Freie Universität Berlin and ITS collaborate on online forced labour archive
The Freie Universität Berlin and the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen are collaborating on the development of the digital archive “Forced labour from 1939–1945. Memory and history”. “We hope to gain valuable information on the fate of forced labourers during the National Socialist regime from the comprehensive archive at ITS,” said Professor Dr Nicolas Apostolopoulos, Project Manager at the Centre for Digital Systems (CeDiS), which is carrying out the online project in cooperation with the Institute for Eastern European Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin.
The digital archive “Forced labour from 1939–1945” preserves the memory of over twelve million forced labourers in Nazi Germany. In 393 audio and 190 video interviews, 590 eye-witnesses from 26 different countries tell their life stories. Transcripts, short biographies and other documents such as photographs supplement the archive. The project is a collaborative effort between the foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft), the Freie Universität Berlin and the German Historical Museum in Berlin. Since January 2009, the interviews and other materials have been accessible for educational and academic purposes at the online platform www.zwangsarbeit-archiv.de.
Within the scope of this cooperative project, ITS will now primarily be able to supply biographical data about the periods and locations of the forced labourers. Aside from this, ITS can provide original documents in digitised form, thus facilitating the development of the collection’s inventory. “The documents testify to the monstrous dimension of forced labour, and also provide very specific information on the workers’ living conditions and their occupation in certain regions or with individual employers,” explained ITS chief archivist Udo Jost. Forced labourers were deployed in all areas of economic life from mining, industry and farming, to administration and small trade.
The International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen is one of the world’s largest Nazi archives. It documents the fate of millions of civilian victims of the National Socialist regime. All together, more than 6.7 million documents on the subject of forced labour alone are stored at the ITS archive. Among other things, these files include employment records, patients’ files and insurance documents, as well as statements from authorities, health insurance agencies and employers. “It would please us if we can manage to underpin the significance of the interviews in the online archive with the help of our documentation. The stories and descriptions these witnesses have provided are a living commemoration to a murderous system of exploitation and ostracism,” added Jost.
For the Freie Universität Berlin, this is the first such collaborative project carried out with ITS, said Professor Apostolopoulos. “We expect more will follow.” Professor Gertrud Pickhan, Research Director of the project at the Institute for Eastern European Studies at the Freie Universität, is also hoping that a research network devoted to the history of forced labour in national socialism is established in the future.“
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