News / Europe

German Holocaust Archive Seeks New Lease on Life

Udo Jost of the International Tracing Service (ITS) is seen in the ITS archive in central German town of Bad Arolsen, May 10, 2006.
Udo Jost of the International Tracing Service (ITS) is seen in the ITS archive in central German town of Bad Arolsen, May 10, 2006.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— George Jaunzemis was three-and-a-half years old when, in the chaotic weeks at the end of World War II, he was separated from his mother as she fled with him from Germany to Belgium.
    
He grew up in New Zealand with no memory of his early years, unaware the Latvian woman who had emigrated with him was not his real mother.
    
Then in 2010, a letter from the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen changed his life. He discovered his real name was Peter Thomas and that he had a nephew and cousins in Germany.
    
“I was astonished, thrilled. After all this time, I was an uncle,” Jaunzemis, 71, told Reuters. “You don't know what it's like to have no family or childhood knowledge. Suddenly all the pieces fitted, now I can find my peace as a person.”

Yet it took Jaunzemis over three decades of tenacious searching to find the vast archive in this remote corner of Germany where his past was buried.

Folders containing original documents like necrologies of prisoners of the former concentration camps are seen at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in the central German town of Bad Arolsen, May 10, 2006.Folders containing original documents like necrologies of prisoners of the former concentration camps are seen at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in the central German town of Bad Arolsen, May 10, 2006.
x
Folders containing original documents like necrologies of prisoners of the former concentration camps are seen at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in the central German town of Bad Arolsen, May 10, 2006.
Folders containing original documents like necrologies of prisoners of the former concentration camps are seen at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in the central German town of Bad Arolsen, May 10, 2006.
Bad Arolsen contains 30 million documents on survivors of Nazi camps, Gestapo prisons, forced laborers and displaced persons. It rivals Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust center and the Washington Holocaust Memorial Museum in historical value.

However, many people are not even aware it exists. It was only opened to researchers in 2007 after criticism that it was being too protective of its material. Despite sitting on a mountain of original evidence, it is still struggling to get the attention academics say it deserves.
    
Last year just 2,097 people visited Bad Arolsen compared with the 900,000 who went to Yad Vashem.

Rebecca Boehling, a 57-year-old historian who arrived from the United States in January, wants to change that.

“We have a new agenda,” said Boehling, who came from the Dresher Center for the Humanities at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
    
“We're sitting on a treasure trove of documents. We want people to know what we have. Our material can change our perspective on big topics related to the war and the Holocaust.”
    
Boehling is the first archive director who is not affiliated with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which had managed Bad Arolsen since 1955 with a narrow remit to trace people.

The ICRC handed over the reins to an international commission of 11 countries in January, a step that could help unleash the full potential of the archive for academic study.

Boehling plans to hold international conferences, get foreign students to use the ITS, publish more research and host national teachers' workshops, although she doubts the 14 million euro budget from the German government will stretch that far.
    
Personal stories about victims, which the ITS can provide in abundance, are a powerful tool in educating young generations, she said. Currently, events hosted by the archive are attended only by townspeople and groups of pupils from nearby.
    
Schindler's List
    
Located next to a site where Hitler's SS officers once had barracks, Bad Arolsen was chosen for the archive after the war because of its central location between Germany's four occupation zones.
    
But now its location is a disadvantage. There are no big cities nearby and connections to Berlin and Frankfurt are slow. The town itself, on the northern edge of the state of Hesse, has a population of just 16,000.
    
The archive is housed in an inconspicuous white building containing clues to the fates of 17.5 million people.
    
The 25 kilometers of yellowing papers include typed lists of Jews, homosexuals and other persecuted groups, files on children born in the Nazi Lebensborn program to breed a master race, and registers of arrivals and departures from concentration camps.
    
It even has a carbon copy of Schindler's List, the 1,000 Jewish workers saved by German industrialist Oskar Schindler.
    
The Nazis' meticulous record-keeping stopped only when Jews and other victims were herded into gas chambers.
    
“At death camps like Sobibor or Auschwitz, only natural causes of death are recorded - heart failure or pneumonia,” said spokeswoman, Kathrin Flor. “There's no mention of gassing. The last evidence of many lives is the transport to the camp.”
    
The ITS still receives 12,000 enquiries a month and reunites up to 50 families a year, even though the number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling. This tracing work will continue.
    
Most enquiries come from Russia and Eastern Europe and Boehling welcomes the new phenomenon of grandchildren and great grandchildren, who have more emotional distance from the war, wanting to find out the fates of their relatives.
    
One major ongoing task is the digitalization of records which will make it easier for outsiders to carry out keyword searches which had previously been impossible as everything was done in-house with a filing system based on name cards.
    
Despite its remote location, Boehling says the archive won't be moved. It has become a something of a memorial for Holocaust survivors, like former Auschwitz inmate Thomas Buergenthal who visited the center in 2012 after getting new information on where his father had perished.

Buergenthal, who escaped Nazi shooting squads, Auschwitz gas chambers and a death march before he was 12, was found by his mother in a Polish orphanage in 1947 through the Red Cross.

“This is my hallowed ground,” Buergenthal, 78, told Reuters from his U.S. home.
    
“These documents are more important for the future than for the past. They will be the common heritage of mankind of what really happened during that period. [They are] what we need to prevent it happening elsewhere in the world.”

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid