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From Finding Aid to World Cultural Heritage

Following the destruction of the Nazi-Regime it became apparent that the search for missing relatives and family members would be a herculean task. The documents secured by the Allies from the meticulous Nazi burocracy on mass murder, genocide and persecution played a key role in this search. As early as January 1946 the documents that had been collected together in a central location were brought to Bad Arolsen. In addition to these were the also very detailed papers on the care and support of the Displaced Persons after 1945 by the Allies.

In order to be able to provide as much information as possible from a central location, the International Tracing Service (ITS) collected further documents, among them copies from other archives. Over the years these were added to by way of the comprehensive collection of documents that has arisen from the tracing and documentation work. This includes the Central Name Index, a collection of approx. 50 million index cards providing information on 17.5 million fates. In 2013 the original documents and the Central Name Index in the archives of the ITS were inscribed on the UNESCO “Memory of the World” Register.

Originals and copies

77 percent of all the documents in the Archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS) are originals. Over the decades, specific copies were created or were accepted from other archives in order to complete the documentary files. In some cases, these copies are the only known editions of the documents in question and thus have an unusual historical value. Often it is not known whether any other copies exist or whether the institutions even preserved the originals.

The starting point for the copies collection was the idea from the Allies: from a single location to have access to the most extensive and detailed information possible on the paths of persecution, thus being better able to fulfill the task of bringing families together.

Dr. Christian Groh

The ITS is not an archive in the classical, traditional sense, but rather had been a search and contact point for family members of victims of Nazi persecution. The organizational structure arising out of that is a part of the history of the ITS and will be maintained for this reason.

Dr. Christian Groh, Head Of Archive Branch
  • Central Name Index

    The Central Name Index is the key to the International Tracing Service (ITS) archives and has been their most important tracing tool for many decades. For every name appearing on any document, the name index contains an index card showing the document’s exact location. The first such index cards to be created were the so-called DP3 cards with which the Allies registered every person who had become “displaced” due to persecution or forced labor. To these were added the tracing cards, created immediately following the defeat of the Nazi regime to aid in the search for missing victims of Nazi persecution.

    The index allows a quick overview of whether information on a specific person is available in the archives. The cards are in order by an alphabetical-phonetical system developed especially for the ITS. This system takes into account the various spellings of names that came about during the registration of the victims of Nazi persecution—persons of many different nationalities. For example, the Central Name Index has 849 variations of the name “Abramovitsch” and 156 of the name “Schwarz”.

    The index was digitized in 1998–1999. Since 2000, inquiries have been processed exclusively in the digital version of the Central Name Index and all new documents created digitally from the start.

    The Central Name Index contains 50 million reference cards on 17.5 million persons and is globally unique as a paper memorial to the Nazi crimes and their aftermath. Moreover, the index is a cultural-historical testimony to the search for missing victims of Nazi persecution as a humanitarian task and obligation in the years following 1945 and to the very present. In 2013, the Central Name Index was inscribed in the UNESCO “Memory of the World” Register.

  • Child Search Branch

    Immediately after 1945, the Allies and the International Aid Organizations saw themselves confronted with the problem of the missing and “unaccompanied children”. Tens of thousands of children and youth were found to be without any family members. They were survivors of the Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camps, young people who had been abducted and sent to do forced labor, or children from women who were forced laborers, as well as children and youth who had endured years of living in hiding. There were also the children who were kidnapped and put in special programs for “Eindeutschung” or germanization  by the Nazi-Regime – oft-times without any knowledge of their own identity or that of their parents.

    For this reason, the care of the “unaccompanied children“ was placed under the responsibility of a special department within the UNRRA created in 1945 for this purpose within the UNRRA called Child Tracing Section (CTS) – as of 148 Child Search Branch. The task of this institution was, among other things, to ascertain the identity and nationality of the children and youth and to provide them with the necessary identification papers. Another task was to establish contact with family members and to prepare the children and youth for repatriation or emigration. Apart from this, the CSB was also contacted by family members who were themselves searching for their missing children.

