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Red Cross rues silence on Holocaust

The Red Cross handed over 60,000 World War II-era documents to Israel on Wednesday and admitted a "moral failure" in not speaking out against the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews.

The Red Cross "admits - yes - that it has kept silent with regard to the Holocaust, and I would say that this is the heart of the moral failure," said George Willemin, archive director for the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross."The public criticism which started already at the end of the war . . . as to the silence of the institution" was justified, he added.

The documents, on 30 reels of microfilm, were given to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, as well as the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the Jewish Documentation Center in Paris, Willemin said.

The decision to release the documents reverses a Red Cross policy of secrecy.

"The walls are coming down," said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev.

Among other things, the documents show Red Cross investigators discounted reports of the mass murder of Polish Jewish prisoners of war in 1940, Yad Vashem said in a statement.

As the war continued, the Red Cross did cooperate discreetly with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and other bodies trying to ease the plight of European Jews, Willemin said. But it did not attempt to expose the Holocaust.