23 November 2006

International Tracing Service will at last open records

The archives of the International Tracing Service hold millions of records about Germany's actions in WWII. They total some 16 miles of files in six buildings in the central German spa town of Bad Arolsen.

But, for 50 years, the ITS has kept the files closed to the public, allowing only a trickle of information to survivors and their descendants. Some inquirers have waited years to receive a response.

Their long-criticized policy is about to change.

In May, after years of pressure from the United States and survivors' groups, the 11 countries overseeing the archive agreed to unseal the files.

The files were moved to Bad Arolsen in 1946 and administration was handed over to the Red Cross in 1955. In a former Waffen-SS barracks, index cards fill three rooms, and files are kept in long cabint-filled corridors with binders on floor-to-ceiling shelves.

Although it is supposed to trace missing persons and help families reunite, ITS has allowed only very few people inside, and has historically responded to requests for information with minimal data, even when its files held much more information as well as personal effects of victims.

Critics accuse the archive of being unhelpful, but the Red Cross and ITS retort they must abide by German privacy laws and protect the reputations of victims alive or dead.

The Associated Press, which has recently been given substantial access to the files, has written about what is coming to light.

Another take on the kinds of details in the archive, also reported by the AP,
is the moving story of an Ohio man who has been searching for information from the ITS for 16 years
. Sol Factor, born Meier Pollak/Polak on July 9, 1946, was separated from his mother Rosa Pollak/Polak as an infant and adopted by a Massachusetts family in 1950.

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