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Jewish organisations draw positive balance of visit

This week twelve representatives of the largest American Jewish organisations paid a two-day visit to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. Among them were delegates from the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith and the Anti-Defamation League. During their stay they gained insight into the ITS documentation and learned about new developments since the archives opened up to the public in November 2007. They also discussed the scope of responsibilities and future of the institution.

“The purpose of our visit was to experience the new ITS,“ said Aron Hirt-Manheimer from the Union of Reform Judaism. “All of us were impressed by the openness of the staff and accessibility of the documents. The ITS is a real treasure trove of history.” The American Jewish organisations had vehemently insisted on the opening of the archives. “Since the voices of the survivors will soon be silenced, it is important for institutions like the ITS to take on the responsibility to educate future generations and explain the Holocaust.“ Hirt-Manheimer himself was born in a DP camp in Feldafing as the son of Polish Holocaust survivors. He thoroughly examined ITS documents relating to his family and found among other things a DP registration card with a photograph of his father he had never seen before.

Prior to the visit to ITS the delegation spent two days in Geneva at the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which had taken over the administration of the ITS in 1955. “We wanted to convey a better understanding of the ICRC and the ITS, particularly the possibilities and constraints of humanitarian work,” explained Mark Silverman, ICRC delegate from Washington and organiser of the trip. “We were interested in understanding what the Jewish organisations expected of the ITS,” said Jean-Luc Blondel, Director of the International Tracing Service. “It was a stimulating and rewarding exchange of ideas.”

The representatives of Jewish organisations commented positively on the ITS’s endeavours in digitising the documents and making them accessible for research purposes. They were also pleased that the inquiries from victims of Nazi persecution are now responded to in a timely manner. “We are not easily impressed as a group, especially when it comes to Holocaust matters”, said Marc Stern from the American Jewish Congress. “But we are moved and surprised. If it is allocated the appropriate resources, the ITS has enormous potential and can close some important knowledge gaps.”