For the first time, documentation of the offenses of thousands of World War II criminals is being made public. According to the AP, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. has acquired a copy of the U.N. War Crimes Commission archive. For the past 70 years, the digital archive has been held under restricted access at the United Nations. Now, the archive will be available for viewing in the museum’s research room.
The collection includes approximately 500,000 digitized microfilm images with more than 10,000 case files on individuals identified as war criminals. The files, written in a range of languages, not only list the crimes of high-powered Nazi officials, they also document thousands of lesser-known crimes from across Europe and Asia. A central registry of war criminals and suspects lists 37,000 names.
Many of the perpetrators named in the archive were never held accountable for their actions. According to the AP, the evidence included in the files was submitted for evaluation by 17 U.N. member nations in the hope that the criminals would be arrested and tried; however the War Crimes Commission was shut down in 1948.
Paul Shapiro, director of the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, said that opening the archive allows for some form of accountability, albeit of a different kind: “By enabling people today to study and educate based on records like those of the U.N. War Crimes Commission, we can at least hold those people who committed such atrocities … to account before history,” Shapiro told the AP. “They’re not alive anymore, but what they did shouldn’t be forgotten. We need to learn from what happened in that era.”
Isabel Fattal, a former intern at Tablet Magazine, attends Wesleyan University.