“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This quote from the US-American author William Faulkner gives a clue as to why, year after year, thousands of inquiries arrive at the International Tracing Service (ITS) even after so many decades have passed since the defeat of the Nazi regime. The injustice experienced, and the persecution of one’s own family are difficult to fathom. In order to preserve the memory of those family members who had suffered, their children and grandchildren often feel the need to learn more about the fates of their parents and grandparents. With the information found in the documents stored in the ITS archives, the concrete paths of persecution can often be traced. But it is not only family members who are looking for information: even today some three percent of the inquiries come from survivors themselves.
Lists and individual documents
In many cases, various types of lists form the basis for the information provided by the ITS. For one, the lists are remnants of the National Socialist bureaucracy. In their meticulous documentation the perpetrators recorded deportations and deliveries, cases of illness and deaths in the concentration camps. These documents are not from all the concentration camps and forced labor camps, but large amounts of documents were secured after the defeat of the Nazi regime. The Allied Forces also made lists, primarily when they were dealing with the registration, care, emigration and repatriation of Displaced Persons (DPs) as well as the activities of the Child Search Branch after 1945. If there is information on a victim of persecution only in the form of entries on lists, the responses of the ITS focus on information regarding dates, places and reasons for the lists.
In addition, the ITS archives contain individual documents, that is, documents on individual victims of Nazi persecution. These could be prisoners’ cards, protective custody orders from the Gestapo, or even insurance cards from forced laborers. There are also individual documents from the early post war years from the Allies and their relief organizations: files from DPs, for example, who had registered for support with the International Refugee Organisation (IRO). The starting point for research is the digitized version of the Central Name Index of the ITS, which provides information on approx. 17.5 million victims of Nazi persecution and murder.
Thousands of Inquiries
Staff members of the ITS add historical background to the information provided on individual paths of persecution: what was the so-called “Organisation Todt”, why are there sometimes different dates in the documents from the concentration camps for the deaths of victims of Nazism or what do Nazi terms like “Häftlingskategorie” (prisoner category) or “Asoziale” (asocial) mean. Staff members also answer questions about the documents or give advice about where it would make sense to do additional research.
Additionally it is possible to visit the ITS and be shown the relevant documents in their original form.
The first staff members of the ITS and its predecessor organizations were affiliated with the armed forces or the charities of the Allies. Because of the many nationalities represented by those who had been kidnapped, abducted or otherwise forcedly displaced by the Nazi-Regime, quite a number of DPs found employment here, for example, as interpreters. To this day the ITS continues to emphasize the value of international representation, such that the teams of the Inquiry Response are internationally staffed. Aside from the multilingual aspect, it is also the multi-perspectivity of remembrance as well as the national memory discourse that are key.
The original documents
Survivors of Nazi persecution and their family members are warmly invited to come visit the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. Please remember to give sufficient notice prior to your visit, so that we can retrieve the documents out of the archive for you. Moreover, our Visitor Service staff members make special arrangements for your visit in order to provide you with as much information as you would like.
Here you will find everything you need to know about visiting the ITS.