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Interest in the documentation of the ITS continues

The number of inquiries received by the International Tracing Service (ITS) has increased for the third year in a row. A total of 12,981 inquiries reached the ITS in the past year (previous year: 11,768, 2008: 10,251). “This development shows us that interest in the documentation of the ITS and in the issue of National Socialist persecution is continuing undiminished”, said ITS Director Jean-Luc Blondel. The International Commission of eleven member states, which compiles the guidelines for the work of the ITS and monitors these in the interest of the former victims of persecution, carries forward the debate on the future of the institution.

Approximately 80 percent (10,302) of the inquiries came from survivors of the NS dictatorship and the relatives of victims. The remainder were made by researchers (1,546), journalists (282) or other interested parties. Information was obtained from 70 countries, in particular from Germany, the Russian Federation and France. An increased number of inquiries was received from Eastern Europe, as the ITS website has also been available in Russian since May 2010. “Our top two priorities are responding to the inquiries and digitalising the archives”, said Blondel.

The completion of the digitalisation of the original historical documents from the sections of the archives on incarceration, slave labour and displaced persons is anticipated for June 2011. In the coming years, the digitalisation of the ITS’s approximately three million files of correspondence with survivors, relatives and public authorities, encompassing approximately 60 million sheets of paper, is to be implemented. The digital documents of the ITS are available in seven different archives: apart from Bad Arolsen in Israel, the USA, Poland, Luxembourg, Belgium and France. Great Britain and the Netherlands have also expressed their interest in a copy. On the basis of a decision by the International Commission, any of the eleven member states can request a copy of the documents available in Bad Arolsen.

Another important task of the Tracing Service is the improved indexing of its archives to improve their accessibility for researchers. In 2010, the first four catalogues could be published online. A catalogue on the “Lebensborn” archive and an overview of the whole collection are currently being developed. In the past year, the Tracing Service preserved 408,583 individual documents from Buchenwald concentration camp. The documents were deacidified and delaminated.

The initiative for returning personal effects that are still kept in the archives of the International Tracing Service was particularly successful in the Netherlands in 2010. Here, 65 wallets belonging to former inmates of concentration camps were able to be returned to their families. Through the publication on its website of the approximately 2,900 owners of personal effects whose names are known, ITS hopes for further information on surviving relatives. It succeeded in assigning an additional 476 personal effects, whose owners had so far been unknown, to former prisoners in the course of a time-consuming investigation.

In the area of research, in the past year partnerships were concluded, research projects initiated and the educational work begun. A research project on the subject of death marches from the concentration camps is currently running in cooperation with historians from partner organisations and universities. A catalogue of camps for displaced persons is also being compiled, which is to be completed in cooperation with experts. The ITS presented an educational concept for the first time in 2010 and arranged joint projects with schools.

Debate on the future

At the annual meeting of the International Commission in May 2011 in Brussels, an agreement was discussed, which describes the role of the Federal Archives as the future institutional partner of ITS from 2013. The new agreement is necessary because the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has announced its planned withdrawal from the management and administration of the ITS in December 2012.

As early as May 2010 in Washington, the International Commission agreed upon the draft of an initial agreement, which extends the tasks of the ITS by cataloguing, historical research, education and commemorative work. At the same time, the draft lays down the location of Bad Arolsen and the international character of the institution. “Both of the planned agreements will put the gradual development of the Tracing Service into a centre for research, information and education onto a formal footing”, according to Blondel. “At the ICRC, we will prepare the ITS for its new role as well as possible and make a smooth change of management possible.”

France has taken over the chair in the International Commission from Belgium for this year. The chair of the Strategic Study Group, which negotiates the agreements, is held by Poland.

Number of employees and finances

The number of employees totalled 297 on 1 January 2011 (2010: 307, 2009: 314) with 251 positions (2010: 261, 2009: 270). The trend of a gradual reduction in staff will continue, as some employees will retire in the next few years, and the vacant positions are generally not replaced. The total expenditure of the ITS amounted to 14,682 million euros in the past year. It was borne by the federal budget. Approximately 80 percent of the costs were accounted for by staff expenditure.

Legal bases of ITS

An International Commission of representatives from eleven member states (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, the USA) is responsible for supervising the work of the International Tracing Service. The legal basis are the Bonn agreements of 1955 and the amendment protocol of 2006. The Commission compiles the guidelines for the work of the ITS and monitors these in the interest of the former victims of persecution. On behalf of the Commission, the ITS is managed and governed by the ICRC.