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Opening of Nazi documents could aid compensation claims, survivors' group says

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) Public access to millions of Nazi war documents, kept in closed archives for 60 years, could help Holocaust survivors win larger claims for restitution, survivors groups say.

Plans to open the Red Cross-administered archives at Bad Arolsen, Germany, should persuade committees handling compensation for survivors ``to halt the rush to judgment'' in settling claims, said the Holocaust Survivors' Foundation-USA, a national coalition of American survivors' organizations.

Some of the survivors also are appealing a federal court's dismissal of class action suits against the Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali for allegedly refusing to honor policies predating World War II.

``Survivors have been denied access to the necessary information required to mount full and effective disgorgement of the ill-gotten gains of the European plunderers,'' said an open letter by the coalition, which has more than two dozen groups representing about 20,000 Holocaust survivors.

The November 21st letter, signed by the heads of 10 of the survivors' organizations, cited an Associated Press report on the monumental documentation kept at Bad Arolsen. The archive, with some 50 million pages, is run by the International Tracing Service, an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The report ``underscores what the survivors have been saying for years,'' Sam Dubbin, a lawyer representing the groups, said Friday. Claims must be resolved with ``a full and thorough public accounting of what the companies stole, how they stole it and the amounts that were stolen,'' he said.

The archive comprises 16 linear miles of transportation lists, concentration camp registrations, death books and displaced persons files. The papers were collected after the war to trace missing people and later to verify claims for compensation upon request.

Until now, ITS has not allowed independent researchers to examine the files or information to be publicly accessible, citing privacy reasons. Last May, the 11-nation committee overseeing the archive decided to open them for wider access. But ratification of the revised agreement is still pending, and until then digital copies from the archive cannot be made and distributed to key institutions.

``I don't know what's in those files in Bad Arolsen, but the process by which Jews were rounded up and deported and the process by which their assets were seized was one and the same process,'' said Dubbin, who is based in Miami, Fla.

Fred Taucher, 74, head of the Survivors of the Holocaust Asset Recovery Project in Seattle, said it was urgent that more compensation reach needy survivors.

``I have personally met people in New York and Miami going from garbage can to garbage can out on the street to see if they can find food to eat, and with their numbers tattooed on their arm still. It breaks my heart,'' he said in a telephone interview.
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