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“Every file tells a story”

In July 2017, the historian, curator and former director of the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam, founder of the Dutch National Holocaust Museum Joël J. Cahen visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) to learn about its current activities and the progress of its archive digitalization process. His assessment was extremely positive: “The ongoing digitization of documents and testimonies helps people gain faster access to the archive holdingsand thus fulfil the growing need to know everything in detail about their own history and the details of the events of the Nazi period and the Holocaust.”

ITS Deputy Director Steffen Baumheier and department heads Christian Groh and Anna Meier- Osiński talked to Cahen about the tracing service’s long and short term aims and the large number of inquiries it receives and answers as promptly as possible. The visitor from the Netherlands also had an opportunity to gain a first-hand impression of the archive and the three million files containing the correspondence between the ITS, survivors of Nazi persecution, members of their families, and various government agencies. He was impressed: “Every one of these files tells us something about the story of a victim of the Holocaust and Nazi period.”

In the course of his professional life to date, Cahen served as director of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam for over ten years. He is very interested in the work carried out by the ITS for personal reasons: his Jewish family and the parents of some non Jewish friends—were deported by the Nazis and imprisoned or murdered in concentration camps. “I belong to the second post-Holocaust generation,” he comments. “We know the story inside out. As far as I personally am concerned, I’ve sometimes thought to myself, ‘it’s enough.’ But the third and fourth generation want to know everything, every detail. Not just the descendants of the victims, but also those of the perpetrators.”

Cahen is convinced that it’s possible to reach young people of the present with a combination of digital and analogue projects and for this he points to the successful initiative of the Late Isaac Lipschitz, now hosted by the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam, the Internet community: www.joodsmonument.nl. “When people today want information, the first place they go is the internet. We have to be there to welcome them and acquaint them with the historical sites.”