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Kershaw sees Research Potential

Realizing his book project on the war end in Germany, the well-known historian, Professor Ian Kershaw, has spent three days at the archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS). He informed himself about its holdings and paid special attention to the voluminous collection of documents on death marches. “A significant aspect in my book”, said Kershaw. Being in Bad Arolsen for the first time, the Englishman showed enthusiasm for the documentation.  

Kershaw’s book will cover all events that happened in the time span from the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in July 1944 to the capitulation in May 1945. It will also include all fields ranging from policy to the social and mental history of the Germans. “One motif will be the Germans’ way of dealing with foreign labourers, prisoners and enemies of the state”, anticipated Kershaw.

Faced with the advancing allied troops, the SS imposed pointless evacuation marches on thousands of concentration camp inmates, in the course of which about a third of them lost their lives. On these marches that came to be called “death marches” later on, the archives of the tracing service holds eyewitness accounts, reports on graves and detailed statements given by various communities. These had been ordered by the Allies in 1947 to make reports on any incident occurring during the death marches in their region. “Though varied, the material offers plenty of fruitful information,” so Kershaw. “I will be able to put it to good use.”

It was the first visit of the British scholar to Bad Arolsen. “To be frank, I have not been aware so far where Bad Arolsen lies“, related Kershaw. “I knew of the existence of the tracing service, but since the ITS has never been an archive in the classical sense nor open to research, I did not mind.” A friend from Israel had recommended him to go and visit. “It is incredible which material can be found in this archive. First I had thought that I would find person-related documents here only, but instead, there are many general files as well. “

That is why the historian expects an influx of doctoral candidates to Bad Arolsen for the future. “As yet, the archive is rather unknown,” Kershaw said. “It offers a lot of material on subjects, however, that have only half-way been investigated in. The files on the displaced persons alone would provide material for several theses.”

In the coming months, Kershaw will fully concentrate on writing his book. He hopes to complete a first draft in the summer of 2010. “I am eager to come to see how the book is received by the public. To my mind, an integral and general description of Germany’s situation within the last war months is still wanting. Admittedly, there are numerous books, but they go in particular aspects such as the military defeat or events on a local plane.”