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Lawmakers urge Europe to open Nazi files

/ Source: The Associated Press

With the number of Holocaust survivors dwindling, a House committee voted Tuesday to urge seven European nations to quickly approve the opening of millions of Nazi files on concentration camps and their victims.

Earlier this month, an 11-nation body overseeing the long-secret archive set procedures to open the war records stored in Bad Arolsen, Germany, by the end of the year. Before the material can be accessed, all 11 must ratify an agreement adopted last year to end the 60-year ban on using the files for research.

The resolution approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee calls on member countries who have not yet ratified to do so quickly in the interest of elderly Holocaust survivors.

Israel, the United States, Poland and the Netherlands have completed ratification.

Germany, Britain and Luxembourg have said they would ratify before the commission meets again in May. National elections in France and Belgium could cause delays in those countries, officials said, and the status in Italy and Greece was unclear.

The Associated Press, which was granted extensive access to the archive in recent months on condition that victims not be fully identified, has drawn attention to the documents.

AP researchers have seen letters by Nazi commanders, Gestapo orders and vivid testimony from victims and observers of the brutality of camp life and the "death marches" when camps were ordered cleared of prisoners at the end of the war.

Scholars say the Bad Arolsen files will fill gaps in history and provide a unique perspective gained from seeing original Nazi letters, the minutiae of the concentration camps' structures, slave labor records and the testimony of victims and ordinary Germans who witnessed the brutality of the Gestapo.

In the last 60 years, the International Committee of the Red Cross' Tracing Service has responded to 11 million requests from survivors and their families. Most inquiries have resulted in delays lasting years and produced sketchy replies.

The files have been used since the 1950s to help determine the fate of people who disappeared during the Third Reich. Later, the files were also used to validate claims for compensation.