“A sacred remembrance site for the victims of the Holocaust and of other Nazi atrocities”
On 29 November 2012, at a reception for the departure of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from the management of the International Tracing Service (ITS), ICRC President Peter Maurer thanked the German government for their support and collaboration. The mandate, which began with the signing of the Bonn Agreements in June 1955, was "always of great relevance" for the ICRC, Maurer said. "Now, the ITS becomes more independent." At the event, where about 400 guests gathered in the Welcome Hotel at Bad Arolsen, Maurer welcomed Holocaust survivor Professor Thomas Buergenthal, guest of honor and keynote speaker.
The withdrawal of the ICRC is not a breaking away, but it stands for a continuous development of the ITS, said Maurer. "Research, education, and the archival tasks will gain more importance." The representative of the Federal Government, Dr. Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, thanked the ICRC for its involvement. "It is owing to their tireless work over the past six decades that more than eleven million inquiries for information have been answered, that light has been shed on the fates of many individuals, and that families, which were torn apart by war and despotism, have been reunited.”
The objective of the Federal Government is to "inform the public about the root causes and impacts of the National Socialist terror regime and thus to strengthen the anti-totalitarian consensus within our society and the awareness for the inherent value of liberal democracy and human rights." To this cause, the ITS has made an important contribution. "The stories that are recorded in the documents held by the ITS, are waiting to be told and to be shared with the next generation."
The speech of <media 973 - - "TEXT, ICRC Farewell, ICRC_Farewell.pdf, 3.3 MB">Peter Maurer</media> and <media 1026>Dr. Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel</media>
"It is the only memorial of my father."
Particularly striking were the words of Professor Thomas Buergenthal, who had been abducted as a child to the Jewish ghetto of Kielce (Poland) and later taken to the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen, and with the help of ITS, found his mother in Göttingen at the end of 1946. "Today for the first time I read in the documents from the child tracing branch, how much my mother suffered from the separation, and that she always believed I had survived," told Buergenthal. "I am glad that the archives of the ITS are open, albeit 60 years too late."
He and his mother had never known in which camp his father had died. "Only recently, we found out in the documents of the ITS," reported Buergenthal. "It's terrible, if there are gaps. You feel incomplete as a human being. That is why the ITS archives are so important. It means so much to me to have all this information. This archive is the only memorial of my father. There are no others, not even a marked grave with his remains in a cemetery, where my family would be able to express our love and respect for a man who had to die for no reason other than that a murderous regime decreed that he had no right to live.”
The documents in the ITS archives should be preserved and maintained for all time, said Buergenthal, "to allow the world to remember and to honor the victims of the terrible crimes that the Nazi regime committed. (...) Were it not for the documents in these files, successive generations might find it impossible to imagine, let alone believe, that these horrendous crimes were in fact committed, and on such a massive scale."
Buergenthal hopes that researchers would be encouraged from different parts of the world to come to Bad Arolsen in order to make use of the documents. "It is also very important for the ITS to continue and further develop educational programs and curricular materials to be used in primary and secondary schools (...) Here people might be able to gain insights into the causes of this tragic period and seek to understand the mentality of those 'ordinary Germans' who executed the Nazi regime’s extermination policies.”
After the end of the war, Buergenthal immigrated to the United States. "If I had stayed in Germany, I would never have been able to come to terms with what had happened. It's there - every single day.” Throughout his life, the survivor dedicated himself to human rights and justice. "I am driven by the future. We have to ensure that this terrible past is never repeated. Why did we survive if not to prevent that others would have to share the same fate we did." Today, the 78-year-old teaches law at George Washington University, after he resigned as a judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2010. His story can also be read in the book "A lucky child”, published in 2007.
The full speech by <media 973 - - "TEXT, ICRC Farewell, ICRC_Farewell.pdf, 3.3 MB">Thomas Buergenthal </media>