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Soviets Release Holocaust Files in Agreement with U.S. Council

As part of a July 29 agreement with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, the Soviet Union is allowing Westerners for the first time to duplicate its Holocaust archives.

The council estimates that the Soviet archives could contain more than a third of all existing Holocaust-related materials, including documents on Nazi actions taken against the 2.5 million Jews in what are now the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Moldavia, Byelorussia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as the rest of the Soviet Union.

Neal Sher, who heads the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which tracks down Nazi war criminals, called the accord a “very good development” because of the Soviets’ “voluminous and extremely insightful documentary evidence” on war crimes.

“There’s no way of knowing” whether the material will lead to additional prosecutions, Sher said, “but I think it will be very useful to our office.”

The reciprocal agreement was signed in Moscow by Miles Lerman, chairman of the Holocaust council’s international relations committee, and Evgeny Kozhevnikov, first deputy director of the Soviet Central Archive Administration of the USSR Council of Ministers.

Lerman said the council had been seeking the agreement for years but that it took just two days to negotiate it once his six-member delegation arrived.

He said that many of the documents are deteriorating, and are being photocopied on microfilm and microfiche to extend their shelf-life to more than 300 years.

TWO WEEKS IN ARCHIVES

After the agreement was signed, “we immediately got to work,” Lerman said. The delegation spent two weeks visiting archives in Moscow as well as in some of the western republics.

“We saw glimpses of information on everything, about Latvian attitudes toward Jews, about Lithuanian secret police, statistics on the movement of Jews (and) correspondence of Nazi officers,” said Raul Hilberg, a preeminent Holocaust scholar at the University of Vermont.

The accord follows the council’s Feb. 15 exchange agreement with Yad Vashem in Israel. Yad Vashem will have access to the Soviet Holocaust collection through the U.S. transmission effort. Last August, the council signed its first accord with a foreign entity, Poland’s Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland/Institute of National Remembrance.

The council is hoping to next reach agreement with the Holocaust archives of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, Lerman said.

The new access, which Lerman attributed to the new policy of glasnost under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, is in stark contrast to the previous Soviet practice of releasing its records only for specific war crimes trials.

The documents include details not known to the West until now, including statistics on the annihilation of Galician Jewry during deportation in 1942; Latvian attitudes toward Jews in 1943; and preparations for resistance in the Kovno ghetto in 1944.

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