An 11-nation commission has decided to open a vast archive documenting Nazi atrocities during World War II. It could help bring closure to the families of millions of victims.

The German archive contains 50 million documents that will be opened to historians and Holocaust scholars for the first time.

The files hold virtually everything the Nazis recorded in the death camps, where six million Jews were killed. They contain 17 million names of Jews, homosexuals, the mentally ill, gypsies and other people who were sent to the camps and forced into slave labor.

The breakthrough came last month when Germany agreed to soften its privacy protection rules, in response to pressure from Jewish groups.

The opening of the archive was welcomed by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Nazi hunter Ephraim Zuroff, who heads the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, says it is an important step.

"This is a veritable gold mine of information," he said.

Including what happened to hundreds of thousands of Jews who disappeared without a trace.

"There is a lot of information about individuals, their fate," said Zuroff. "People who were incarcerated in concentration camps, what happened to them, how they were killed. There is information on the post-war escape of Nazi war criminals."

Zuroff told VOA that it is especially significant to relatives of the victims.

"Listen, if you are looking for a file on your grandfather, and until now it's not been accessible, then I would say that it is pretty important for you, and you would not be the only person in that situation," he said. "I think there is a desire by many people to learn about the fate of their loved ones during the Holocaust."

Zuroff says the archives should have been opened decades ago, but it is better late than never.