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Strong arguments for opening the archive

Aharon Leshno-Yaar was chairman of the International Commission, the ITS's supreme governing body, in 2004 and 2014. He accompanied the International Tracing Service (ITS) during the exciting phase of archive opening. As of 2016, Aharon Leshno-Yaar has been Ambassador of Israel to the European Union and NATO.

What were the difficulties in making the documents accessible?

In my very first year of involvement with ITS, the principal issue that occupied us in the annual meeting in Jerusalem was the request of many member states and experts to open the archive. As far as I can remember, the opposition to the opening of the archive came from the then management and one member state, who focused on the question of privacy. Against that were strong arguments by researchers, historians and the general benefit of the public, including many survivors. With the support of most member states and without opposition, a decision was taken to move in the direction of opening the archive. The decision was widely applauded and received good coverage in the Israeli media. In turn, the news about the opening of the archive encouraged many Israelis to search for data about family relatives.

Why was the opening important to survivors and their relatives as well?

The documents in the archive contain data on victims during the war years but also in the post-war years. On a personal note, although no documents on my family relatives who were perished in the Holocaust were found, I was given several important documents concerning my father in the post-war years, that gave me a clearer idea and important details about his and other family relatives movements in Europe and even after his immigration to Israel. Such data helped me track more family relatives who reside now in other countries. It is important to note that often, many survivors did not share with their new families information about the war years and the ITS documents are invaluable source to learn about them.

Why are Nazi bureaucratic documents such as transport lists, prisoner index cards, schedules for forced laborers, and documents from the Allies about displaced persons important today – also in light of the nationalism flaring up in many countries?

I believe that we must continually ask ourselves "have we learnt the lessons of the Holocaust" and are we truly faithful today to the slogan "Never again". Indeed, today this question is relevant more than ever before. Reading the book "In the garden of beasts" by Erik Larson is a reminder of how innocent and naive people watched passively the rise of the Nazi regime and its atrocities while remaining silent. The difference is that today we have the lessons of the Holocaust and technology that will not allow us to claim that we didn't know or couldn't imagine. Still, both the atrocities committed today, the indifference of many and the rise of Antisemitism, Xenophobia and populism in Europe is alarming. ITS has an important role in reminding and educating Europeans about our values and responsibilities.