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“It makes a difference”

The filmmaker Matthew Steinhart is the grandson of Jewish emigrants who fled from the Nazis. In early February 2017, he came to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen to shoot footage for his film on the fate of his family during the Nazi period. “I want to put special emphasis on the traces and documents still to be found,” the American explains. “I’m interested in the issue of how we deal with the topic today and what it means to us.”

His grandparents both came from Hesse and both fled to the U.S. to escape Nazi Germany independently of one another. They left in 1939, just in time. They met in New York, married and had a child – Matthew Steinhart’s mother, who recently died. “She cared very deeply about the topic. She was always trying to find out more about her family,” Matthew Steinhart recalls. “I’m glad I can do this research for her.”

The files about his grandparents’ families cover two tables. Again and again, Steinhart picks up an envelope sent by his great-grandmother, one of the many documents in the ITS archive. It is addressed in his great-grandmother’s handwriting, and also bears a Nazi stamp and the word “opened.” It was the last letter Steinhart’s ancestor sent before her deportation to death. “It makes a difference whether it’s the original or not,” the filmmaker stresses. “I’m grateful for an institute like the ITS that keeps these documents.”

Riga, Dachau, Auschwitz, Litzmannstadt, Theresienstadt, Stutthof – of all the sites associated with the Holocaust, there’s hardly one missing from these files. “I grew up in a small family,” Steinhart remarks. “It’s overwhelming to see all these documents here. These are people from my family, a part of my identity, my roots.” Soon, the American says, he’s going to round off the search for his roots with an application for German citizenship – nearly eighty years after his grandparents were robbed of theirs.