After decades in dark, remnants of lives stolen by Nazis finally to be seen

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BAD AROLSEN, Germany -- Cornelis Brouwenstijn was forced to surrender his black leather wallet when he entered Neuengamme concentration camp in northern Germany in 1944. Inside it the 22-year-old, a handsome blond Dutch Jew, had tucked his passport, ration cards, some curly-edged photographs of family and friends and a love poem typed on two sides of an onion-skin page: "Ode to a Girl", whose "skin is clear as glass".

Brouwenstijn's now crumbling wallet is one of hundreds stored in brown envelopes marked "effects" at the Red Cross International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, central Germany. Other envelopes contain everyday objects such as a bronze powder press, whose pale pink contents briefly cloud the air when opened, a tiny lipstick embossed with the words "kiss proof", and a white rosary.

These trinkets and bits of paper are, in thousands of cases, the only remnants of lives that ended, as Brouwenstijn's did, at the hands of the Nazis, the envelopes protecting their memories.

Before the end of this year, the fragmented stories of 17.5 million individuals held in concentration and slave labour camps during the second world war are due to be revealed to historians and academics for the first time.

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