Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) welcomed today's news that the Holocaust-era archives in Bad Arolsen, Germany, would finally be opened. The Bad Arolsen archives contain 30 to 50 million pages, penned by the Nazis themselves, which chronicle the individual fates of more than 17 million Holocaust victims. Thousands of Holocaust survivors, historians, and researchers have waited decades to access this rich repository of information.
"The opening of these archives is a long-awaited breakthrough for survivors, their families, researchers, and historians," said Sen. Biden. "More than 60 years after the end of World War II, we finally have full access to the Nazis' own accounts of their atrocities."
After the Allies won the war, they took possession of millions of files and documents which detailed individual atrocities committed by the Nazis. To maintain this catalogue, the Allies established an archive called the International Tracing Service in the town of Bad Arolsen, Germany. This Tracing Service was established to unify families and help survivors learn the ultimate fate of their lost loved ones. Yet, use of the archives was severely restricted, and very few survivors have ever been allowed direct, much less prompt, access to the records.
Eleven countries serve on the International Commission that supervises the Tracing Service. In May 2006, after years of delay, they agreed to make these archives public for the first time, but only after each of the 11 countries - the United States, Israel, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom - completed their own ratification procedure.
Sen. Biden has long advocated opening the Bad Arolsen archives. Troubled by ongoing and needless delays, in December 2006, Sen. Biden wrote to the ambassadors of the nine Tracing Service Commission countries that had not completed ratification. Sen. Biden urged those countries to swiftly ratify the agreement to open the archives. Throughout 2007, Sen. Biden continued to pressure the remaining, non-ratifying countries to complete the process, and today the Red Cross and German government announced that ratification was complete. Historians and Holocaust survivors will now have full access to the tragic truths contained in the records at Bad Arolsen.
In February 2007, Sen. Biden wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald calling for the opening of the archives. The full text of the op-ed follows.
Open Nazi archives to victims, survivors
BY JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.
February 15, 2007
More than 60 years after the end of World War II, why is it still so hard to access files documenting the Nazis' atrocious acts?
Thousands of Holocaust survivors, historians and researchers are being denied access to files that tell the story of unspeakable crimes committed by the Nazis. Many of the files are about the survivors themselves; still, they cannot view them.
After the Allies won the war, they took possession of millions of files and documents, penned by the Nazis themselves, which chronicled every aspect of their horrific Final Solution. To maintain this catalogue of atrocities, the Allies established an archive called the International Tracing Service, in the town of Bad Arolsen, Germany. Today, Bad Arolsen contains some 30 million to 50 million pages that record the individual fates of more than 17 million Holocaust victims.
The Tracing Service was established to unify families and help survivors learn the ultimate fate of their lost loved ones. Indeed, it was recently reported that settlement of a class action lawsuit over Nazi-era life insurance policies may be delayed pending the opening of the Bad Arolsen archives. Its records may also support legal claims against companies accused of wrongdoing during the war. Yet, access to the records is severely limited, and very few survivors have ever been allowed direct, much less prompt, access.
The justification for this delay was supposedly privacy concerns, logistical problems associated with making the records widely accessible and fears of new legal claims. None of these can justify the tragic result -- thousands of elderly survivors have passed away in recent years, never knowing what happened to their families, even though the answer may be sitting on a shelf in Germany. This is unacceptable.
Eleven countries serve on the International Commission that supervises the Tracing Service. Last May, after years of delay, they commendably agreed to make these archives public for the first time. They also agreed to place digitized copies at Holocaust research centers in other countries, but only after each of the 11 countries completed their own ratification procedure. In light of the advanced age of the remaining survivors, all committed to make ratification an urgent priority, with the goal of concluding the process by the end of 2006. However, only Israel and the United States met this deadline, and there are now reports that full ratification could take three years or more. That is simply too long.
Troubled by ongoing and needless delays, in December I wrote to the ambassadors of the nine remaining Tracing Service Commission countries -- Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom -- urging their governments to swiftly ratify the agreement. The member countries have recently announced a meeting in March to explore alternative paths to opening the archives. I applaud this move, but we need more than just meetings; we need action. For example, there is no good reason why last May's agreements cannot be implemented provisionally, pending final ratification. I urge the delegates to do whatever is necessary to quickly bring to light the horrifying but important truths locked up at Bad Arolsen.
Last fall, the government of Iran hosted a conference; its absurd and outrageous premise was that the Holocaust did not occur. At a time when dangerously deluded efforts to deny the Holocaust are on the rise, how can we keep the Nazis' own records from proving their horrors to the world? And how can we deny the Nazis' victims - who have suffered enough for a thousand lifetimes - the truth they so clearly deserve?
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.