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May 2003 Journal

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Still revealing Nazi victims’ fates: Germany’s International Tracing Service

The International Tracing Service (ITS) at Arolsen in Germany has existed since 1948. Its primary aim is to gather information concerning people affected by the Second World War, whether incarcerated, lost, persecuted or displaced. Nonetheless, documents relating to both before and after the war have been recovered, enabling persecutees and their families to piece together scattered histories.

Today, the records at Arolsen are used extensively to reveal the times and places of persecutees’ incarceration, in many instances providing the evidence required to substantiate and expedite indemnification claims. On a recent visit to Arolsen, Michael Newman, who heads the Central Office for Holocaust Claims, was shown the example of prisoners at the Neuengamme concentration camp: obscure records can be used as proof of these victims’ internment and possibly entitle their heirs to a compensation award.

Researching the fate of members of his own family at the hands of the Nazis, Michael discovered the date on which his great-grandfather was deported from Cologne to Buchenwald as well as a list of personal possessions he took with him. A further inspection of the files showed his cause of death as tuberculosis and heart failure - invariably a euphemism for murder.

Due to the large degree of human error in translation, the ITS has categorised many of the documents phonetically. For instance, the common surname Schwartz has over 150 spelling variations: a surname could be Svartz, but actually listed under Chivarsch. By utilising phonetically classified records, the ITS can cover many historical alternatives, from name changes to mistranslated records.

Many of the documents are crumbling into history. For the ITS to remain an archival and historical service, the task of preservation needs to be carried out with great skill. From the restoration of bound books to the meticulous task of paper-splitting, ITS experts use state-of-the-art techniques. Although there are over 47 million documents containing references to over 17 million people, the preservation process is making large gains. Equally, the ITS is protecting the remaining evidence of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. Responding to claims remains a top priority. In 2001 ITS managed to send responses to over 400,000 people.

The ITS can be contacted at Grosse Allee 5-9, D-34444 Bad Arolsen, Germany. For information on how to use their services, please contact the Central Office for Holocaust Claims at the AJR offices.
Michael Newman and Sam Holder

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