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“Keeping the memory alive”

Saida Kikhlyarova from Azerbaijan is twenty-six years old and the first volunteer to come to the International Tracing Service (ITS) through Action Reconciliation: Service for Peace (ARSP). In Azerbaijan she studied foreign language education. Thanks to the six languages she speaks and her strong dedication, she was soon involved in several ITS projects. For the ITS, cooperation with the ARSP could hardly have gotten off to a better start! In the interview Saida Kikhlyarova talks about her daily work, her motivation, and life in Bad Arolsen.

How did you come to apply for this volunteer service?

I heard about the ARSP from a friend. The more I read about its activities, the more this volunteer service appealed to me. I’ve always wanted to work in social projects. In Azerbaijan, such opportunities are unfortunately very rare. I found the critical examination of the term “reconciliation” particularly interesting. Because when someone is capable of asking for reconciliation, it’s a chance to bring a bit of peace to the world. I’m glad life has presented me with a means of doing something for people and for society on a volunteer basis.

You came to the ITS in mid-2017. Can you give us some insights into your work here?

I support the Russian-language team. My work consists mostly of translating, processing inquiries, and researching persecution histories in documents in the ITS digital archive. I write letters and sometimes talk on the phone when a Russian speaker is needed. Our job is to research the fates of victims of Nazi persecution and give the people behind the documents “a face.” This work is very important for keeping the memory of the persecution and murder victims alive.

With a staff of more than 250, the ITS is a big institution. Have you had a chance to acquaint yourself with some of its other activities?

I work in the research and education department twice a week. There, for example, I was involved in a project for school pupils on the history of the concentration camps and Nazi forced labor. I also helped organize a workshop. The purpose was to prepare for visits Nazi concentration camp memorials on the basis of local historical sources from the ITS holdings. Another of the team’s activities is to carry out research for the future permanent exhibition on the ITS. I’ve also gotten to know the archive department, where I summarized the contents of Russian documents.

Do you feel at ease at the ITS?

I was very warmly received by the people here and felt like I was in a kind of family-like atmosphere from the start. I was invited to various events after work. That gave me an opportunity to get to know new people, so there was never any occasion for me to feel lonely. I’m very grateful to my colleagues for that. It’s an advantage to be in a small city. I think it’s easier to get to know people here. But anyway, I’m not the type of person who goes out a lot.

Don’t you find it depressing to be involved with the personal and often very horrible fates of victims of Nazi persecution, day in and day out?

When I first read inquiries from people asking for help finding documents, I was deeply moved. I wanted to find the information and send it to the families immediately. But the chance of finding helpful information is not always very great. There are also days when I write only negative answers. That makes me very sad. I’m happy when there’s information in the archives. The results are sometimes very brutal and I hardly know how I can communicate such horrible information to the relatives. But it’s important to know the truth. 

I remember one inquiry that said that the person in question had emigrated and therefore been given a chance to survive. But research in the archive showed that the person had been executed. I was really shocked.

I’ll never forget something one of my colleagues said: “For us, the war isn’t over until we’ve processed the last inquiry and every inquirer has received an answer.” The members of the ITS staff do everything they can to fulfil this task so that the victims of National Socialism don’t sink into oblivion. I’m very proud to be part of this team.

What would you like to do after your volunteer service?

I’d like to study social work in Germany, possibly in Cologne. I’m interested in working with refugees. My time at the ITS really helped me improve my German. Before that, I never would have felt confident enough to study in German.