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Yad Vashem Archive

New in the Yad Vashem Archives

The International Tracing Service (ITS) and Yad Vashem

Overview

With some 125 million pages of documentation, as well as photographs, testimonies, Pages of Testimony and more, Yad Vashem’s archives comprise the largest collection of information on the Holocaust. Sources of this information include documents microfilmed by Israel in the mid-1950s at Bad Arolsen, Germany, in the central repository of the International Tracing Service (ITS).

The ITS was established by the Allies at the end of World War II to help reunite survivors with relatives and friends. The ITS gathered all the documentation possible that pertained to individuals and groups during the war – including information about Holocaust victims, the deportations, concentration camps, forced labor and displaced persons’ camps.

Due to mounting public pressure to allow easier access to the vital documentation housed at Bad Arolsen, the International Commission of the ITS recently signed a new agreement whereby scanned copies of the entire collection will be transferred to its member states, among them Israel. Part of this material duplicates what Yad Vashem already has, but it also includes new material collected in the last 50 years by the ITS as well as documents not copied at that time.

The public is welcome to come to Yad Vashem to search all of our archival material, including information we have from the ITS. Our reading room is open 08:30-17:00 Sunday-Thursday.

Click here for Information on a Victim from the Holocaust Period.

FAQS

What kind of information do Yad Vashem’s Archives currently hold?
With some 125 million pages of documentation, as well as photographs, testimonies, Pages of Testimony and more, Yad Vashem’s archives comprise the largest collection of information on the Holocaust. Sources of this information include documents microfilmed by Israel in the mid-1950s at Bad Arolsen, Germany, in the central repository of the International Tracing Service (ITS) established at the end of World War II to help reunite families “torn apart by war”.


When did Yad Vashem first acquire documents from the ITS? Why?
In charging the ITS with its enormous task to help reunite families “torn apart by war,” the Allies gathered all the documentation possible that pertained to individuals during the war – including its victims, deportations, concentration camps, forced labor and displaced persons’ camps. Since a large proportion of the ITS documentation included first-hand evidence of the fate of Jewish victims of Nazism, the Israeli government requested permission in the early 1950s to photograph the sections of the ITS collection relating to Jewish suffering during World War II. Permission was granted, and from June 1955 to November 1957 a project was run by a team of experts at Yad Vashem to microfilm some 20 million pages of documents with information about Jewish victims, as well as items of specific Jewish interest, which were then placed for permanent storage in its archives. Thus Yad Vashem became the only place in the world other than Bad Arolsen to hold copies of ITS documentation. Over the years, Yad Vashem also provided the ITS with copies of various collections in its archives.


How has Yad Vashem helped with searches for information on Holocaust victims?
Over the past half century, Yad Vashem has amassed unrivaled research and technical skills answering some 25,000 annual requests for information about Holocaust victims. As Yad Vashem held a copy of much of the ITS Holocaust-period documents, many people turned to Yad Vashem for information even if they knew the original source was in the ITS. Over the decades, experts at Yad Vashem have helped thousands of members of the public in the complicated search for information from the many sources in its vast archives, including that stored on these microfilms. Our online Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names also holds much information on Holocaust victims.


How is the ITS material now being released different from what Yad Vashem already has?
Due to mounting public pressure to allow easier access to the vital documentation housed at Bad Arolsen, the International Commission of the ITS recently signed a new agreement whereby scanned copies of the entire collection will be transferred to its 11 member states – Israel, Belgium, France Great Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, the United States, Germany, Greece and Poland – over the next three years. Israel’s representative to receive the documentation remains Yad Vashem; the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is the repository in the US; and in Poland, the IPN (Institute of National Memory) received the documents. Part of this material duplicates what Yad Vashem already has, but it also includes new material collected in the last 50 years by the ITS as well as documents not copied at that time.


What is the Central Names Index?
Among the ITS documents microfilmed by Yad Vashem in the 1950s were the reference cards that made up the so-called “Central Names Index” (CNI – previously known as the “Master Index”), one card for every appearance of a person on any original document in the ITS. Over the years the number of these cards increased, and Yad Vashem has received the complete collection – over 50 million cards. The cards provide a concise version of the essential facts as understood from the ITS documentation, and thus allow Yad Vashem to convey to members of the public at least an outline of the fate of many individual Holocaust victims. In some cases the original documents that the CNI cards were based on had been microfilmed in the 1950s and are thus also available at Yad Vashem.

Among the new material Yad Vashem received from the ITS is an updated scanned and partially indexed version of the CNI. It is important to note that until Yad Vashem receives a full copy of all ITS material (expected by 2010) there will still be instances, mostly in cases of post-war documentation, where the original document a CNI card refers to will not be available at Yad Vashem.


How has Yad Vashem prepared for this new influx of material?
Even before all 11 member states had ratified the treaty, expert staff in the Yad Vashem archives began the groundwork to prepare for the transfer of the material, including working with ITS staff to understand the systems and expertise required to ensure that members of the public receive the information they request in a timely and efficient manner. In August 2007, the first portion of digital material from the ITS arrived at Yad Vashem. The documents primarily include material describing concentration camp prisoners: personal records of various prisoners in the Nazi camps, as well as lists prepared within the camps themselves, including transfer records, personal prisoner accounts, and details of the sick and the dead.

Yad Vashem is currently using its decades of expertise to assess these documents and discover which material supplements or complements what it already received from the ITS five decades ago, and to make the information in the digitized documents available in the most efficient way possible. Staff at Yad Vashem was bolstered to attend to the influx of queries, so that it can continue to respond to each public enquiry with as comprehensive an answer as possible, using the different sources in its archives.


How can the ITS information help in Names Recovery?
Yad Vashem continues its mission to memorialize each individual Jew who perished in the Holocaust by recording their names, biographical details and photographs on Pages of Testimony. To date some 3.6 million names are digitized and documented in the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, but millions are still unknown. Archival experts at Yad Vashem are working to glean more names from the wealth of information contained in the ITS documents.

While the addition of the ITS information to Yad Vashem’s archives will create an unrivaled Holocaust repository, many victims who were never listed in any archival source will remain unnamed, unless those who remember them submit Pages of Testimony on their behalf. Yad Vashem therefore continues to call for the submission of these unique personal testimonies, which serve as an invaluable resource for commemorating and restoring the individual identities of the victims of the Holocaust.


How can members of the public search for information at Yad Vashem?
As has always been the case, the public is welcome to come to Yad Vashem to search all of our archival material, including information we have from the ITS. Click here for Yad Vashem’s Reference and Information Services.