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Opening ceremony of the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen

30-04-2008 Statement

The International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany, contains over 50 million documents regarding the persecution, exploitation and extermination of millions of civilians by the Nazis. The recent opening of the archives to historical research was today marked at a ceremony organized in Bad Arolsen. The ICRC's Vice-President, Christine Beerli, made the following statement to media.

As the supervisory body that directs and manages the International Tracing Service (ITS), the ICRC has taken a keen interest in the process of opening the Tracing Service's archives for historical research and handing over digital copies of those documents to the members of the International Commission The ITS is governed by the 11-nation International Commission for the International Tracing Service (ICITS) under the 1955 Bonn Agreements and its 2006 Protocols. The following countries are members of the Commission: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Poland, UK, and the United States. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) manages the ITS on behalf of the ICITS.

We are very satisfied with current developments. Over the past 18 months, the 11 Member States of the International Commission, the ICRC, the German government and the ITS itself have together taken a significant step forward.

We at the ICRC shall make every effort to promote continued speedy progress in the digitization of the documents at the ITS, for this is vital to the agreed exchange of data between the Commission's Member States. We shall furthermore ensure that the Tracing Service is in a position to meet the challenges involved in the opening of the archives. This is a matter of internal organization but also of more effective document access through an extended cataloguing system. 

There is no doubt that the tremendous value of the historical documents in Bad Arolsen will now be revealed to a broad public. In my opinion, the significance of this cannot be rated highly enough, for the memory of the horrors of the Second World War must be kept a live. We owe this, and Germany and Europe owe it, to the victims of the holocaust, to their descendants, and to all future generations, who should learn from past events.

In the last 60 years, the International Tracing Service has provided important services for the survivors of the Nazi regime and the descendants of the victims. It has helped to shed light and to document what happened to the victims, and to record those facts for posterity. With the opening of the archives for historical research, this work will now be continued. Indeed, it will be raised to another level and enhanced.

For the ICRC, this new task and the gradual decline in the number of cases of humanitarian concern processed by the International Tracing Service raises the question of the organization's future role in the Service. In 1955, the Western Allies asked the ICRC as an independent and neutral institution to take on the management and administration of the International Tracing Service, a task which the organization has been carrying out for many years, fully aware of its importance. The time has now come to devote thought to new forms of supervisory administration for an established institution whose field of activity has been expanded.

We at the ICRC are seeking greater autonomy for the International Tracing Service. We shall prepare the organization for the new challenges and take an active interest in the International Commission's deliberations on its future.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Claudia McGoldrick, ICRC Geneva, tel +41 22 730 2063  

 Kathrin Flor, ITS, tel +49 5691 629 116  

 or visit the website of the International Tracing Service:   www.its-arolsen.org