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French National Archivists gained an overview

Odile Welfelé, Christian Oppetit, Vincent Bouat and Michel Kerbellec from the French National Archives paid a three-day information visit to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. The National Archives will presumably be the recipient of a copy of the ITS documents next year. The French archivists therefore concentrated their attention on the type of documents that can be found in the archives and the digital ITS database. “The documents from the ITS archives will not just be an important contribution to research in France, but will open up a new era that allows researchers in France to look more profoundly into the period of National Socialism”, said Oppetit.

For a start, the four employees of the National Archives had an extensive tour through the various sections of the ITS archives ranging from the Central Name Index via the incarceration, forced labour and displaced persons documents to the file correspondence. Subsequently, ITS staff explained the handling of requests, the digitization, cataloguing and conservation of the documents as well as the initial projects in the research field. “Our visit was aimed to have a better grasp of the sort of documents held here, the kind of access granted to them and the research potential inhering in the documents“, explained Bouat. “And we have gained a good overview.”

The French dedicated much time and attention to the digital database of the ITS, the so-called “O&S Archive“. “The regulations on privacy protection are stringent in France“, stated Welfelé. “Nevertheless, this national standard should not lead to differing or contrasting access rules. It is in particular this issue that we will have to clarify for us.” Since November 2007, the ITS offers access to all documents kept in its archives. The only exception from that rule is the correspondence the ITS has had with the victims of Nazi persecution and their families over the years. This personal data material will be open to research after a closure period of 25 years.

“At the ITS, one can find most private and confidential documents, and the structure of the holdings is varied and rather complex“, summarized Bouat. “We will find it a challenge to make the documents accessible.” Their plans for the immediate future include editing a manual on the ITS collections in French and offering special training to the staff of the National Archives. “I am pleased that, in the ITS, we do have a solid institution as a partner with whom we can exchange views”, rejoiced Oppetit. “When I came here five years ago the future seemed much more uncertain.”