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Rules of access established for International Tracing Service files

15-05-2007 News Release 07/61

Amsterdam/Geneva (International Commission / ICRC) – Rules governing access to files have been adopted for the International Tracing Service (ITS).

  Bad Arolsen. International Tracing Agency    

The organization, based in Bad Arolsen, Germany, uses its vast archives of files from the Second World War period to document what happened to people persecuted by the Nazis and provide certification which they or their survivors need for various purposes.

At its yearly meeting this week in Amsterdam, the International Commission for the ITS,* which supervises the Service's work, laid down detailed rules governing that access and extending it to historical researchers. Until now, ITS archives were accessible only by the victims and their next of kin. Opening them to historical research requires adoption by all Commission member States of last year's protocol amending the 1955 Bonn Agreement, under which the Service was set up. Representatives of the five States that have not yet ratified – Belgium, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg – said at this week's meeting that the process should be completed this autumn.

When the protocol is adopted, historians will have access to over 30 million documents as well as to correspondence dating back more than 25 years between the ITS and governments and private individuals. Reto Meister, ITS director in Bad Arolsen, welcomed the unanimous decision. " Several member States have very strict regulations on access to archives, " he explained. " So 25 years is a sound compromise. "

Anyone doing research in the archives will have to supply proof of identity and agree in writing to treat as confidential all personal information contained in the documents, which will generally be made available in the form of photocopies or electronic files so as to preserve the sometimes fragile originals. In certa in exceptional cases, researchers will be granted access to the original documents.

" The members bore a weighty responsibility at this meeting, " declared Pieter Jan Wolthers, the Commission chairman. " I am happy to report that all did their best to reach a consensus in amending the ITS mandate. "

The members agreed on the procedure for transferring digital copies of documents, which enables the States concerned to easily store the data on their own computer systems and so afford researchers in those countries direct access to information.

Since opening the ITS archives to researchers was decided upon in principle last year, preparations have been under way for the transfer of digital copies. All documents regarding detention have been scanned and indexed. As soon as the technical set-up is completed this summer, they can be transferred to member States that request them.

The participants at the Amsterdam meeting also agreed unanimously that even before all States have formally agreed to the changes, data can be transferred to those that have finished the ratification process. In this way they can begin processing the files and make technical preparations for the opening of the archives.

*The International Commission for the ITS is composed of 11 member States (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom, United States). The ICRC manages the ITS on the International Commission's behalf.

  For further information, please contact:
  Iris Moeker, ITS, tel +49 172 211 78 31
  Vincent Lusser, ICRC Geneva, tel +41 22 730 24 26; or +41 79 217 32 64
  • editorial Read also the by Reto Meister, director of the International Tracing Service in Arolsen on the opening of the archives