Row upon row of plain metal cabinets at the International Tracing Service hold the key to the lives and often the deaths of 17.5 million of Adolf Hitler's victims.
Much of it is simple, solemn facts, such as a name on a concentration camp death list. Other documents relate to mental illness, homosexuality, medical treatment, even the presence of head lice _ leading to privacy concerns that have held up the opening of center's 30 million records to historians and the public.
That restriction could end soon under pressure from Holocaust researchers and Jewish organizations when the countries that run the archive meet in Luxembourg on May 16. In a key breakthrough, the German government said Tuesday it was ready to work with the United States on the issue, though no final agreement has been reached.
Maria Raabe, assistant to the center's director, said it will ultimately be up to the 11 countries _ Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Israel, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, UK and the United States _ whose representatives meet only once a year.
"It's there that a decision will be taken on opening the archives and in what way," she said.
"We have very delicate and sensitive information about illness, homosexuality, dementia."
One card shows the name of a Frenchman taken to Norway and forced to work as a carpenter in Oslo building a submarine pen for the German navy. Another lists a Hungarian suffering from schizophrenia. Another document bears the name of a German imprisoned at Buchenwald for saying anti-Nazi slogans, and says the U.S. Army ordered him released on May 7, 1945 _ the day the war ended.
Many of the records are simple registration documents, ID cards or lists. Yet they are a powerful testament to the lives and deaths of people who were imprisoned, forced to work for German industry or killed in concentration and concentration camps during World War II.
The agency, which opened in 1943 operating out of London and moved to Germany in 1945, helps relatives of those lost in the flames of the Third Reich to discover their fate, whether living or dead, reports AP.
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