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Permanent Exhibition: Initial Insights

With a team of experienced curators at their side, Isabel Panek, Henning Borggräfe and Christian Höschler are presently preparing the first permanent exhibition on the ITS past and present, scheduled to open in 2019. In the interview, they explain what the show’s main focusses will be and what challenges they face.

What will the exhibition’s main themes be?

Borggräfe: We’ve chosen four main focusses, the first being the widely ramified search for missing persons and documents—initiated by survivors of Nazi persecution and the Allies—in the period immediately following the war and up until the founding of the ITS. From there we’ll go on to sketch the gradual changes in the ITS’s search techniques and how it has provided information throughout its history to the present day. Our third focus is the archive. Here we’ve set out to explain how the specific ITS archive came into being. And our fourth topic will be the ITS’s relationship to the public – that is, the question of why it became isolated starting in the late 1970s, and why it opened up to the public again more recently.

You won’t just be presenting the most prominent objects in your collection?

Panek: No, and the special thing about this exhibition is that we’re going to concentrate more on how we work, and take a critical look at it.

So what will the exhibition show?

Panek: That’s one of the major challenges we’re facing now, in the preparation phase. We’re planning to explain how the specific historical ITS archive evolved and show the complexity of the working procedures, which might initially seem boring to a lot of people. So we’re going to illustrate them visually. We’re working with the gewerkdesign agency to create installations that will combine documents and animations for the viewers in each of the four thematic sections.

What else will be on display?

Höschler: We’re going to show facsimiles of documents from the ITS holdings and historical photographs. A number of the objects will be from other archives. So most of the exhibits will be “flatware,” but we’re going to present some things three-dimensionally—for example extensive transport lists as a stack of papers—in order to give the viewers an idea of the dimensions. Our most prominent exhibit, filling the entire rear wall of the room, will be the boxes that once held the main name index—the key to the archive.

That index was transferred into modern archive boxes in conjunction with the move to the interim archive…

Höschler: Right, and since we converted to digital, we no longer carry out our searches manually by way of the index cards.

Borggräfe: Of the 30,000 boxes, even the 15-meter-long wall can only accommodate one sixth at the most.

The idea is to demonstrate the work of the ITS – its dimensions and how it’s done?

Panek: Yes, but there’s more to it than that. Because our concern is also always with the fate of some 17.5 million persons to whom the documents in the ITS archive refer. The exhibition naturally has to—and will—give scope to these persons in representative manner. For example, we’ll combine photos and biographical documents: on the actual persecution of individuals, but also on their lives before and afterward. So the visitors will learn more about the later consequences of the Nazi crimes for these people.

What’s your primary target group?

Borggräfe: The permanent exhibition will be an initial place to go for people who want to find out about the ITS. In other words, the target group is very broadly defined.

Panek: Our aim is to address the local population, school classes, tourists, and of course especially survivors and the relatives of victims of Nazi persecution as well as researchers. The texts will be in German and English, and written in such a way that they are as easy to understand as possible. We’re also going to offer an accompanying program with guided tours and workshops for schools.

How will the exhibition be laid out spatially?

Höschler: The exhibition space is 150 square meters in size, and there’s an adjacent room for workshops. Later we can simply expand the thematic modules.

Panek: The room is located in a former department store on Schlossstrasse, whose large windows forge a connection to the city. We can design the window displays in a way that will give passers-by a sense of what’s inside and spark their interest—the windows are a great way of expressing the openness that characterizes the ITS today.

Borggräfe: … and the ITS in a state of transformation. Because even though it’s a permanent exhibition, at the same time it’s temporary: later it’s going to move into the new archive building.