agreement to end the 60-year ban on using the files for research.
Among the 11 nations, Israel, the United States, Poland and the Netherlands have completed ratification, while Germany, Britain and Luxembourg are expected to do so within the next two months. France, Belgium, Italy and Greece are still not on board.
The files, stored in Bad Arolsen, Germany, have been used since the 1950s to help locate missing persons or uncover the fate of people who disappeared during the Third Reich. Later, the files were also used to validate claims for compensation. Only personnel of the Tracing Service, an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has had access to the files, which fill 16 miles of gray metal filing cabinets and cardboard binders in six buildings.
Though ratification is still incomplete, the process of opening the files "is irreversible," Reto Meister, director of the Tracing Service, told AP. Notably, the 11 delegations agreed that the Tracing Service should begin electronically transferring scanned files even now.
Institutions on the receiving end, such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Israel's Yad Vashem memorial, will need several months to integrate the data and get them ready for public use.
Despite the tremendous amount of literature written about the Holocaust, scholars say there are still gaps to be filled in by the Bad Arolsen files. The papers include original Nazi letters, details of the concentration camps' structures, slave labor records and uncounted testimonies of victims and ordinary Germans who witnessed the brutality of the Gestapo.
The Bad Arolsen archives index 17.5 million names that appear in its files, making them the world's most complete record of individual suffering during the Holocaust.
Meister said the collection of documents on concentration camp incarcerations - some 13 million pages of death registers, transportation lists and camp registries - will be ready in June. The rest of the documents will be scanned and transferred within a year.
AP reports that Germany, which funds the Tracing Service, agreed to increase its allocation beginning next year to help offset the $3.2 million needed to speed up the digitization and transfer of files, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum also will provide an unspecified amount.