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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2006, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Germany signs Nazi files accord
Holocaust archive at Bad Arolsen, Germany
The files contain personal data on millions of the Nazis' victims
Germany has signed an agreement to open for research purposes vast Nazi archives containing millions of files on Holocaust victims.

So far, only survivors and their relatives have been able to get personal information from the archives.

For many years, Germany had argued that giving wider access would violate its privacy laws.

In May, the 11-nation commission in charge of the Nazi records decided that they would be opened to the public.

The agreement was signed at a ceremony in Berlin on Wednesday.

It has to be ratified by all the 11 members of the commission. This is not expected to happen before the end of the year.

"Once the last country ratifies (the new agreement), then the archives will be opened," chief archivist Udo Jost told Associated Press news agency.

Meticulous information

The 47 million files stored in the spa town of Bad Arolsen hold meticulously recorded information on forced labourers, concentration camp victims and political prisoners.

In grey, bureaucratic language the Nazis documented everything - from the number of lice on a prisoner's head to the exact moment of their execution.

The archives have been used to help people trace their relatives, but were kept closed to protect victims' privacy.

The files contain also the names of collaborators, homosexuals and prostitutes.

Much of this information may be incorrect - the Nazis often had an interest in defaming their victims, the BBC's Ray Furlong reports from Berlin.

That is the challenge the archive now represents for historians.

The archive is administered by the International Tracing Service (ITS), an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The commission responsible for the ITS is made up of Germany, Belgium, Britain, France, Israel, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Poland, the Netherlands and the US.


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