Yesterday evening I had the great pleasure of being at an event to mark the handing over to the Wiener Library of a digital copy of the International Tracing Service (ITS) Records to the Wiener Library in London.
This is one of the most important developments in the field of Holocaust research in the UK, as it brings to the UK the records of 17 million people directly affected by the Holocaust. The event took place at the Foreign Office in the Locarno Room, with the Foreign Secretary William Hague giving an address to the audience about the importance of the records and also about the importance of remembering the Holocaust and its long-term effect. The records will not be available immediately, as they have to be set up on the Wiener Library IT system and also a Researcher has to work on them to develop the search process. It is expected to take 3-4 months to have them ready. The initial funding for this work has been secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund but more funding is needed for ongoing running of the archive.
For those that are not aware of the ITS records, sometimes called the Bad Arolsen records after the location in Germany where they are kept, they are a collection of 30 million pages of information on the victims of Nazi persecution. The records are not only about Jewish victims but also Gypsy victims, Forced Labour workers, Displaced People of many different nationalities and religions. The records were brought together after World War II at the ex-concentration camp in Bad Arolsen by the Allied Forces. They contain original documents from the Nazis about individuals that were deported to camps and ghettos, killed or put into forced labour. Also they contain details of how the Nazis organised the processes and ran the camps. There are also records taken after the war of displaced people and their stories. As a tracing service, ITS was run to help people find out what had happened to relatives and to try and reconnect families that had been separated by the war. These included the many children who had no knowledge of their families and who were called the “Unaccompanied Children” in the hope that one day company would be found for them. For more information see the ITS website at www.its-arolsen.org/en/homepage/index.html. ITS became fully open to the public in 2007, which is when a committee was set up by Anne Webber of the Looted Art Commission to bring a digital copy of the archive to the UK. The Stakeholder Committee, comprising many UK Holocaust bodies, the Association of Jewish Refugees, The Wiener Library, Holocaust Education bodies, academics and also JGSGB (represented by Jeanette Rosenberg), worked to ensure that the archive came to the UK.
The handover event included first hand accounts from Holocaust survivors about their experiences and also about how the ITS records had helped them discover the fate of their family. Eugene Black from Leeds, told of seeing the records of his time in four camps for the first time in 2008 and also the papers about how his two sisters had died while in Forced Labour during an allied bombing raid. His granddaughter spoke about how ITS was so important to the family to understand what had happened to the family.
The importance of these records for Holocaust Survivors, their children and other descendants cannot be underestimated nor can the significance for academic research of the Holocaust. It is also an enormous educational resource. As it was said several times during the evening, the very existence of the millions of pages is testimony to the fact that the Holocaust happened.
So, finally the money question. Are you, the reader of this blog, able to put your hand in your pocket to help sustain the ITS Records in the UK?
If you are, you should contact the Wiener Library directly at 29 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DP. Tel: +44 (0) 20 7636 7247, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7436 6428. E-mail form: www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/contactus.aspx