History and structure
The archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen document the persecution and exploitation of millions of civilian victims of National Socialism between 1933 and 1945, as well as the fate of several million refugees in Germanyimmediately after the war.It serves the victims and their families by providing documentary evidence of what happened to them.Since November 2007, the archives have also been open to those conducting historical research.
The history of the service can be traced back to 1943, when, at the Allies’ initiative, a Tracing Bureau was opened with the British Red Cross in London. It was moved from London to Versailles, and later to Frankfurt am Main. In 1946, the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) took charge of caring for and repatriating the millions of non-German refugees from offices in the town of Arolsen (as it was then called). This small town in Northern Hesse was chosen because its infrastructure had suffered very little damage in the war and it lay near the geographic centre of the three western occupation zones.
The work of the Tracing Service is monitored by an International Commission, which comprises 11 member states (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom and the USA). It is funded by the Federal Republic of Germany from the budget of the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media. The ITS receives approximately 14 million euros a year.
On 9 December 2011, the member states signed a new Agreement on the International Tracing Service and a Partnership Agreement on Relations between the Federal Archives of the Federal Republic of Germany and the International Tracing Service. Both Agreements were (provisionally) applied since 1 January 2013, and have been formally entered into force after they were approved at national level in all eleven member states on 1 April 2016.
The new Agreement on the International Tracing Service will, on the one hand, ensure that the present work of the ITS is continued without interruption, in particular its tracing operations with respect to the victims of National Socialist persecution. At the same time, the expansion of its activities will enable the ITS to be transformed step by step into a documentation, information and research centre, to ensure that the fates of the victims and survivors of National Socialism can still be investigated and that the information gathered can be passed on to future generations.
Since these new activities do not fall within the humanitarian remit of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the original tracing services are required far less than before, the ICRC ceased to run the ITS as of the end of 2012. The Red Cross will however continue to cooperate with the ITS. The Federal Archives became the Tracing Service’s new institutional partner on 1 January 2013, and will cooperate with and advise the ITS. The Tracing Service will thus be able to draw on the expertise and long experience of the Federal Archives. The ITS has also had a new Director since the start of 2016: Floriane Hohenberg as the successor of Professor Rebecca Boehling. She was appointed by the International Commission, which had advertised the post internationally.
What links the Federal Foreign Office and the Tracing Service?
Germany’s prime representative on the International Commission, the main governing body of the ITS, is a member of the Federal Foreign Office. (The rotating chair of the Commission was also held by the Federal Foreign Office from June 2012 to June 2013.) Together with the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Federal Foreign Office takes part in the annual meetings of the International Commission and its working groups. The Federal Foreign Office is also the depositary of the new Agreement on the International Tracing Service and the Partnership Agreement. The texts of both agreements can be found on our website:
Agreements regarding the International Tracing Service signed on 9 December 2011 (not yet in force, applied provisionally since 1 January 2013)
The tasks of the International Tracing Service
In the aftermath of World War II, the prime task of the ITS was to trace survivors of Nazi persecution and their families. This humanitarian task now only accounts for a smaller but still very important part of its work, the focus of which has changed in the course of the years.
The Tracing Service’s main tasks today are:
- determining the fate of persons persecuted by the Nazi regime,
- providing information to victims and their families,
- storing, preserving and digitizing documents,
- making the archive available for research, and
- transforming the ITS into a centre for documentation, information and research.
The digitization of the archive materials is a key field of work in this connection, as it facilitates access to and dissemination of historical documents. The ITS makes documents available to archives and museums, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Israeli Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. Among these resources are documents on concentration camps and prisons, the Central Name Index, registration cards of displaced persons, i.e. people who ended up outside of their home countries after the end of the war through no choice of their own, as well as documents on forced labour.
Over the decades, the ITS has also issued numerous certificates for those seeking compensation and pension payments. The bulk of the inquiries in this context were made between 1999 and 2007, when some 950,000 former forced workers who had applied for payments from the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” approached the ITS for certificates.
The ITS collection
The archives contain some 30 million documents on persecution, forced labour and emigration from the Nazi period and the immediate post-war years. They also hold numerous documents generated in the course of the ITS’s work, such as the Central Name Index, the Child Tracing Service as well as an archive of correspondence. The Central Name Index alone contains 50 million index cards concerning the fate of more than 17.5 million people.
Facts and figures
- The archives’ original documents and the Central Name Index have been included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
- · From its foundation to the present day, the Tracing Service has answered over 12 million inquiries and created more than 3 million correspondence files.
- Each month, more than 1000 inquiries are received from researchers and from victims of the Nazi regime and their families.
- The archive contains 26 shelf kilometres of original documents from the Nazi period.
- The ITS archives include documents on well-known victims of Nazi persecution, such as Anne Frank, Eli Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt and Kurt Schumacher.
- The ITS works closely with schools on education projects and organizes exhibitions.
Visit the ITS website for more information