United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Calls for Immediate Access to Closed Archive

Moral Obligation Demands That Holocaust Records be Available for Families of Victims

WASHINGTON, D.C. (USHMM) — Because of the continued refusal of the International Tracing Service (ITS) to permit Holocaust survivors and scholars to access the world’s largest closed Holocaust-era archive, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum called on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which supervises the ITS, to open the archive and permit the ITS’s 11 International Commission board member states to copy its records. Having copies of the ITS records at national Holocaust memorials in their countries would allow survivors and their families, as well as Holocaust scholars, to learn the fates of the victims and better understand the Holocaust itself.

Many survivors die each year not knowing details of family members’ deportation, incarceration, and death. The international community has a moral obligation to address this injustice. Over 60 years after the end of World War II, the ITS remains one of the few, and certainly the largest, closed archive on the Holocaust.

At the end of the war, the Allied powers established the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany, to help reunite non-German families separated during the war and trace missing family members. Among other information, the vast collection includes massive documentation from concentration camps, slave labor camps and post-war displaced person camps. The ITS has performed important humanitarian functions. However, many families seeking information from the ITS receive responses only years after their requests were submitted, and often the information is inadequate or inaccurate.

In addition to the Museum, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in New York, and the 24-nation Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research have demanded that the ITS comply with requests to open the archive and copy the records.

Similar materials, though not on the same scale, have been available at archives such as Yad Vashem, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and other repositories in Europe. The ITS is failing to live up to the intent of the 2000 Stockholm Declaration to open Holocaust-era archives. All 11 governments on the International Commission of the ITS, the ITS’s governing body, have endorsed the Declaration.

For the past eight years the ITS and the ICRC in Geneva have said they would open the archive, and during the last two years, intensive negotiations have taken place. In practice, however, the ITS and the ICRC have consistently refused to cooperate with the International Commission board and have kept the archive closed.

Museum Chairman Fred Zeidman said: “There is a moral imperative to make these records available now. It is time for the ITS to give the victims their due and the survivors some closure.” Ben Meed, president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, emphasized that, “At a time when antisemitism and Holocaust denial are on the rise, we survivors deserve access to this information and the reassurance that it will be open to scholars.”