Beliefnet
Beliefnet News

Associated Press
Berlin – A vast archive of Nazi-era documents started accepting online requests Thursday for information from victims of Nazi crimes and people tracing relatives – a move meant to speed up an often-slow process.
The move by the archive, based in the central German town of Bad Arolsen, should make it easier for people to get information from the 50 million files of the International Tracing Service. The site, http://www.its-arolsen.org, will not, however, allow victims or researchers direct access to the files over the Internet.
Until now, people hoping for data from the files had to submit a written request either directly, or through their local Red Cross chapter. The International Committee of the Red Cross administers the International Tracing Service.
“We wanted to make it easier for people to reach us and the overhaul of our Web site was geared to that,” said Reto Meister, director of the service. “We thought it was our duty and obligation to put out readable information and understandable news, and especially to create easier access for people who can now reach us from all corners of the world.”
The archive was founded in 1955 with the aim of helping to reunite families in the wake of World War II and shed light on the fate of millions of victims of the Holocaust.
It still receives an estimated 10,000 requests for information each year, and about 60,000 requests are currently pending.
For decades, processing of the inquiries was painfully slow, leading to frustration among victims and their families, who often had to wait several years before receiving a response.
The International Tracing Service says on its new site that it aims to process requests within eight weeks and have the backlog whittled down by mid-2008. But it warns that some more complex cases may take longer.
Meister said it remained to be seen whether allowing online applications would result in a jump in requests. He noted that, in the future, victims and their families also will be able to access files through Yad Vashem or the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, both of which have received digital copies of many of the documents.
Earlier this year, digital copies of some of the records were handed to the archives in Israel, the United States and Poland in an effort to make the data more accessible to more people.
That distribution was part of an international push to open the archive to the public – a complex diplomatic process involving permission from 11 nations, which is expected to be completed by year’s end.
The fully revamped Web site also offers an online application for information for researchers and details on the archive’s various divisions and the documents they hold.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus