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 considerations. "We always put it forward that way in meetings," Zypries said.
Opening the archives would enable survivors and families of the Nazis' victims to learn more definitely than ever what happened to their relatives.
"We are losing the survivors, and anti-Semitism is on the rise, so this move could not be more timely," Sara Bloomfield, director of the museum, said in an interview.
She said the move was "something of moral and historical importance in a critical time."
"Overall, it makes it possible to learn a lot more about the fate of individuals and to learn a lot more about the Holocaust itself: concentration camps, deportations, slave-enforced labor and displaced persons," Paul Shapiro, director of the museum's center for advanced Holocaust studies, said in a separate interview.
The dramatic announcement Tuesday culminates a 20-year effort by the museum to get the archives opened. Negotiations intensified in the last few years and took on even greater momentum in the last two years, said Arthur Berger, spokesman for the museum.
In a meeting Tuesday with Bloomfield, Zypries said Germany had changed its position and would seek immediate 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, reports AP.