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Son of former ITS director Hugh Elbot looks back

The International Tracing Service (ITS) was able to welcome a very special guest to Bad Arolsen this past Friday. The son of former ITS Director Hugh Elbot came all the way from Denver with his wife Barbara to rediscover the traces of his childhood. Charles Elbot was just four years old when his father took over the direction of the tracing service in 1951. “I don’t recall very many things from back then,” said Elbot. “Yet I do remember that my father always worked quite long hours and came home rather late in the evenings.”

The most vivid memory Elbot Jr. has is of the opening ceremony for the new ITS building in 1952. “There was a giant cake shaped like the building itself. I got a big piece of the side wing,” recalls the American. His father had been committed to the new construction and the location of Bad Arolsen after the tracing service’s administration was transferred from the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) to the HICOG (Allied High Commission for Germany) in April 1951.

“The most stressful factor for my father back then was the discussion revolving around the future of the institution during the years 1954-55,” as Elbot recollects. Apparently there had been some intense debates about whether or not the tracing service should be taken over by Germany or kept under international control. “My father thought an international solution was the best way to go. The conservation of the documents for future generations was a matter very dear to his heart. I’m sure he would have been pleased to see that the archive opened up to the public in late 2007.”

After his position with the tracing service, Hugh Elbot worked for the US government in Washington, D.C. for a few years before a job offer at Radio Free Europe led him back to Germany in 1958. He fell in love with the Bavarian capital and remained in Munich until his death in 1989. “My dad enjoyed learning languages, was interested in history and was very outgoing,” says his son.

Elbot Jr. returned to the US to pursue a university degree. He then became a teacher and, later on, a headmaster. Today he works as a consultant for public schools in Denver, advising them on how they can optimise their curricula. As an educator with many years of experience, he sees a tremendous amount of potential in the ITS documentation. “The archive is an important keeper of the tragic memory of Nazi crimes,” says Elbot. “In the area of education, ITS can contribute some valuable work. When the witnesses to history are no longer alive, the documents must continue to tell their tales.”

After visiting ITS, Mr and Mrs Elbot were accompanied by Bernd Zimmer on a tour of the museum currently planned in the former barracks. For his exhibition space, the historian arranged for an exchange of old photographs. Finally, the American visitors took a drive to the street Brunnenallee in Bad Wildungen, where the Elbot family used to live. The 62-year-old also wanted to look around for his old kindergarten and school. “The years we spent there were wonderful,” says Elbot.