WASHINGTON -Chairman of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) applauded the decision announced yesterday at the meeting in the Netherlands by the 11 member countries of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) which will provide open access to the Holocaust archives located at Bad Arolsen, Germany.
“I am thrilled that our efforts in Congress to spotlight the injustice being committed against Holocaust survivors have been successful,” said Representative Hastings. “Had we waited for the remaining four countries to ratify the treaty, precious time and efforts of survivors and their families would have been wasted. The remaining European countries have rightly chosen morality over bureaucracy by permitting the immediate and public access to these Holocaust archives.”
The members of the ITS approved a plan to begin the immediate transfer of scanned documents to receiving institutions as soon as they are available. However, the receiving institutions cannot offer unfettered access until all 11 countries ratify the May 2006 amendments to the 1955 Bonn Accords that will throw open the archives. The plan would circumvent the legal obstacles which have delayed the ability to make the documents publicly accessible and come as a direct result of the leadership of Representative Hastings.
Efforts by the United States House of Representatives to achieve open access to the archives were first initiated by Representatives Hastings in January of this year. Representatives Hastings and Robert Wexler (D-FL) first spearheaded a bipartisan call with over 40 other Members of Congress to the German ambassador urging immediate action. In February, Representatives Hastings, Wexler, and Mark Kirk (R-IL) recruited nearly 50 members of Congress to send similar letters to British, French, Italian, Belgium, Greek, and Italian ambassadors, urging these ITS Commission member countries to expedite the ratification process.
In April, Representative Hastings authored, and led the House of Representatives to unanimously pass, a bipartisan resolution calling on European nations to grant open access to the archives. The resolution called for members of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) to ratify amendments to the 1955 Bonn Accords to open the millions of records lying within Bad Arolsen. These efforts helped spur Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium to ratify the amendments.
The Holocaust archives located in Bad Arolsen remain the largest closed Second World War-era archives in the world. Inside the archives are 50 million records that disclose the fate of some 17.5 million individual victims of Nazism. In order to allow for open access to these important archives, the member countries had agreed that each of the 11 members of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) (the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom) would have to individually ratify through their respective parliaments the May 2006 amendments to the 1955 Bonn Accords. To date, only seven out of the 11 Commission member countries (the United States, Israel, Poland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium) have ratified the treaty.
The political momentum garnered by Representative Hastings helped the member countries of the ITS come to yesterday’s decision to bypass the requirement to withhold the documents until all of the countries ratified the 2006 treaty amendments.