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Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the constituent assembly of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service on 16 January 2013 in Berlin

16.01.2013 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Excellencies,
Ms Beerli,
Dr Hollmann,
Professor Boehling,
Ladies and gentlemen,

For the International Tracing Service, 1 January 2013 represents a turning point. The International Committee of the Red Cross is stepping down from its leadership function. The Federal Archives are now an institutional partner. The ITS is also taking on an additional responsibility. Step by step, it will be transformed into a centre for documentation, information and research.

For us in Germany this is an expression of trust, above all. Germany is to be given more responsibility in dealing with its National Socialist past.

We will live up to this responsibility. We are aware of the significance and uniqueness of this collection. Thirty million documents bear witness to persecution, forced labour and emigration in the National Socialist period and the period immediately following the war. There are 26 kilometres of files. Fifty million cards contain information on the fate of almost 18 million people.

Every record is linked to a human story. Take, for example, the story of George Jaunzemis. He became separated from his biological parents in the confusion of the war. He grew up in New Zealand without knowing who he really was. Uncertainty about his background was a source of suffering for him until he turned to the ITS in 2009. With its help, he found out that he was born Peter Thomas in Magdeburg in 1941. Two years later, he met his relatives still living in Germany. After six decades, the ITS was able to help him finally find his own identity. It is still very important that the ITS helps to clarify the fate of victims of the National Socialist regime.

In the Two plus Four Treaty, Germany committed itself to ensuring that the work of the ITS would continue, and Germany will remain active in the future. The relevance of the ITS in the past and still today is underlined by the 1000 information requests it receives every month. Germany is aware of its historical and moral responsibility, both now and for the future.

The work of the ITS is important to Germany. In spite of significant cuts in many areas of the federal budget, ITS funding will remain at its high level for the coming years.

Today, the ITS is an institution that enjoys respect worldwide. This is due, above all, to the indefatigable efforts and decades-long support of the ICRC. However it is also due to the political support of our friends, the member states of the International Commission. Let me thank you most sincerely for this on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany.

In an era when fewer and fewer people can tell first-hand about the Holocaust and terror of the National Socialist regime, the archive in Arolsen becomes increasingly important. The very detailed material, the documents and the objects, protects us against forgetting.

The Federal Archives will in future work with the International Tracing Service as an institutional partner. I wish the Federal Archives every success in this vitally important advisory and support function. I also wish the new Director of the International Tracing Service, Professor Rebecca Boehling, all the best for her new important responsibilities.

Rest assured that the Federal Government will support the International Tracing Service to the best of its abilities, also in the future. It will be Germany’s role now to take responsibility for the archive and to keep the files open.

I wish you all the best for your constituent assembly.

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