Red Cross transfers war archive to Germans

The Geneva-based Red Cross says it is handing over to German authorities a huge archive of people who were persecuted by the Nazis and who went missing amid the chaos of the Second World War.

The massive International Tracing Service (ITS) archive created in 1943 to provide answers for millions of families seeking relatives lost during the war would as of January 1st be managed by Germany, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday.

The agency said it had decided to let go of the archive because the ITS mission had extended beyond purely humanitarian work.

The archives "reflect human beings and the unthinkable suffering of so many millions during the Second World War and beyond," ICRC chief Peter Maurer said.

The ITS archive houses over 50 million card files relating to more than 17.5 million civilians persecuted by the Nazis, ICRC said, pointing out that it covered civilians detained in Nazi concentration or labour camps and others forced to flee their homes because of the war.
Despite the handover of the archive, which has been in Red Cross hands for more than half a century, the organization said it would continue to support the database and its new administrator the German Federal Archive.

"The ICRC will continue to provide its technical expertise, helping the ITS serve the victims of Nazi persecution and their families," the agency said.
The Red Cross is handing over management of the ITS "but were not leaving it," Maurer said.

The Red Cross's central tracing agency in Geneva and other national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world would provide back-up support to the German authorities, he said.

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Swiss village to be evacuated for ten years over explosion fears

Residents of a Swiss village have been told they may have to leave their homes for over a decade while a nearby World War II munitions store is cleared out.

Swiss village to be evacuated for ten years over explosion fears
Photo: Von Draemmli (Roland Rytz) - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0

The former underground depot at Mitholz, which contains 3,500 tons of weaponry, has partially caved in and many of the explosives are now covered by fallen rocks.

Around half of the arsenal exploded in 1947, killing nine people, but the defence ministry said the risk of a second explosion had been underestimated for decades.

The ministry, which this week launched a consultation about the evacuation, said the risk had now become “unacceptable” and “total evacuation” was the best solution.

“Depending on how the work develops, residents should expect the evacuation to last up to more than 10 years,” the ministry said, adding that the explosives would not be removed until 2031 at the earliest.

It also said a major road passing through the village — a collection of chalet-style homes — could be rerouted and a railway line would have to be covered.

The ministry added, however, that closures of both “may become necessary, at least temporarily”. The consultation will last until April 17.

“If the evacuation creates insurmountable problems… it would still be possible to significantly reduce the risks by covering the depot with rock,” the ministry said.

The defence ministry website said thousands more tons of munitions had been dropped into several Swiss lakes but detonation could be “practically excluded” as the explosives were not as concentrated as at Mitholz.