Wallets with photos, engraved wedding rings, fashion jewellery, letters or identification papers: While being deported to concentration camps prisoners were usually only carrying the few things they had on them at the time of their arrest. Such personal belongings that were taken from the prisoners when they arrived at concentration camps are the so called “personal effects”. The International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen is still in possession of personal effects of some 3,200 former prisoners, 2,700 of whom are known by name. Of course, personal belongings of prisoners can also be found at other memorial sites and museums, yet knowing the name of the original owners is only possible in the rarest of cases.
The personal belongings generally have little material value but a high sentimental value for family members. More often than not they are a last personal memento. The goal of the ITS is to return the personal belongings to the former prisoners and their family members. Every year this is made possible in some cases, very often through cooperation with memorial sites and partner organizations or through journalistic research. Occasionally family members themselves contact the ITS, in this way also enabling the return of personal effects.
The personal effects are mainly from the concentration camps Neuengamme and Dachau. In addition there are some personal belongings from prisoners of the Hamburg Gestapo, concentration camps Natzweiler and Bergen-Belsen, as well as the transit camps Amersfoort and Compiègne.
Here you can find out more on what the effects can tell us.
Here you will find more background information on the effects.
Heinrich Laubinger’s wallet
One of the items found in the effects collection is, for example, the wallet of the German Sinto Heinrich Laubinger, who died in the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1940. With the help of the photos and papers found in this wallet as well as documents in the ITS Archives, it proved possible to retrace the life of this victim of Nazi persecution. Heinrich Laubinger was born in Oberdieten, Hesse on April 27, 1899. His grandfather Heinrich had the birth of his grandson registered at the notary’s office. His mother, the unmarried Wilhelmina Luna Laubinger, gave birth to the baby in the barn of an innkeeper. It was precisely in this year that “gypsies” in German states were called upon to register at so-called “gypsy centers” of the security police. After this, other new laws quickly followed, making life increasingly difficult for members of this minority group. The Laubinger family managed to relocate to Tilsit, in what was then Eastern Prussia, in 1916. By that time, Heinrich Laubinger was seventeen. The young man lived in Hanover from November 25, 1918 to the end of June 1919. In his registration papers his occupation was listed as “Künstler” (artist).
When and how he met the young widow Anna Rosa Winter is not known. On December 21, 1924 Heinrich Laubinger moved to Holzminden. A few weeks later, on January 17, 1925, Heinrich Laubinger and Anna Rosa Winter were married. Their daughter Alma was born on December 16, 1929 and three years later, on December 10, 1932, their son Eduard. Four months later, Anna Rosa Laubinger died in the Neuhaldensleben State Mental Hospital. In May 1937, the widower Laubinger moved to Minden in Westphalia, where he initially stayed in the home of Rudolf Weiss, a relative. Where Heinrich Laubinger was arrested and when he was deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp cannot be determined on the basis of the documents in the ITS archives. In the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, like so many other prisoners, Laubinger – who was barely forty at the time – had to perform forced labor in the brickyards.
On January 25, 1940, 1,034 prisoners, among them Laubinger, were deported from the Sachsenhausen to the Mauthausen concentration camp. There the forty-one-year-old Laubinger, in inmate in the category “Arbeitszwang—Reich” (forced labor – Reich), was given the prisoner number 2009 and assigned to work in the “Marbacher Bruch” (Marbach quarry). All personal belongings the inmates were carrying on them were confiscated by the camp administration. Heinrich Laubinger had to hand over his wallet and everything it contained: personal papers, photos, official documents. For the inmates, who were already weakened through malnourishment, physical abuse, insufficient clothing, horrendous sanitary conditions and constant terror, the heavy labor in the quarry meant almost certain death. At 2:50 p.m. on March 6, 1940, Heinrich Laubinger died in the Mauthausen concentration camp. In the death registry of the Mauthausen/Marbach administration office, dysentery, weak heart and poor circulation were noted as the causes of death. These and symptoms of a similar nature frequently appear on death certificates from other concentration camps as well. Neither his children nor other family members ever received word of what had become of Heinrich Laubinger, or notification of his death. It was not until many years later, in 1959, that the family learned of his fate when his sister Maria Diesenberg applied for financial restitution.
The ITS retraces the biography of Heinrich Laubinger in a folder of educational materials used in schools and for extra-curricular teaching. The biographical information and the reproductions of the preserved photos and documents are accompanied by historical texts and an account of the years following 1945.
families receive effects
Return of Personal Effects to a Family from France
Wristwatch from Neuengamme Concentration Camp Returned to Victim’s Family
Return of Personal Effects to Families from Putten