NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 04:10
Today marks the start of the digitization and making searchable of one of the most consulted, but also most sensitive archives in the Netherlands: the Central Archives of the Special Administration of Justice. It contains the files of 300,000 persons suspected of collaborating with the Germans after the Second World War.
Immediately after the liberation, the judiciary started to try these suspects. Twenty percent were convicted, 1900 received prison terms of ten years or more.
This archive will become public in 2025, which means that it will then be available for everyone to consult. At the moment, access to it is still limited under the Archives Act. This has to do with protecting the privacy of persons who may still be alive.
Currently, interested parties can only view the files in a reading room if they can prove that the person has died, or if they have permission from the person in question. Also, no copies may be made of the documents.
In 2025, the restrictions on public access will expire, assuming that most people are dead by then. The archive will then open, insofar as this is permitted under AVG privacy rules, and will then be available for consultation digitally and online.
It has major consequences for the relatives of collaborators. Edwin Klijn, leader of the project War before the Judge, is certainly aware of the impact that the revelation has on these relatives. “You don’t just have to apply technical and legal frameworks, but it’s also important to ask yourself what is ethical. That’s why we also consult with the next of kin. We consciously involve them in this process.”
As with the victims of the Second World War, the perpetrators have been silent for a long time. Many children knew little or nothing about their parents’ past. This includes Jeroen Saris, chairman of the Recognition Working Group, which provides assistance to children, grandchildren and relatives of collaborators. “When I was eighteen I found out through a newspaper article that my father was involved with the Germans. He had never told me anything. It was only three years ago that I was ready to look at his file.”
“Examples of information that fall under ethical criteria are psychiatric reports and testimonies given during police investigations,” says Klijn. “But for the family of collaborators, almost everything is sensitive,” says Saris. “That does not mean that we oppose making the archive public, it is also just a legal obligation, but it will release a lot, especially among the children of NSB members.
The second and third generations have a bit more distance, but the first generation has experienced the consequences, the bullying, the exclusion, the stigma up close. They are afraid of a recurrence when the archive opens, that old wounds reopen. There are also relatives who to this day do not want to know what their relatives have done. That information will soon be out in the open.”
National Archives Employees search the files of the Central Archives for the Special Administration of Justice, somewhere in the 1950s or 1960s.
With new techniques, the archive documents can be digitized at lightning speed. It is expected that about 152,000 pages will be scanned per week. Manuscripts are becoming increasingly easier to convert into digital files, for example through the use of artificial intelligence. “The trials with this are promising,” says Klijn. “We will also enrich the archive with background information and will soon be able to link files with each other, so that there are many more ways to search.”
Ismee Tames, historian and writer van Doorn in het Vlees about the special administration of justice, expects that the digitized archive will offer new possibilities.
“Soon we will be able to see patterns in when many people enlisted in the Waffen SS, for example, and also, where they came from, when they were convicted, who testified against and for them. That can also provide useful context for people who research their grandfather or great-grandfather.”
The project called War before the Judge will run until 2027. The archive will become public in 2025 and from that moment on the first files will be available online at www.warvoorderechter.nl.
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