WASHINGTON – Germany agreed Tuesday to help clear the way for the opening of Nazi records on some 17 million Jews and enslaved laborers who were persecuted and slain by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust more than 60 years ago.
At a news conference at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said her country would work with the United States to assure the opening of the archives held in the German town of Bad Arolsen and allow historians and survivors access to some 30 million to 50 million documents.
Until now, Germany resisted providing access to the archives, citing privacy concerns. "We always put it forward that way in meetings," Zypries said.
But in a meeting Tuesday with Sara Bloomfield, director of the museum, Zypries said Germany had changed its position and would immediately seek revision of an 11-nation accord governing the archives.
She said that should take no more than six months.
Speaking in German, the minister said, "We now agree to open the data in Bad Arolsen in Germany. We now assume the data will be safeguarded by those countries that copy the material and use it, and now that we have made this decision we want to move forward." Her remarks were translated into English for reporters.
Bloomfield, in an interview, called the decision "a great step, a really important step." She said, "I will be completely thrilled when I get the material in the archives."
For 60 years, the International Red Cross has used the archived documents to trace missing and dead Jews and forced laborers, who were systematically persecuted by Nazi Germany and its anti-Semitic confederates across central and eastern Europe before and during World War II.
But the archives have remained off-limits to historians and the public.