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“The ITS archive belongs to Arolsen”

Members of the working committee for communal issues on the Waldeck economy (AFK) visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen yesterday evening.  Reto Meister, director of ITS, and Udo Jost, head of ITS’s archive division, presented the work and goals of ITS to the group, and gave a tour of the archive.

The visitors not only had a personal interest in the tracing service, but also wanted to take a closer look at ITS from an entrepreneurial perspective in view of the economic factor for Arolsen. An article in the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung prompted the chair of the AFK, Heinz-Robert Behle, to take a tour of ITS within the scope of a business meeting. Over 30 AFK members accepted his invitation to come along.

Reto Meister held a detailed speech on the history, location, governing body, activities and current priorities of ITS. In his talk, he also focussed on the incoming tracing requests and digitalisation of the historically valuable documents. Requests are still received even after all these years, and processing them is the original task of ITS, said Meister. Now that the archives opened to the public in November 2007, historians and scholars are also filing more and more requests. The staff has been adjusting well to its new duties.

Because the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva will be handing over its responsibility for the ITS sometime in the upcoming years, a debate about its future has ensued between the eleven member states of the ITS International Committee and the ICRC as to how the ITS should be structured in the future, said the ITS director.

Udo Jost led the AFK members through the ITS archives. Right at their first stop at the alphabetic-phonetic Central Name Index, the visitors were surprised by the complex filing system and individual steps it involves. The group also seemed impressed by the specific documents for individual slave labourers. These files include employment records, patients’ files and insurance documents, as well as registry cards from the authorities, health insurance agencies and employers. Jost pointed to the fact that many forced labourers were deployed in the Waldeck-Frankenberg region, where they worked for farmers or companies. The tour ended in the archive for concentration camp, ghetto and prison documentation. AFK members appeared deeply moved by the meticulous registration of all information, from the date of imprisonment to death certification or liberation from the camps.

In the end, Heinz-Robert Behle said that he had not expected such an “agglomeration of barbarity”. ITS plays a key role for Bad Arolsen, not just in regard to the job market. The high degree of relevance attributed to the archive in Bad Arolsen or the region would not be able to be attained in a large city. “ITS belongs to Arolsen and we are all going to work hard to make sure that it stays here,” agreed the participants. “The location is historical. The commemorative work should continue here." Behle also said that he is impressed that the archive and its millions of files are the exact opposite of “dusty”. Each visitor was able to observe that ITS has state-of-the-art equipment, caters to its “clients” in a service-oriented manner, and that its staff is motivated and flexible.

The participants suggested integrating ITS in history lessons on the subject of National Socialism and WWII. “What one sees here is both horrifying and informative at the same time,” said Georg Wackerbarth, a project developer from Bad Wildungen. “Priorities are set here — priorities that the world talks about.”