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Initiative for returning personal belongings

The International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen today published an online list of personal belongings still remaining in the archives from concentration camps. „It is our aim to return as many effects as possible to the survivors of Nazi persecution and their relatives“, says Jean-Luc Blondel, director of the ITS. The ITS archives currently still hold ca. 2,900 items whose owners are known by name. Most of them come from the concentration camps Neuengamme and Dachau. Thanks to a comprehensive research project, 476 effects could now be correlated with the names of former detainees for the very first time.

Today’s publication of a list of the personal effects on the ITS website at www.its-arolsen.org is designed to simplify the contacting and return. Striving to hand back the personal belongings, the ITS relies on the support provided by both, survivors or family members and partner organizations, victims’ associations, memorial centres, researchers and journalists. “This is because we are often unable to tell which countries the families live in today,” Blondel explains.

Most of the personal belongings come from the concentration camps Neuengamme (2,400) und Dachau (330). Besides this they also include items which belonged to a small number of prisoners from the Gestapo Hamburg (50) or the Natzweiler and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, as well as the Amersfoort and Compiègne transit camps. The items in question are personal belongings taken from concentration camp inmates upon their arrival. Most of all they include wallets, identification papers, photographs and letters. Money and valuables had been confiscated by the National Socialists at the time. “The personal items have little material value, but a high sentimental value,” says Blondel. “In our opinion the mementoes are in the best hands with the families“.

At the end of 2009, the ITS started an extensive project for reviewing 900 items from the Neuengamme concentration camp that had heretofore been declared untraceable. In 476 cases the owners could be identified for the very first time, primarily by prisoner numbers. But letters, invoices or sick notes also served as a basis for identification. The ITS archives still hold a sum total of ca. 3,400 items. They were placed in the care of the tracing service in 1963 via the Stadthagen Administration Office for Internal Restitution and the Bavarian State Compensation Authority in Munich. „Tracing the items to specific groups of prisoners turns out to be difficult“, explains Dr. Susanne Urban, head of the research department at ITS. „They only include Jewish prisoners or Sinti and Roma by way of exception. Whereas there is a particularly large number of victims of political persecution.” The majority of the former owners came from Eastern Europe.