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University of Giessen students do a research about Displaced Persons

Two groups of students from the Justus Liebig University of Giessen have visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) to learn more about research possibilities on displaced persons available there. Their one-day visits to the archive took place within the context of a seminar entitled “Victim biographies of the Second World War and the Cold War.”

“My goal was to introduce the archive to the 40 students and make it accessible for their research,” said seminar leader Professor Hans-Jürgen Bömelburg. According to Professor Bömelburg, the ITS is also an especially interesting source for the University of Giessen, as there is a focus on eastern European history there. “The ITS has extensive material on eastern European Displaced Persons (DPs) and Polish and Russian forced laborers.” There are lists of and single documents about former forced laborers, approximately 3.5 million registration cards for Displaced Persons, a total of 350,000 envelopes containing questionnaires from DP camps in Germany, Austria, Italy and England, as well as ship and emigration lists.

The holdings require a certain prior knowledge, given the specific circumstances under which the ITS was founded, Bömelburg explained. Moreover, the documents have been difficult to access until now, as names were needed. ”However, the ITS is a good complement to other sources.” Bömelburg therefore hopes individual students will write a thesis, such as a final exam or a Masters, using ITS documents.

“The history of the DPs requires international expertise,” said the historian. “The camps were far-flung, documents were written in different languages and the information has to be researched at various locations.  It is a difficult field of research.” Bömelburg could imagine joint future research projects with the ITS, perhaps on the history of the Jews of Lodz, the fates of forced laborers linked with “filtration camps” in the former Soviet Union or the regional Hessian history of DP camps. “There are a number of questions which could be posed.”