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International Holocaust Remembrance Day

On January 27, 1945, Soviet soldiers liberated the last remaining survivors in the Auschwitz concentration camp – some 7,000 sick and dying inmates. At least 1.3 million women, men and children, the majority of them Jewish, had been murdered in the Auschwitz camp complex. In 2005, the United Nations declared January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Commemoration against hatred and ostracism

Current developments also testify to the importance of keeping the memories of the Holocaust alive, and of commemorating the people who were persecuted and killed by the National Socialists: “I am deeply concerned about the steady rise in nationalist and anti-Semitic tendencies, and in discrimination on grounds of origins, religion or identity – all over the world,” commented Floriane Hohenberg, the director of the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, on the occasion of the 2017 Day of Remembrance. “People are being attacked everywhere, in the form of hate speeches on the internet, in the form of ostracism, and through physical and psychological violence. Today, 72 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must not forget how quickly violence can erupt. It is crucial that we learn from the unfathomable suffering of the victims of National Socialism, and remain active and alert in the interest of protecting human rights, democracy and diversity.”

How can we keep the memories alive, decades after the fact? And how can young people gain access to the history of the Holocaust – now that there are ever fewer survivors around to tell about their experiences? The documents in the ITS archive provide insights into the multifarious fates. On the basis of these sources, school pupils can reconstruct biographies and persecution histories. For example in Project Convoy 77: within this framework, young people from all over Europe are researching the biographies of the 1,321 persons deported on the last major transport from the Drancy transit camp to Auschwitz.

Floriane Hohenberg: “The ITS holdings offer future generations a means of grasping National Socialism and its consequences. By working with the historical documents, they can learn where hatred and discrimination can lead.”

Consequences still making themselves felt today

The ITS’s current inquiry numbers are also a reflection of the impact of the Nazi crimes to the very present: in 2015, the ITS received 15,635 inquiries – requests for information about more than 24,000 persons. At least 2,000 of these inquiries came from survivors themselves, and more than two thirds from relatives of victims of Nazi persecution.

Many researchers also request information. As Hohenberg explains: “The potentials for researching the various groups of Nazi persecution victims and the spatial dimension of the mass crimes are tremendous.” The archive has been open for research purposes since 2007. To improve access to its documents, the ITS began putting its holdings online in 2015: digitalcollections.its-arolsen.org