Pocket watches and wristwatches, rings, wallets, family photos and everyday items like combs, powder compacts and razors – these are the last things that people persecuted by the Nazis had with them when they were arrested and deported to concentration camps. Nearly 3,000 of these personal effects, as they are known, are still held in the ITS archive. Returning these objects and honoring the memory of the victims of the Nazis has become an urgent priority for the ITS.
At the end of 2015, the ITS published photos of these mementoes and the names of the concentration camp prisoners in its new online archive. It quickly became apparent that social media, digital archives and expired data protection requirements regarding personal data in archives made more search channels available than before. Volunteers from different countries helped track down family members, and the number of returned items rose significantly. This success prompted the ITS to launch in intensive search campaign. Research carried out in municipal offices, in various archives and in cooperation with branches of the Red Cross made it possible to find around 90 families and return the stolen possessions to them in 2017.
The next important step in the campaign was the creation of the #StolenMemory poster exhibition, which was developed by the ITS in 2017 with the support of the gewerkdesign agency in Berlin. The purpose of the exhibition is to draw attention to this project, help the ITS find relatives and encourage volunteers to assist in the search for families. The campaign motifs are also being published via social media to reach an even wider audience.
The ITS first displayed the #StolenMemory exhibition as part of the UNESCO events for Holocaust Memorial Day 2018 in Paris. Large-format posters with people’s names and photos of the objects were displayed on a fence around the UNESCO building for four weeks. The exhibition will now travel to other countries to be displayed public spaces. The motifs and languages will be adapted to each country. The ultimate goal is to return these stolen memories to the families of former concentration camp prisoners from around 30 countries.
Thanks to this pocket watch, my uncle has become part of our family discussions, nostalgia, emotion and grief for all of us. He was always very important to me, even though I never knew him – but on my mother’s account, who cried for her brother all her life.Marcelle Boulhol, niece of Antoine Brun who died at the age of 36 in the Bremen-Schützenhof satellite camp of Neuengamme as a result of forced labor and inhuman living conditions.