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Protect, Preserve and Provide Access

Picture shows: A insight into the archive

Insight the archive

For many decades, the staff members of the ITS had been working with the documents in the archives on a daily basis, until the collections that had been gathered for the documentation and tracing work came to be recognized as an historically significant archival collection. New tasks have arisen from this: At the center are all the measures that contribute to the protection of the documents, as well as their preservation for future generations. In 1988 the digitization began, so that, as a rule, research work is done using digital copies in order to protect the original documents. Through the indexing and archival description work, research and access to the documents will be gradually simplified. 

  • Conservation

    Apart from the sheer volume of material, the varying grades and condition of the paper documents place great demands on the archivists. At the end of the Second World War there was a perceptible drop in the quality of materials used, as a consequence of which the paper contains high levels of acid and deteriorates more quickly. That the documents were used as working papers has also left its mark, for example through adhesion, lamination, metal contamination or physical damage, such as tears. In the year 2000 the International Tracing Service conducted a damage analysis. A list of priorities was worked out on the basis of this investigation. Specific collections are restored every year by outside service providers, using the list for guidance. For the process of de-acidification a mass processing method is now used by which the paper acid is neutralized. In addition, every kind of lamination is removed, writing is stabilized, and mechanical damage, such as tears or punched holes, is closed and repaired. In this way, 6.2 million objects to date have been processed and thus secured.

    And yet there are still millions of documents that are in a critical condition. The fact that the documents have not been stored in purpose-built archives under constant humidity and room temperature has meanwhile become noticeable. In June 2015 the International Commission confirmed the results of investigations regarding a new archives building, hereby enabling the foundation for a new archival structure with appropriate professional facilities.

  • Digitization

    The digitization of the documents begun in 1988 is of special significance for the protection and preservation of the archival holdings. Thus, staff members and visitors work almost exclusively with digital copies that are organized in the ITS databank. The largest proportion of the archival holdings is available there, comprising around 105 million digitized documents; these include scans of the reverse side of documents as well as envelopes used for storage, etc. It is only in exceptional cases that the original documents must be referred to.

    Currently, the archive staff members are scanning the collection of the correspondence files, that is, the correspondence between the ITS and former victims of persecution and their families, as well as with authorities. In total, these files make reference to some three million victims of Nazi persecution. The digitization of this correspondence will be completed by 2020. Another digitization project involves the almost 100,000 envelopes containing medical files on Displaced Persons, of which approx. 40,000 have been scanned so far.

    The diversity of the documents represents a great challenge for digitalization. Loose sheets of paper, questionnaires, index cards, and bound books in all conceivable formats have to be digitalized in such a way that this does as little damage to the paper as possible. To meet this challenge, the ITS has arranged for the development of special scanning stations.

  • Indexing

    Because of the tracing and documentation activity of the ITS, names are the most important key to the documents. Every single document has been and will be assessed accordingly. This unusually thorough indexing offers researchers interesting approaches for their work. However, journalists, scholars and teachers also ask, for example, about specific topics, places, nationalities and victims groups. For this reason, over the last several years these search criteria have been factored in and recorded in the case of all newly scanned correspondence files.

    In the case of special projects, a follow-up assessment and more in-depth indexing is also carried out. An example of this is the project card registry of the Reichsvereinigung der Juden, which, in cooperation with the Research and Education Branch, involves a more in-depth indexing and content-related cataloging. A second example is the archival collection on the death marches, for which all the place names have been indexed for a map representation as part of the online placement.

  • Description

    The tasks of archival description involve characterizing the various collections for research needs. Thus the focus is not on the single document. Instead, a collection is described according to breadth, provenance, content, and custodial history. The archival description is also one of the new responsibilities of the ITS as a documentation center. It will take several more years before these projects are completed.

You can order high-definition scans for publications or exhibits, for example, from the Archival Management Department. Please refer to the regulations for fees for information on costs. Please also contact the Archival Management Department regarding rules on copyright permission.