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“The archive is a treasure trove”

Pava Raibstein, Director of the Youth Aliyah Committee in Frankfurt, recently visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen to explore the possibility of a collaboration. Her visit was twofold: she was also interested in discovering details about her father´s fate. “I know the basics about my father´s life, but the detailed documents in the ITS archive are very interesting to me,” she said.

Raibstein´s father, Jakob Horowicz, was sent to the Piotrkow Ghetto as a child along with his family. His mother and sister were gassed in Treblinka. Jakob himself survived ghettos, work and concentration camps, and was freed from Theresienstadt. Before he emigrated to Israel with the help of the Youth Aliyah Committee, he lived in a children´s home in Hamburg-Blankenese. “My father returned to Germany after 10 years and from then on he spoke openly as a witness about his fate,” said his daughter.

The ITS archive contains numerous documents on Jakob Horowicz, including a prisoner registration form, a personal effects card and a medical file. “On some cards he had to confirm the information with his signature,” said Raibstein. “Because there are different spellings of his first and last names, and he changed his name slightly in Israel, I was able to learn from the signature on the document how he himself he wrote his names: the names given to him by his parents, in a situation where he was only thought of as a number.”

Raibstein´s visit to the ITS also had an educational perspective. “For 80 years the Youth Aliyah Committee has been helping Jewish children everywhere there is social or legal discrimination against them,” said Raibstein. The mission of the organization, founded in Berlin on 30 January 1933, was to rescue Jewish children from the increasing threat of the National Socialist regime. After the Holocaust it gave surviving youths a home in Israel.

Today the Youth Aliyah Committee in Frankfurt makes it possible for youths in Israel to spend a week in Germany, where their project work also involves the past. “The ITS contains such a wide range of documents on so many different groups of victims, which is perfect for these kinds of groups,” says Raibstein. “It is not about yellowing documents but about real lives. The archive is a treasure trove for researching individuals.”

Raibstein could also imagine collaborating on a project with the German Film Museum in Frankfurt, which is being planned. “A group of 12 youths will focus on the topic “social values – what is love, passion or home?”, and the question “what do you hold fast to?,” she said. To that end, the youths will also have an opportunity to look at the personal effects which were taken from prisoners as they arrived at concentration camps. The ITS archive contains nearly 3,400 of these effects including wallets, identity papers, photographs, letters, wedding rings, watches and fountain pens. “When we look at these things we are able to see what is important to people and what we hold dear.”