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Digitisation of Correspondence Underway

The International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen has commenced work on the most elaborate sub-project involved in the digitalisation of its case correspondence. Around three million files of correspondence between the tracing service, public authorities and the victims of national socialist persecution as well as their family members are to be digitised over the next few years. “Together with the original documents from the Nazi era, the correspondence cases offer a concise account of individual fates,” said Udo Jost, Head of the Archive Division at ITS. “They take the puzzle pieces from the documents, which are often only fragmentary, and assemble them to an overall picture.”

The correspondence files comprise enquiries, letters and witness reports from survivors of nazi persecution or from their family members. “Especially the correspondence from the immediate post-war period explains the different experiences from a very personal point of view,” said Jost. People turned to the tracing service to gain information on the existing documents or search for surviving family members. In many cases, they also required certificates for compensation and pension applications. “Around three million cases thus accumulated over the course of six decades. Each correspondence file holds an average of 20 pages,” explained Alexander Lommel, Head of the Digitisation Division.

Up until now, the International Tracing Service has digitised around 84.5 million images and roughly 6.5 terabytes of data including documents on concentration camps, ghettos and prisons (ca. 18 million images), the ITS central name index (ca. 42 million images), registration cards of displaced persons (ca. 7 million images), documents concerning forced labour (ca. 13 million images), and files from DP camps and emigration after World War II (ca. 4.5 million images). Of the original documents still in need of digitisation are the files from the children’s tracing service as well as the so-called general documents.

“We will respect the protection of personal data when releasing any correspondence cases,” promised Jost. “Enquiries that are less than 25 years old are only open to the victims themselves and their next of kin – not to researchers.” The digitisation of the correspondence files - referred to as T/D cases (tracing/documents, search/documents) - is done at eleven scanning workstations. It will take the ITS a few years to complete the entire project.