Although Displaced Persons (DPs) made crucial contributions to the organization and operation of the International Tracing Service in its early years, their work in the ITS has not been analyzed in any depth. Playing the dual role of archivists who handled the files and subjects whose stories were collected in the files, they were instrumental both in the ITS’s mission of tracing the fate of the victims of Nazi persecution and in the creation of a community within the ITS where Displaced Persons could find a safe place of healing. Using archival sources and oral interviews to recover the stories of the DPs in Bad Arolsen not only changes our narrative about Displaced Persons after the Second World War but also reconstructs the ITS as an archive of feeling, in Ann Cvetkovich’s terminology. Understanding the importance of their work and continuing DPs’ efforts to be responsive to the “pain of others” make possible active, multidirectional memory practices that not only look to the past but also to the politics of the now.
After the Second World War, millions of persons were missing, with relatives, friends and the governments of their home countries searching for them. Knowledge about the crimes committed by the Nazis was still fragmentary. Against this background, a new type of archive emerged that broke with established archival principles: collections archives were created for specific purposes in the period following 1945 - the search for victims and survivors of Nazi persecution, the criminal prosecution of perpetrators or remembrance of the crimes which were committed. This paper uses the history of the Arolsen Archives to examine two issues which, while being relevant to archives in general, were and are particularly important for collections archives. The first of these issues is the collection and organization of documents. The second issue concerns independent research and questions of access to the holdings of collections archives. The intention of this chapter is not only to help readers understand the history of the Arolsen Archives and the structure and usability of their collections, but also to begin to identify the peculiarities and challenges which are particular to this new type of collections archives.
This chapter aims mainly to provide an overview of the early history of the search for victims of Nazi persecution from 1944 to the early 1950s (though an outlook regarding later developments will also be provided). At the core of this increasingly centralized process was the creation of the International Tracing Service (ITS) - later to become the Arolsen Archives - by the Allies. The focus will be on the organizational framework of tracing and documenting based on historical precedents while also looking at the use of different methods that were devised by the Allies for the sake of clarifying individual fates of Nazi victims during this time. These have, to date, received little attention from historians.
JDC HQ and local offices worked unstintingly to rescue and provide relief for Jews fleeing Nazi Europe. The organization’s prior experience and relationships with local communities and international and local agencies were advantages that helped JDC galvanize aid where possible. Prior family tracing and search activities laid the groundwork for its extensive networking efforts in the Second World War era with US relatives of refugees in Europe who required assistance and survivors searching for their families. These efforts helped reunite families. JDC and Central Location Index staff pursued family search with expertise, empathy, and a sense of personal and communal mission, collaborating with the IRC and UNRRA. Discussions beginning in 1947 about establishing a centralized International Tracing Service made CLI and JDC leaders uneasy. Would a more distant and standardized ITS have the necessary knowledge, expertise, and sense of urgency? Nevertheless, JDC leaders cooperated with efforts to establish the IRO International Tracing Service. Beginning in August 1948, JDC began closing its tracing bureaus and transferring records to the ITS. In May 1949, the CLI ceased operations.
Historical remembrance in Germany after the Second World War has had its own traditions and developments. The focus has mainly been on the time of the Nazi terror regime, and - to a lesser extent - the SED dictatorship of the GDR. Archives, particularly the Federal Archives as an institution at the national level, continue to play an important role in the context of this remembrance. In this chapter, following a short contextualization with regard to the political framework of remembrance, the different “activities” of the Federal Archives in terms of dealing with the Nazi past are presented, as are the experiences gained throughout this process. In doing so, it is important to differ between activities resulting from the legal obligations of the Federal Archives on the one hand, and those that, strictly speaking, would not have necessarily had to be taken up by the Federal Archives on the other hand. Finally, the self-image of the Federal Archives as an active part of current politics of remembrance will be discussed.
The more international influence there was on and within the ITS, the more likely the ITS and its staff were to manifest and reflect a transnational culture of memory of and for an increasingly broadly defined group of victims. This was true early on due to its very international staff; however, with growing Cold War constraints and priorities and an increasing reliance on regional German staff under International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) management, the identity and volume of those served by the ITS narrowed. Only as a result of renewed international pressure following the end of the Cold War were ITS records opened to the public, with copies of the original documents made available to survivors and their families. The ITS changed its practices from using and considering ITS documents exclusively as a means to trace the fate and/or whereabouts of individuals persecuted and/or displaced by the crimes and aggression of the Nazi regime because of a growing understanding by the international community that these documents constituted an end in themselves. This change coincided with the International Commission for the ITS and its affiliated member state archives playing an increasingly pro-active supervisory role over the ITS. This, in turn, encouraged the ITS to conceive of and reconstitute itself as an archive, serving globally both victims and their descendants as well as scholars and journalists for historical research and documentation purposes.