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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.