CfP: Tracing and Documenting Victims of Nazi Persecution: History of the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Context

Organizers: Henning Borggräfe, Christian Höschler, Isabel Panek, Department of Research and Education at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen.

Venue: Bad Arolsen
Date: 8-9 October 2018
Deadline for Papers: 1 April 2018

In the autumn of 1948, search bureaus of various European states accepted an invitation from the recently established International Tracing Service (ITS) and came together, for the first time, in Arolsen, North Hesse, Germany. On the occasion of the anniversary of this event, the ITS will host an international academic conference looking back on more than 70 years of tracing and documenting Nazi persecution.

The conference is linked to the opening of the first permanent exhibition on the history of the ITS in spring 2019. One aim is to discuss new research findings on the institution’s history in a broader context.

The exhibition and the conference are based on three central ideas: the collections of the ITS and of related institutions give a clear idea of the dimension of Nazi atrocities and can be regarded as a special type of Gedächtnisort. The ITS alone preserves more than 30 million original documents on concentration camps, Nazi forced labor and Allied postwar registration of displaced persons. The Central Name Index, key to the archives, comprises over 50 million index cards relating (to) the fate of 17.5 million persons.

The documentary holdings and millions of correspondence files testify to the consequences of Nazi crimes which were and are manifold: the loss of relatives, the search for a new home, serious physical or mental injuries, existential problems, social support and recognition, but also continued exclusion or discrimination. Considering that the activities of the ITS and of related institutions have always been part of how Nazi crimes were and are being dealt with, their history may be used as a vehicle for analyzing this dealing with the past in a changing international and social environment.

The practices of tracing and documentation changed profoundly over time. While the active field search for missing persons had initially formed the core of ITS activities, documents soon became the focus. Over decades, the very papers which the Nazis had used to persecute people constituted the day-to-day work basis of the ITS and related institutions. They were treated or worked on in various ways, e.g. through special sorting, labelling, the creation of finding aids, or digitization. Finally, the documents were recognized as “holders” of a cultural memory – due to the integration of the ITS archive into UNESCO’s Memory of the World program. As a result, working with archival documents and regulating access to them have become fields of historical analysis in their own right.

Against this background, the conference aims to address the following questions: How did the Allies, how did aid organizations, and how did survivors’ initiatives meet the challenge of searching for missing persons and documenting Nazi persecution immediately after the end of the Second World War? How did institutional structures, logics and practices of tracing and documenting change in light of international and national political developments and discourses? How did archives, documentation centers or other offices collecting documents come into existence and evolve from 1945 onwards and which recurring priorities in terms of collecting, sorting and describing the documents have become evident in this process? How did these institutions position themselves within areas of tension, such as political mandates vs. historical documentation, a commitment to neutrality vs. solidarity with those formerly persecuted, and data protection vs. the interests of researchers and the public?

The conference is open to historians, researchers from other disciplines and practitioners from archives, documentation centers and similar institutions who deal with one or more of the above-mentioned questions, on the basis of empirical case studies. We also welcome comparative perspectives. The broader thematic frame of the papers should pertain to the history of the Second World War, the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes.

Conference languages will be English and German, simultaneous interpreting will be provided. Selected papers will be featured in an edited volume which will be published on the occasion of the opening of the ITS exhibition in spring 2019.

Interested candidates are requested to send their proposals (200-250 words), plus a short CV (50-100 words), to by 1 April 2018.

International Tracing Service website:

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