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A look behind the scenes

26 members of Kassel´s German-Israeli Society (DIG) visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) archive in Bad Arolsen yesterday. They were “deeply impressed” by the documents of persecution during National Socialism which are stored at the ITS. DIG Chair Manfred Oelsen is convinced that “the German-Israeli Society and organizations like the ITS are now more necessary than ever to keep the memories alive and communicate the relevance for the present.”

Ernst Klein, a member of both the Volkmarsen association “Against Forgetting“ and the German-Israeli Society, is familiar with the ITS and organized the visit. The DIG in Kassel was founded in 1975 and promotes German-Israeli dialogue as well as ties to Jewish organizations. Lectures, seminars, concerts, informational events and trips to memorials and museums are offered regularly.

In a brief introduction, Udo Jost, head of ITS´s archive division, provided visitors with information about the history of the organization and the kind of records and their provenance. Afterwards, Rudolf Michalke, head of the archival management section, led the group through the various sections of the archive. He presented the Central Name Index with its 50 million index cards, displaced persons records, lists from concentration camps and records about forced laborers. “This mass of documents is horrifying,” whispered DIG member Waltraud Mann during the tour.

At a concluding meeting, ITS director Reto Meister reported in detail on the opening of the archive last year and its significance. “This is an indication of the work of remembrance, especially for the Jewish population,” the director said. Meister provided information about the digitalization of original documents and the transfer of data to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the National Institute of Remembrance in Warsaw. DIG members were particularly interested in opportunities to use the archive for educational work, especially in schools.

“The DIG has a lot to offer, but our visit to the ITS has been a high point for all of us.” With these words, Manfred Oelsen thanked the hosts on behalf of DIG for the opportunity “to have a look behind the scenes”. Several members plan to come back, either alone or in small groups, to delve into more detail and do individual research.