Statement of Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Upon Introducing A Senate Resolution Observing Yom Hashoah
and Calling on Countries to Complete Ratification
of the May 2006 Agreement to Open Access to the Bad Arolsen Archives
April 10, 2007

Mr. President, this Sunday communities across the globe will mark Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. As we mourn the millions who were lost at the hands of the Nazis, how can anyone justify denying victims and historians access to files documenting the Nazis’ atrocious acts?

Yet that is exactly what is happening. Last December, I wrote to the ambassadors of nine countries about an issue of utmost importance – the opening of the Bad Arolsen Holocaust archives.

Unfortunately, the response from many of these countries has been disappointing. Thousands of Holocaust survivors, historians, and researchers are still being denied access to files that tell the story of unspeakable crimes committed by the Nazis. Many of the files are about the survivors themselves; still, they cannot view them.

The story of how this unacceptable state of events came about goes back sixty years. After the Allies won the Second World War, they took possession of millions of files and documents, penned by the Nazis themselves, which chronicled every aspect of their horrific Final Solution. To maintain this catalogue of atrocities, the Allies established an archive called the International Tracing Service, in the town of Bad Arolsen, Germany. Today, Bad Arolsen contains some 30 to 50 million pages that record the individual fates of over 17 million victims of Nazi persecution.

The Tracing Service was established to unify families and help survivors learn the ultimate fate of their lost loved ones. Yet, access to the records remains severely limited and very few survivors have ever been allowed direct, much less prompt access. The justification for this delay was supposedly privacy concerns, logistical problems associated with making the records widely accessible, and fears of new legal claims. None of these can justify the tragic result – thousands of elderly survivors have passed away in recent years, never knowing what happened to their families, even though the answer may be sitting on a shelf in Germany. This is simply tragic.

Eleven countries serve on the International Commission that supervises the Tracing Service. Last May, after years of delay, they commendably agreed to make these archives public for the first time. They also agreed to place digitized copies at Holocaust research centers in other countries, but only after each of the 11 countries – the United States, Israel, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom – completed their own ratification procedure. In light of the advanced age of the remaining survivors, all committed to make ratification an urgent priority, with the goal of concluding the process by the end of 2006.

But as of December, when I wrote my letters, only the United States and Israel had ratified the agreement. Since then, the United Kingdom, Poland, and the Netherlands have joined the United States and Israel in completing ratification. However, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg have not done so.

Today, I am introducing a Senate Resolution calling on the Senate to join people around the world in observing Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, commending the countries that have completed ratification of the agreement to make the Bad Arolsen archives public, calling on those countries yet to complete ratification to do so immediately, and calling on the International Commission to approve immediate distribution of electronic copies of the documents from Bad Arolsen to research centers around the world, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, so that survivors will be able to document their experience, and learn the fates of their lost loved ones.

Last fall, the government of Iran hosted a conference; its absurd and outrageous premise was that the Holocaust did not occur. At a time when dangerously deluded efforts to deny the Holocaust are on the rise, how can we keep the Nazis’ own records from proving their horrors to the world? And how can we deny the Nazis’ victims – who have suffered enough for a thousand lifetimes – the truth they so clearly deserve?

Mr. President, Yom Hashoah reminds us of one of the greatest evils that has ever befallen the human race, and it mourns the millions who were lost as a result of that evil. The countries of the International Commission have an opportunity to do a little good by shedding light on that evil. That is the best way they could observe Yom Hashoah this year.