    In 1950 the files of the Child Search Branch came to Bad Arolsen to the International Tracing Service (ITS), among them the children’s files, of which some of these also contained interviews. Staff members of the Child Search Branch interviewed children and youth of a certain age about their fates during the Nazi-era, the fates of their families as well as about their dreams about what they hoped to be in the future.

  • Correspondence Files

    The correspondence files arose out of the search and documentation work of the International Tracing Service (ITS). They are important both for research as well as for providing information on victims of Nazi persecution. The files on some three million people contain correspondence between the ITS, authorities as well as the victims of Nazi persecution and their families. Aside from the tracing and the clarification of fates, the letters also concerned documentation of incarceration or forced labor, these types of documents being required when applying for restitution or pension payments.

    Apart from the inquiries, it is not seldom that the documents also contain eye-witness accounts, as the people who turned to the ITS for information or in their search for living family members told the stories of their relatives' fates and even of their own fates: sometimes in short phrases, sometimes in detailed biographies. As far as the correspondence is older than 25 years, researchers may look into these documents.

    The correspondence files are an important tool in the search for family members. It can happen that family members living in different countries and unaware of each others’ existence, look for information. The ITS sets up contact when the families agree to this.

  • Index Card Collection of the “Reichsvereinigung der Juden“

    In January 1939, by order of Hermann Göring, the “Reichsvereinigung der Juden“ (“Reich Association of Jews”) was founded in Germany and should, at least initially, organize the emigration of the Jews. The Reichsvereinigung was an obligatory organisation to which all of those German and “state-less” people, who, according to the Nuremberg laws, were considered Jewish, had to belong. It was “responsible” for all areas of Jewish life. At the same time it served as a “connecting point” between the state and the Jewish population, by way of which the activities of the Jewish organizations could be monitored, as well announcing the anti-Semitic discrimination measures.

    As late as until the time of the systematic deportation starting in autumn 1941, several thousand people were working within the Reichsvereinigung and the Jewish communities. In the summer of 1943 the Reichsvereinigung was the last remaining Jewish facility in the Reich, by then almost all the workers had been deported. Between 1947 and 1950 the index cards of the Reichsvereinigung der Juden were given to the International Tracing Service (ITS). These involved nine sub-card files with 32,000 index cards, on which biographical information is found, providing information on the fates of those people mentioned. It is very likely that there were more sub-card files that were, however, not preserved. Apart from a “Deceased card file”, an “Emigration card file” and a so-called “Foreigner card file”, there was also the “Berlin pupil card file” with more than 10,000 cards that testify to the life of the Jewish children during the period of Nazi persecution.

  • Medical Records Displaced Persons

    Included in the collections of the International Tracing Service (ITS) are approx. 86,000 DP medical records that were kept in the time from 1945 until around the mid 1950’s by the various hospital administrations. The major part of this collection came from the DP hospitals in the American Occupation Territory, among them being the medical records of the DP hospitals Feldafing and Gauting, to mention just two of them, but there are also documents from Austria or Bremen-Lesum.

    Besides being a documentation of the health consequences of persecution, the medical records contain a multitude of information on the living situation: apart from individual fragments and bits of information on the persecution, fate, and survival are various reports, sometimes photos, correspondence or information on the patient or his or her family, as well as autobiographical information and detailed personal accounts. With this the medical documents offer more than just an impression of the physical and psychological devastation the survivors suffered from, caused by the years of persecution and incarceration.

    Moreover, the medical records elucidate how the people were cared for – for example through medicinal and social support – or show the empathy and care by the Medical Social Workers from the various Aid Organizations or by way of their help in contacting numerous emigration programs. This welfare was a continuation of the programmatic guidelines of the “Help the people to help themselves”, developed by the UNRRA.

    The medical records also provide information on the development of the early practice of compensation, whereby former victims of Nazi persecution who were in poor health had to present detailed proof to the German authorities, for example, on their income and financial circumstances when filling in the “Antrag auf Kostenübernahme für Erholungsaufenthalt” (“application for cost absorption for a convalescence holiday”).