Oct 2013 Journal
International Tracing Service Archive now available for family research at the Wiener Library
The British Government has asked the Wiener Library to make available to the public the UK’s digital copy of the International Tracing Service (ITS) Archive, which provides access to documents that can help determine the fate of individuals during and after the Second World War. After months of preparation, the Wiener Library is now ready to assist those looking to do family research.
During the Second World War, millions suffered from deportation, incarceration and displacement due to the actions of the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The British Red Cross began to trace missing persons in 1943. The ITS Archive grew out of these and other efforts by the Allies and humanitarian organisations to reunite families in the aftermath of the war.
The ITS Archive is stored in Bad Arolsen, Germany, where post-war tracing efforts merged, and holds over 100 million pages of documentation on the fates of 17.5 million people during and immediately after the war. The collection contains documents gathered by Allied forces as they swept through Europe, liberating concentration camps, forced labour camps and other incarceration sites. Researchers can also find records from displaced persons camps as well as documentation on emigration. Finally, the Archive records efforts of the ITS and other institutions to trace individuals, including children, in the post-war era.
In December 2011, following discussions with a group of stakeholder organisations, including the AJR, the British Government deposited the UK’s digital copy of the ITS Archive at the Wiener Library. AJR member Eugene Black spoke at the event held to mark this occasion about his experience obtaining from the ITS in Bad Arolsen records which documented his deportation from Hungary to camps in Germany and his liberation at Bergen-Belsen. For decades, Mr Black thought his sisters had been gassed in Auschwitz. However, the ITS documents revealed that they had been killed in an Allied bombing attack on a factory near Buchenwald, where they had been forced to work after being deported from Auschwitz. The Wiener Library’s digital copy of the ITS Archive may allow family researchers to discover similar stories.
With support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Heritage Lottery Fund and private donors, the Wiener Library is now able to process requests for research of individual fates during and after the war. Readers should note that requests for humanitarian use of the archives may often be better carried out through the expertise of the ITS’s staff at its headquarters in Bad Arolsen. In the autumn, the Library will also provide a work station for those who wish to use the Archive for academic research.
Priority will be given to Holocaust survivors and their families but all are welcome to submit enquiries for research assistance. Despite the Archive’s massive size not every victim of persecution appears in the documentation. Further, due to the complexity of the Archive, the number and type of available documentation for each enquiry varies significantly and may take many weeks to retrieve.
Before submitting a query, it is helpful to gather as much information as possible, including full names and name variants, date of birth (even if approximate) and any information, however speculative, about the person’s whereabouts during or after the war. Queries should be submitted via www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/International-Tracing-Service
(Dr) Christine Schmidt