This guest post was written by Dr Christine Schmidt of the Wiener Library about their International Tracing Service Digital Collection. The Wiener Library attended History Day 2015 and you may have seen them there!
As the International Tracing Service Archive Researcher at the Wiener Library and a historian, I have the privilege of guiding scholars, students and members of the public in navigating the vast and complex digital archive of the International Tracing Service (ITS). The collections of the ITS constitute over 100 million pages of Holocaust-era documentation related to the fates of over 17.5 million people who were subject to incarceration, forced labour and displacement during and after World War II. Opened for research only in 2007, the collection is a relatively recent addition to the growing reservoir of declassified sources now available to historians examining this period and its aftermath.
Located in Bad Arolsen, Germany, the ITS grew out of post-war efforts to trace and reunite families torn apart by the war. The digital ITS archive includes Nazi-created and other wartime documentation that was repurposed for tracing after the war, as well as millions of pages on displaced persons, relief and rehabilitation, and emigration. Tracing the fate of one individual within the digital archive enables us to witness through a multitude of documents the far-reaching and persistent impact of the war.
Among the most rewarding and important tasks I have is helping Holocaust survivors, their families and descendants in recovering documentation from the archive about the fate of family members. For one enquirer, who had been separated from his father as a child in 1944, finding the last documentary remnant of his father’s whereabouts on a death march from a concentration camp the following year enabled him to narrow down the geographic location of where his father had likely perished. The document we found was not only a significant historical source, but also a profound and irreplaceable connection to the enquirer’s personal history.
The Wiener Library is the only access point in the UK to the ITS digital collection. Since we launched the digital copy in late 2013, we have received more than 500 requests for information, most of which have focused on tracing individual fates of Holocaust victims but include many academic research enquiries as well. We invite those who are interested in using the archive for historical and other academic research to use one of the work stations in our Reading Room on an appointment-only basis.
For more on the ITS collection and to make an appointment for an induction to the ITS digital archive, visit this link.