Google widens access to Israel's Holocaust archives

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Search engine giant Google launched a massive archive retrieval project with Israel’s national Holocaust museum on Wednesday with the aim of easing public access to Nazi-era documents and photographs.

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The project was unveiled on the eve of a global day of remembrance for the six million Jewish Holocaust victims, marked annually on January 27.

Officials at Google and Yad Vashem, the Israeli museum founded in the early 1950s, hope the wider use of the Internet to research the greatest tragedy in Jewish history will keep the memory alive and also add to their own knowledge on the subject.

“There are many more important stories out there. If we don’t capture them, they could be lost,” said Yossi Matias, director of research and development for Google Israel.

To try to prevent that, whenever people search for victims’ names on Google they will be encouraged to add their own details about the person to the archived material, for example, by helping to identify photographs, Matias told Reuters.

To set the project in motion, Google has indexed some 130,000 photographs and documents ranging from visas to transport lists and testimonials from survivors, and thousands more may be loaded at a later stage, he said.

While many of these documents have long been available at the museum, located on a Jerusalem hilltop, and some of them are also on Yad Vashem’s own website, access to this information has been limited for the global public.

Google’s technology is expected to make it easier now to search for clues as to what befell a long-lost relative, while in addition, Yad Vashem hopes that Web browsers will also help fill in the many lingering blanks in its aging archives.

“This is a great step forward, we are harnessing technology for the benefit of millions around the world to permit them to access new information,” said Avner Shalev, director of Yad Vashem.

Shalev said Yad Vashem’s website had more than 11 million visits in 2010, and hopes the partnership with Google will drive more people to the site and help expand the data base.

The museum was also tapping into social networking sites such as Facebook where a special memorial page was made available this week for the annual remembrance day.

“It’s not only about not forgetting but being active” in seeking out more information about the Holocaust, Shalev said.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton