In the early years following 1945, the work of the ITS and its predecessor organizations was set up towards searching for missing victims of Nazi persecution. Parallel to the tracing work, it soon became clear that the documents found in the ITS archives were also important in the context of the different compensation and aid programs. Former victims of Nazi persecution had to provide special certification in order to prove their right to receive compensation. This was possible in many cases by using the lists and the individual documents in the ITS. During the history of the ITS there were periods of time when producing these certification papers seemed to almost be the main task: this is true primarily for the later 50’s and 60’s as well as at the turn of the century, when the former victims of forced labor living in East-Central Europe received compensation out of a special fund.
Delayed Restitution for Previously Excluded Victims' Groups
Even today, new regulations or support funds in different countries lead to an occasional increase in the number of inquiries. Thus, because of a change in Polish laws, Jewish victims of Nazi persecution who had been living in Poland during that time but who were now living in other countries, could receive pension payments as of 2014. The inquiries are now sent directly to the ITS from UDSKIOR, the Polish Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression, and are given preferential treatment in processing, so that the survivors can receive prompt help.
Reform of the Ghetto Pensions
Currently, the reform of the Ghetto pensions, which the German Bundestag had put into action by way of a change in the law regarding the conditions for making pensions payable on the basis of employment in a ghetto (ZRBG) from 2014, has ramifications for the work of the ITS. At the heart of this matter is the case in 1997 of a former ghetto worker being able to assert before a court of law her right to a pension. Prior to this the fact that the exploited ghetto workers had been obligated to make social security payments into the German Retirement Fund out of their meager pay had never been considered. Until that time, work in the ghetto had been treated the same way as forced labor. Yet this is not about compensation, but rather the right to a pension that exists from having paid for social security. Because of this new legislation, the retro-active period of four years otherwise generally valid in social legislation is no longer used. This should enable all those affected to receive their pensions as quickly as possible and retro-actively to 1 July 1997. Because of the urgency of these inquiries, they are also processed preferentially at the ITS. Many of the ghetto workers have already passed away. The Federal Government estimates that there are still some 40,000 people who have a right to receive this pension payment.
The Search for Knowledge and Family History
Around the mid 80’s the generation of the children, and then later, the grandchildren, started wondering whether there were any documents in the ITS on Nazi persecution of their own families. This kind of biographically inspired search constitutes the majority of the inquiries today. There are many different reasons for this: The fear in the family could always be felt, yet many of the acutely traumatized survivors could not, or did not want to, find words for what they had experienced. It wasn’t until after their death and often not until quite a long period of time had passed since then that the second and third generations began a gradual confrontation with this chapter of their family history. The fact that the view towards National Socialism changed in the 80’s certainly played a role: in 1979 the US series “Holocaust” was shown in the Federal Republic of Germany, which led to intense emotional reactions and heated discussions; the two-part film “Shoah” followed in 1985. All over the world, the crimes of National Socialist Germany were the subject of widespread public discussion; increasingly, these debates were also about the stigmatized victims groups such as the Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, and the handicapped. In this changed atmosphere the internationally respected public address on 8 May 1985 of the German president at that time, Dr. Richard von Weizsäcker, was received with much international acclaim and influenced the German understanding of their history and their particular culture of remembrance. One could summarize this by stating that the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes in Germany were increasingly coming to the foreground of the public conscience. For those families personally affected, it may have led to more closely examining their own history. The knowledge we have today about the repercussions of trauma suffered, and how this affects the following generations, only serves to emphasize the need to fill these empty spaces with knowledge.
The inquiries from the second, third, and fourth generations have come not only from Germany, of course. Increasing numbers of inquiries from younger family members have also been from Italy, France and the United States in particular; in the 90’s from East-Central Europe and Eastern Europe as well. It was only following the political upheaval in these countries that making inquiries to the ITS was even possible. After more than 4 decades following the defeat of the Nazi Regime, many of the former victims of Nazi persecution and forced labor were no longer alive. They never had the chance themselves to look into the documents of these years of terror. In their stead the generations of children and grandchildren began to gather information on the individual fates.
More Detailed Information
With this in mind, the ITS has changed the tracing method for providing information in the last few years, now being able to supply more detailed responses to the inquiries, as well as suggestions for further possible research methods. Sometimes the family members undertake lengthy travel in order to better grasp the different stations of life their ancestors had gone through. The ITS is an important stop for many, as it is often here in the archives that a final trace of a beloved family member can be found.
After the Second World War, no-one would have expected the tasks of the ITS to continue to the present day. In the 50’s, for example, it was assumed that the ITS as an institution would only be needed until 1968. However, even today the ITS is still fulfilling many of the original responsibilities from that time, one of them being to help bring families together, as well as supplying certification to enable restitution and pension payments. With this more detailed information for family members as well as the entire branch of research and education, the tasks and areas of responsibility of the ITS continue to grow.