By working to make the ITS files at Bad Arolsen public, Paul Shapiro is midwife to history.

Jeanette Friedman

Holocaust survivors and their descendants went to Washington in October 2007 to learn about the International Tracing Service (ITS), a long-closed archive housed in Bad Arolsen, Germany, that is finally being made available to Holocaust survivors, their families and researchers. Since 1945, Holocaust documentation has been gathered from around the world and stored at ITS, which is overseen today by an 11-nation governing board—the ITS International Commission. Placed under the aegis of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1955, the files include Nazi war records and displaced persons camp records that contain information on the fates of at least 17 million people victimized or displaced by the Nazis. The records have been tapped to implement postwar restitution and forced labor compensation settlements between survivors and the governments of perpetrator states, but the full extent of the archives was never made public.

For decades, survivors and their descendants requested information from the ITS in order to determine what happened to family members during the war. They often waited years for a response and when they did receive something, in many instances the information was incorrect or incomplete. Survivors were left wondering if they had been told the whole story, and had no way to find out. The backlog of inquiries grew until by 2001/2002 there were over 400,000 of them. All attempts to gain direct access to the files were rebuffed. Protests grew, and with restitution and reparation application deadlines running out, with survivors dying in ever increasing numbers, access to the files became critical.