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The ITS archive moves to interim storage

Some 16,000 meters of documents, 244 tons of weight, 12 staff members and 2,675 hours of work – the International Tracing Service’s (ITS) world documentary heritage is moving. As of 2013 the original documents in the ITS archives are included on the UNESCO “Memory of the World” registry. Since May 8, 2017, skilled personnel have been packing the historically valuable documents and loading them onto trucks. The approximately 30 million original documents and more than 50 million reference cards making up the ITS’s Central Name Index are going into interim storage.

The entirely unique collection of testimonies to imprisonment, the Holocaust, forced labor and the liberated survivors will there await the completion of a new archive building to be erected over the coming years on the adjacent grounds of the ITS. The building presently on the site at Jahnstrasse, which is still in use, will be torn down in 2018.

For decades, these documents were the ITS’s most important working material. They provided information on millions of fates and the dimensions of the Nazi crimes. Meanwhile, however, nearly all of the archive holdings have been digitalized. Today the tracing service staff carry out their research on computers – and it’s time to give this “monument of paper” modern protection in a new facility technically equipped to meet archival requirements. “In the temporary storage building, the magnitude of the ITS archive will be truly perceivable for the first time,” remarks ITS chief archivist Christian Groh. “Whereas the documents were previously kept at different locations, now they’ll all be together in one place.”

A specialized company with experience transporting archive materials has been hired for the move. “The relocation of an archive is a very special undertaking,” confirms logistics expert Hans Peter Saal of the Grohmann Logistik company of Berlin, who is in charge of coordinating the effort. “This isn’t a classical transport job. We have to maintain the existing archival order so that all documents can still be accessed and used while the new quarters are under construction. After all, in the interim storage facility, we can no longer take advantage of the memory of the ITS employees, who used to be able to find a file on some shelf even blindfolded.” If the relative of a persecution victim should want to see an original document, for example, it still has to be possible, despite digitalization and despite the move.

What’s more, the historically valuable documents have to be handled with care. We can’t use conventional moving boxes because they wouldn’t suffice to protect the sensitive paper from damage. “We use special rolling carts designed like shelves. For transport, every one of them is individually shrink-wrapped. And when it comes to especially sensitive documents that aren’t kept in archive boxes, the movers wear cotton gloves,” Saal explains.

The main name index file poses a particular challenge. It holds information on the fates of some 17.5 million victims of Nazi persecution. Already this file alone weighs about 51 tons. Now kept in 29,000 open boxes, the file cards will be transferred to closed archive boxes before transport. “The team assigned to this task is folding every single new box, labelling it, and filling it with the contents of the old box – a huge project in itself,” Saal comments. “If you were to line up the contents of all the boxes, you’d get a row 8,700 meters long.” Packed in its archive boxes, the main name index file will take up 2,030 meters of shelf space in the temporary facility. The new archive building on Jahnstrasse is scheduled for completion in about three years.