April 30, 2008

Germany opens huge Nazi crimes archive to public

Wed Apr 30, 2008 1:30pm EDT

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany opened the world's largest collection of documents on Nazi crimes and their victims to the public on Wednesday.

The International Tracing Service (ITS) in the western town of Bad Arolsen contains about 50 million records on some 17 million victims of Hitler's Nazi regime.

The paperwork, which includes imprisonment orders, death registers and Gestapo notes, reveals details about people who were murdered in the Holocaust, concentration camp survivors and millions of forced laborers and displaced people.

It contains the names of people on "Schindler's List" -- hundreds of Jews saved by businessman Oskar Schindler -- which was the subject of a Steven Spielberg film.

Until Wednesday, the centre allowed only Nazi victims and their relations access.

ITS director Reto Meister said the opening marked the start of a new chapter for the archives more than 60 years after the end of World War Two.

"The opening will contribute to keep alive the memory of the monstrous crimes of the Nazi era," said Meister at the opening ceremony.

The centre is part of the International Committee of the Red Cross and 11 nations are represented on the ITS board -- Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Britain and the United States.

Israel and the United States had long pushed for the archive to open its doors. Germany had been worried about data protection but has received guarantees that information on those still living will remain restricted.

Germany gives the ITS, which is in the process of digitalizing its archives, about 14 million euros ($22 million) a year.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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