Around 130,000 images from the world's largest Holocaust collection have been made available online for the first time in a bid to make them more accessible to people across the world.
Bosses at the Jerusalem-based archive Yad Vashem hope that the digitisation of the pictures - until yesterday morning only available at the museum in the Holy Land - will help people across the world research the murders of millions of people deemed undesirable by the Nazi regime.
In all, Yad Vashem's library holds more than 130 million documents and this move, said the museum's chairman Avner Shalev, is the "first step" towards bringing the whole of the "vast" archive online. The 130,000 pictures made available now – some of which are today reproduced by The Independent – show the faces of thousands of Jews, young and old who suffered Nazi persecution and murder before and during the Second World War.
To many, they will be anonymous victims, the documentation of whose suffering will provide a vital link to – and warning from – the past. To others, they will be family or friends.
The newly scanned images "help us to reach new audiences, including young people around the world, enabling them to be active in the discussion about the Holocaust", said Mr Shalev.
The ongoing project has been aided by internet giant Google. Santiago de la Mora, the company's Director of Print Content Partnerships in Europe, Middle East and Africa, said he is "sure everybody looks forward to hearing from Yad Vashem about the project's impact".
He explained that the company is providing technical assistance to the museum and is also hosting the "particularly significant" archive via its Google Storage service. He added that he hopes to make it easier for users around the world to browse the images and add their own stories to the archive.
Mr de la Mora said there is "no financial component to the partnership" between the two organisations. And he admitted that it is "impossible to gauge" when the rest of the collection will be made available online.
Google's experimental optical character recognition (OCR) technology, also used to translate images into digitally legible text by its Goggles application, has been employed in the digitisation project. A spokesman said that, "while not perfect, it will make it possible to search and find specific photographs and other documents".
The release marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yad Vashem, set up in 1953, holds millions of testimonies, photographs, diaries, and other documentary material relating to the Holocaust.
The collections are visible at http://collections.yadvashem.org/photosarchive/en-us/photos.html