09 May 2007

Washington: Holocaust archive coming

Millions of images of Holocaust-era prisoner documents will be transferred to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum under embargo, a situation upsetting to Survivor organizations.

Paul Shapiro, called the "museum's point man on the Bad Arolsen files," is the opening keynote speaker at the 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, where he will present an up-to-the-minute review on Sunday, July 15, in Salt Lake City.

In this JTA story, read the latest about the Bad Arolsen archives.

A May 14 meeting of the 11-nation group overseeing the archive is expected to authorize the partial transfer - but only with an embargo - because Greece, Belgium and France must still sign the agreement.

The USHMM has agreed to keep everything secret until the committee authorizes its release.

JTA has learned, however, that the transfer will include 10 million digitized images of documents to be transported in several 500-gigabyte hard drives that plug into any computer via a simple USB connection. Small, lightweight, portable drives obviate the prospect of managing linear miles of archival documents.

The museum plans to assemble the raw images into a database with a search engine that can be accessed from one or more terminals in the museum's archive. The gargantuan collection will instantly double the size of the museum's holdings.

The USHMM has a small staff, few microfilm-reader machines and computer terminals, and is overwhelmed with requests in the summer. In addition to on-site use, "some 8,000 requests come to the museum each year via mail, phone and e-mail." The inquiry backlog at Bad Arolsen was more than 425,000 in 2006.

With documents on more than 19 million individuals, the USHMM says massive linguistic training will be required before it could begin to provide data, which will be only accessible via a few on-site terminals, with outside access strictly prohibited.

Critics wonder why the USHMMM will get the documents and there are arguments about Holocaust corporate involvement information, considered a taboo issue at USHMM, when the archives hold information on slave laborers who worked at those companies.

Survivor groups stress the age and health of their members and that most of them do not live in the DC area, stressing that accessibility is a major issue. They ask why copies won't be in New York (50,000 survivors) or Miami (10,000 survivors) for easier availability.

Paul Shapiro, the museum's point man for Bad Arolsen, told JTA that he has quietly assembled a list of companies he has seen in Bad Arolsen archives, but it remains secret. Museum officials refused to discuss "Shapiro's list."

Nonetheless, museum officials said they will not permit archival access via the open Internet or via terminals at libraries and universities around the country, the way other databases of documents are commonly accessed. Museum officials declined to explain their motives for restricting access.

Author of the JTA article is Edwin Black, The New York Times' best-selling author of the award-winning IBM and the Holocaust, His stories on the subject can be viewed here.

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