The U.S. government has declassified scores of files pertaining to Nazi war criminals and their activities during and after the Second World War. Historians and others may now review the documents.
The files total 27,000 pages of material from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that include reports, correspondence, memorandums and other material pertaining to Nazi war criminals and the relationship the U.S. government maintained with Nazis after the war. The documents are being added to 60,000 pages previously released since 1998, when Congress passed the Nazi Wartime Disclosure Act.
Ohio Senator Mike DeWine helped champion the legislation.
"Undeniably, the Nazi era is one of the darkest chapters in human existence," said Mr. DeWine. "And there is always a natural tendency to try to avoid even thinking about it. But I am glad to say that Congress passed the Nazi war crimes law. We passed it because we understood that we owe it to all those who suffered and died in the death camps, and to their families, to bring the whole truth to light."
The senator was speaking at the National Archives, where the documents will be held for interested parties to review.
Also speaking was Stanley Moskowitz, the CIA's point man for what is described as the largest declassification effort in U.S. history.
"We are on course to finish all of the reviews, searches, and declassifications by the end of this calendar year," he said. "We will have withheld nothing of substance."
Researchers say the documents contain a huge amount of valuable information.
"These records are of very high quality," said Ohio University historian Norman Goda. "We are used to seeing intelligence records, if they are released at all, scarred with blacked-out redactions that make them extremely hard to use. For the most part, these records are quite clean, thus making it possible for historians and journalists to use them to much greater effect."
And what do the records show? Elizabeth Holtzman is a member of the interagency working group that has overseen the declassification project. She says the documents reveal extensive contacts between the United States and Nazis after the Second World War, including several infamous cases where the Nazis were discovered to have been spying for the former Soviet Union in the early years of the Cold War.
"These materials force us to confront whether, and under what circumstances, it is ever right to deal with mass murderers or their accomplices," she said. "They force us to confront not only the moral harm, but also the practical harm of using them. Using very bad people can have very bad consequences."
But the records are perhaps most valuable to the victims of Nazi Germany and their families. The Justice Department's director of special investigations, Eli Rosenbaum, noted that the victims' anguish did not end with the suicide death of Adolph Hitler.
"The suffering that he [Hitler] and his minions caused has not yet ended, as anyone who has had the unforgettable experience and privilege of meeting Holocaust victims can confirm," he said. "A deep and unquenched thirst for the full truth about the Nazi nightmare is part of their suffering."
The scope of declassification effort is not limited to Nazis. The interagency working group says it expects to release documents pertaining to Japanese war criminals later in the year.