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Turning a Number into a Name

Thomas Irmer conducted research this week for the second time at the International Tracing Service (ITS) on behalf of the memorial foundation of Saxony-Anhalt. He reviewed the prisoner numbers of nearly 1000 victims of the Gardelegen massacre which took place at the end of the Second World War. “I´m turning numbers into names and thereby try to return the victims a part of their dignity,” reported Irmer.

On 13 April 1945 1016 concentration camp prisoners were burned to death in a barn in Isenschnibbe, near the city of Gardelegen. The inmates, who were evacuated from the sub-camps Mittelbau-Dora and Neuengamme, were headed north on “death marches” and transports and happened to be in Gardelegen. The marches could not be continued due to the nearing front. Local Nazi leaders arranged the murders and with the help of local residents forced victims into the barn and set it on fire.

“The Americans arrived just 24 hours after the grisly murders,” said the 44-year old. “The soldiers forced male Gardelegen residents to exhume the victims and give them a dignified burial.” Nearly 300 prisoner numbers were found, partly by badges on prison clothing. “These numbers were researched in the past,” Irmer explained. “Now the city of Gardelegen and the memorial are supported by the memorial foundation of Saxony-Anhalt in terms of a cooperation.”

Using the prisoner numbers, Irmer checked prisoner cards and transport lists at the ITS, where he was able to turn almost all the numbers into names. The political scientist was pleased: “All the information came together at the ITS, which is ideal for my work.” The findings will be put into a memorial book. In addition, the names were first read out at an event in April 2009 at the memorial. “It is important to safeguard the memory of victims´ fates,” said the researcher. “The results of my work are also essential for educational work.” He plans to visit the ITS once again. “The next step is to research and depict victims´ fates more thoroughly.”