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Group Envisions One Central Archive for Trove of Holocaust-era Documents


The World Jewish Congress has put forward a new initiative to collect millions of pages of Holocaust-era documents into a central repository at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

During the past decade, the WJC spearheaded efforts to get European nations to confront their wartime history, hoping to provide a financial and moral accounting of what happened to their respective Jewish populations during the Holocaust.

About 50 commissions were created by 30 nations — including Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Holland — to deal with Holocaust-related issues.

Similar work took place in the United States under the leadership of former U.S. Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat.

Related efforts also took place in South America, where Argentina and Brazil created commissions to confront their own wartime histories.

The work done by the various nations created a wealth of documents that are “an unbelievable treasure,” providing a detailed “picture of Jewish life before, during and after the Holocaust,” said Avi Beker, secretary-general of the WJC.

At a four-day conference held in Jerusalem last week, Beker called for all the documents to be transferred to Yad Vashem.

The conference, “Confronting History,” brought scholars and researchers from about 20 countries to Yad Vashem.

The WJC, the Claims Conference and the World Jewish Restitution Organization sponsored the conference, along with Yad Vashem.

The scholars agreed to his proposal to “make Yad Vashem the world repository” of all the commissions’ Holocaust- related documents, Beker told JTA.

Yad Vashem now must approach each government with formal requests, he said.

Such a repository would free Holocaust researchers from “having to travel from country to country” in search of documents, said David Bankier, director of Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research.

Efforts already are under way to set up the depository, though various legal issues regarding document transfers still have to be sorted out, Bankier added.

If all the governments agree, more than 1 million documents could find their way to Yad Vashem, said Israel Singer, who serves as chairman of the WJC and president of the Claims Conference.

The documents will provide “not only a financial picture, but also a cultural picture” of Jewish life during the Holocaust era, he said.

Jewish officials also are contemplating making the documents available on a Web site, Singer told JTA.

During the conference, sessions were held on issues related to

restitution and Holocaust research in many European countries, as well as the United States and Israel.

Meetings also addressed the media’s role in the recovery of Jewish property confiscated during World War II.

Speaking at the conference, Avner Shalev, the chairman of Yad Vashem, called on the Vatican to open all its Holocaust-related archives.

Days earlier, the Vatican had announced that it would open secret files. But that pledge “only relates to documents until the year 1939,” Shalev said.

Vatican documents “pertaining to the most critical years for the Jewish people and all humanity” — the war years — should also be made available to researchers, Shalev said.

According to Singer, the Vatican documents would shed light on the activities of the wartime pope, Pius XII, who has been accused of not doing enough to oppose the Holocaust.

Such documents also would help researchers get a clearer idea about the activities of papal emissaries across Europe during the wartime years, Singer said.

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