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Bad Arolsen Internet Records Offer Twice Spurned--French and Red Cross Suggested It

August 21st 2007

BA Camp Documentation

 Although officials of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have steadfastly insisted that the secret records at the International Tracing Service located at Bad Arolsen are technically not ready for the Internet, both Red Cross and senior Bad Arolsen officials deny this. Indeed, Red Cross and senior Bad Arolsen officials confirm that most of their 42 million records could be made Internet ready within three-to-four months. Moreover, the Red Cross reveals, the idea of Internet access directly from Bad Arolsen computers bypassing a complicated and costly 11-nation export and transfer was twice suggested earlier this year: once by French delegates to the Commission and again by Bad Arolsen technology officers. Both offers were refused.

The Bad Arolsen computerized search mechanisms have been misportrayed by some news reports. But in a series of conference calls with this reporter followed by a requested official written statement of technical specifications, Bad Arolsen chief technology officer Michael Hoffman and archivist Udo Yost, explained for the first time exactly how their system works. The ITS system, ten years in development, uses three interactive sets of prisoner informational data including TIFF and JPEG images of Nazi-era prisoner cards. Hoffman confirmed that given the correct name, birth date and birth city, “with a little luck, we get a hit on the full data set. If the system cannot get the correct information about a named individual on the first try, it defaults to the next probable hit using the sequence numbers, going through the candidate names. For example, for a person named “Rosenbaum,” the system first gives all the “Rosenbaums,” and then automatically gives you the next Rosenbaum, and the next Rosenbaum, until you find the correct Rosenbaum.”

Asked exactly how long a typical search of a correctly identified individual will take, even if it requires hitting all three forms of data, Yost volunteered: “If you are trained, it is quick, sometimes a matter of moments, maybe ten seconds, maybe one minute.” Yost confirmed to a Town Hall Meeting with survivors held June 18, 2007 at Nova Southeastern University that the system “does not need to be reinvented.”

A senior Red Cross technology officer was asked if placing the files on the Internet was legal and feasible. He immediately replied, “Of course.”

Indeed, all Bad Arolsen data files are now being exported to XML, the ideal Internet-ready data language now recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium, this in preparation for transfer to the USHMM.

Moreover, a Swiss Red Cross official revealed that in March 2007, France actually suggested to the eleven-nation Commission that governs the records that all Bad Arolsen files be accessed via a secure “virtual private network” on terminals of the archival repository on the territory of a given member state. Later, the idea was one of three technology options formally proposed by Bad Arolsen officials during a mid-May 2007 Amsterdam conference of the Commission.

Asked why the nations attending the Amsterdam conference chose not to place all its files on Internet, a Red Cross official with direct access to the proceedings replied, “Don’t ask me. Technically it will feasible to access these databases from anywhere in the world. We would just export to XML format. We could then support a virtually unlimited number of remote terminals. Member countries would not receive copies—just access. This option was not taken.”

He continued, “Had they chosen the Internet option, the records would be accessible in a matter of months.” He added, “But our role is just to propose solutions…and not our role to judge them.”

Asked whether the Holocaust Museum supported France’s February proposal for Internet access, and Bad Arolsen’s May proposal, a key Commission official speaking on condition of anonymity declared cautiously, “Look, this entire process has been steered by one Organization and one country: The Holocaust Museum and America. You must ask them.”

However, Holocaust Museum spokesmen Andrew Hollinger and Arthur Berger, as well Paul Shapiro who leads the Museum’s Bad Arolsen project, repeatedly declined to be interviewed by this reporter.


Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust, has written numerous investigative articles on the Bad Arolsen collections and recently won an Integrity Award from survivors for his Bad Arolsen coverage.

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