11 nations sign protocol opening Nazi files

The accord was reached in April by the 11-nation governing body of the International Tracing Service, the arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross that oversees the archive in the western German town of Bad Arolsen.

The agreement would widely broaden access to the files, which have been available only to the victims and some of their immediate families. Under the provisions of a 1955 treaty third parties have only been able to access the archives with the written consent of a victim.

Once signed, the protocol still needs to be ratified by all 11 signatory states before the archives can be opened.

There is no concrete timeline on when access will be broadened to journalists and other researchers once the protocol is signed, but German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries has said she hoped that the process would be complete by the end of the year.

The service was founded after World War II to trace missing persons. Later, survivors eligible for compensation applied to the archive for documentary evidence of their mistreatment.

The Nazis were meticulous, documenting everything from the mundane, like how many meals a forced laborer received, to the horrific in describing a concentration camp prisoner's death in painstaking detail, the AP reports.

Much inside the cabinets is simple, solemn fact, such as a name on a concentration camp death list. Others of the archive's 30 million documents relate to mental illness, homosexuality, medical treatment, even the presence of head lice.