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German Tracing Services discuss Digitization

The “archive” working group of ten representatives of various tracing services in Germany, the Federal Archive and the Federal Ministry of the Interior met in mid-September to hold a one-day conference at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. Their exchange of opinions focused on archiving and digitizing documents. “Both the operational digitization procedures and the database of the ITS convey a good impression“, said Ulrich Austermühle, head of the working group and deputy head of the tracing service of the German Red Cross (DRK) in Munich.

The working group - including also the “Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt)” (an office providing information on former members of the Deutsche Wehrmacht) and the tracing service of the church - debated the questions which documents can be considered worthy of being archived, how they can be preserved in the long run and be made accessible for research. “Up to now we have tended towards looking upon the documents as material to work with. In the future, the issues of archiving, conserving and digitizing them will have to be brought to the fore”, explained Austermühle. “We have exchanged experience and brought out the points we have to pay special attention and place particular emphasis on.”

The first tracing service to start digitization had been the tracing service of the church in 1994. Considering that its historical archive as a whole – except for the correspondence cases – has been scanned almost completely meanwhile, the International Tracing Service has taken on the pioneer’s role now. Olaf Jäger from the WASt showed himself impressed by the technical potential of the ITS. “We in Berlin have not yet progressed so far”, he said. “The approximately 4000 requests we receive per month are subject to a full paper treatment still. As we are embarking on initial considerations preparatory to digitization, though, our exchange of ideas with the colleagues and the look we could have at the ITS proved to be most interesting.”