- Nazi Persecution and Postwar Repercussions: The International Tracing Service Archive and Holocaust Research by Suzanne Brown-Fleming
For decades the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Germany kept its collections closed to outside researchers. Obtaining information from the collection was a time-consuming and laborious process, and the research was carried out by ITS staff. Since the common perception was that its core consisted of lists of names collected after the war to help families trace loved ones, the fact that it was restricted was not a major concern for scholars. But for aging Holocaust survivors, [End Page 492] their relatives, and the relatives of victims seeking answers or documentation, delay could be devastating. Therefore, for more than a decade a push to open the ITS, spearheaded most notably by Paul Shapiro, Director of the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), proceeded. Finally, after this long struggle, the ITS archive opened to the public in 2007.
Shapiro and his colleagues gradually discovered that the ITS archive contains far, far more than cards. Rather, it includes a staggering number of documents (on the order of 200 million pages) related to the Holocaust, which makes it the largest existing Holocaust archive today. Thus, as the need for tracing information inevitably ebbs, the challenge now will be how to advance use of this vast collection for other meaningful purposes. As a prime mover behind the opening of the ITS and one of the repositories of its digitized version (scanned copies of much, but not yet all of its holdings), the USHMM wants to encourage scholars to access this resource for Holocaust scholarship.
Suzanne Brown-Fleming, director of the Visiting Scholars Program at the Mandel Center, takes up this cause in her new book, the latest addition to the USHMM’s series “Documenting Life and Destruction: Holocaust Sources in Context.” Like the other volumes in this collection, this one is not a monograph. Rather, it offers an illustrated, annotated, hands-on guide “to demystify the ITS holdings and make the contents of its archives more accessible” (p. 3).
Aside from a brief overview, Brown-Fleming leaves aside the history of the ITS, moving on to the archive’s use today. The author recognizes that many potential users still labor under the misperception that the ITS largely contains tracing cards. Thus, she first describes the holdings in Subunits One through Six (the series and subsets that have been digitized), which clearly dispel that myth. She goes beyond mere description. For example, discussing Subunit Three (Registration and Files of Displaced Persons, Children, and Missing Individuals), she notes the waves of DP migration, and teases out the composition of the first and second of them. Subunit Three, she informs us, also includes 350,000 envelopes containing compulsory questionnaires in which DPs demonstrated their eligibility for International Refugee Organization (IRO) assistance, but cautions researchers to understand how the DPs’ contexts may have shaped their responses (p. 17). Under Subunit Six (Records of the ITS and its predecessors) Brown-Fleming suggests several possibilities for using this material, such as the study of Holocaust memory, or processing requests in light of changing postwar circumstances. The author continually turns to the documents themselves.
At the conclusion of chapter one, Brown-Fleming reproduces twelve documents emblematic of the subunits, highlighting the range of the materials and their potential for research. These include a Dachau Registration Office card for a Jewish prisoner; a memorandum to Lebensborn (the Nazi program to raise the “Aryan” [End Page 493] birth rate) personnel signed by Himmler; a drawing of the grave of a French POW; a statement by an eyewitness of a death march through a German town; and a DP identity card for Ivan Demanjuk.
Chapters two through five each address one or more case studies based on content from Subunits One through Six. Here Brown-Fleming develops each example with material from...