International Tracing Service

International Tracing Service

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The International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen
Bad Arolsen
Bad Arolsen is a small town in northern Hesse, Germany, in Waldeck-Frankenberg district. From 1655 until 1918 it served as the residence town of the Princes of Waldeck-Pyrmont and then until 1929 as the capital of the Waldeck Free State...

, Germany, is the internationally governed archive whose task it is to document the fate of millions of civilian victims of Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

. The documents in the ITS archives include original records from concentration camps, details of forced labour, and files on displaced persons. ITS preserves the original documents and clarifies the fate of those persecuted by the Nazis. Since November 2007, the archives are accessible for researchers.

ITS was founded in 1943 as an organization dedicated to finding missing persons, typically lost to family and friends as a result of war or political unrest during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The service operates under the legal authority of the Bonn Agreement, is under the administrative umbrella of the International Committee of the Red Cross
International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross is a private humanitarian institution based in Geneva, Switzerland. States parties to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005, have given the ICRC a mandate to protect the victims of international and...

 and is funded by the government of Germany.


In 1943, the international section of the British Red Cross
British Red Cross
The British Red Cross Society is the United Kingdom branch of the worldwide impartial humanitarian organisation the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The society was formed in 1870, and is a registered charity with over 31,000 volunteers and 2,600 staff. At the heart of their work...

 was asked by the Headquarters of the Allied Forces to set up a registration and tracing service for missing persons. The organization was formalized under the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces and named the Central Tracing Bureau on February 15, 1944. As the war unfolded, the bureau was moved from London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 to Versailles
Versailles , a city renowned for its château, the Palace of Versailles, was the de facto capital of the kingdom of France for over a century, from 1682 to 1789. It is now a wealthy suburb of Paris and remains an important administrative and judicial centre...

, then to Frankfurt am Main, and finally to Bad Arolsen, which was considered a central location among the areas of Allied occupation.

On July 1, 1947, the International Refugee Organization
International Refugee Organization
The International Refugee Organization was founded on April 20, 1946 to deal with the massive refugee problem created by World War II. A Preparatory Commission began operations fourteen months previously. It was a United Nations specialized agency and took over many of the functions of the earlier...

 took over administration of the bureau, and on January 1, 1948 the name was changed to its current International Tracing Service. In April 1951, administrative responsibilities for the service were placed under the Allied High Commission for Germany. When the status of occupation of Germany was repealed in 1954, the service found its current home with the ICRC
International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross is a private humanitarian institution based in Geneva, Switzerland. States parties to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005, have given the ICRC a mandate to protect the victims of international and...


After some discussion, in 1990 the Federal Republic of Germany renewed its continuing commitment to funding the operations of the ITS. The documents in the ITS archives were opened to public access on November 28, 2007.


The organization is governed by an International Commission with representatives from Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Luxembourg
Luxembourg , officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , is a landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. It has two principal regions: the Oesling in the North as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland in the south...

, Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. The Commission draws up the guidelines for the work to be carried out by the ITS and monitors these in the interests of the former victims of persecution. The Bonn Agreement of 1955 (which stated that no data that could harm the former Nazi victims or their families should be published) and their amendment protocols dating from 2006 provide the legal foundation of the International Tracing Service. The daily operations are managed by a director appointed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who must be a Swiss
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 citizen. There are about 300 staff employed by the ITS.

In May 2008, the International Commission started a debate on the future structure and administration of the ITS. The discussion became necessary because the ICRC announced his withdrawal from the management and administration of the ITS by December 2012. The Commission has envisaged the German Federal Archive (Bundesarchiv) as new institutional partner. The mandate of the ITS will formally be extended by cataloguing, historical research, education and remembrance. The international character of the institution shall be preserved in the future.


ITS’s total inventory comprises 26,000 linear metres of original documents from the Nazi era and post-war period, 232,710 meters of microfilm and more than 106,870 microfiches. Work is underway to digitize the files, both for purposes of easier search and for preserving the historical record.

The inventory is split up into three main areas: incarceration, forced labour and displaced persons. The variety of documents is enormous. They include list material and individual documents, such as registration cards, transport lists, records of deaths, questionnaires, labour passports, health insurance and social insurance documents. Among the documents are also examples of prominent victims of Nazi persecution, i.e. Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, as well as Schindler’s
Oskar Schindler
Oskar Schindler was an ethnic German industrialist born in Moravia. He is credited with saving over 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories, which were located in what is now Poland and the Czech Republic respectively.He is the subject of the...

 original list.

In addition to this there are smaller sections associated with the work of a tracing service: the alphabetical-phonetic Central Name Index, the child search archives and the correspondence files. The Central Name Index represents the key to the documents. With 50 million references on the fate of over 17.5 million people, it is based on an alphabetic-phonetic filing system
Filing system
Filing system may refer to:*Filing cabinet, a piece of office furniture*File system, a method of storing and organizing computer files and their data...

 that was developed especially for ITS.

After the end of the Second World War the main task of the ITS was initially to conduct a search for the survivors of Nazi persecution and their family-members. Now this accounts for no more than about three percent of its work, which is why the name of the organisation is no longer really up-to-date. However, a large number of new obligations have been taken on over the course of the decades.

These include certification of the forms persecution took, confirmation for pension and compensation payments, allowing victims and their family members to inspect copies of the original documents and enabling the following generations to find out what happened to their forebears. The service has responded to 11,8 million requests since the 1940s. In 2010, the number of humanitarian requests to the International Tracing Service remained relatively stable at just 855 requests per month. Overall, in 2010, the ITS received 10,265 requests from victims of the National Socialist regime or from families regarding the fate of 16,689 persons.

During the compensation phase of Eastern European forced labourers through the “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” Foundation between 2000 and 2007, around 950,000 enquiries were sent to the Tracing Service. As a result of this flood of enquiries, the ITS was tremendously over-extended. Consequently, this created a gigantic backlog, which temporarily did considerable damage to the standing of the institution. Especially enquiries, which had no direct bearing on the foundation, remained unprocessed. In 2008, the ITS was able to completely reduce the remaining backlog of enquiries.

On 28 November 2007 the ITS archives were made broadly available to the general public The ITS records may be consulted in person, or by mail, telephone, fax or e-mail; addresses and contact numbers are available on the ITS website The mailing address is:
International Tracing Service (ITS)
Große Allee 5 - 9
34454 Bad Arolsen

Making the inventory researchable for all historical issues is an urgent responsibilities after opening the archives. To date, the arrangement of the documents having been collected over a period of six decades was subject to the requirements of a tracing service, which brought families together and clarified the fates of individuals. The Central Name Index was the key to the documents, while the documents were arranged according to victim groups. This principle no longer is sufficient, since historians ask not only for names, but also for topics, events, locations or nationalities. The goal is to compile finding aids that can be accessed and published online and are based on international archival standards.

In 2010, the International Tracing Service took important steps to describe its archival holdings. The first series of four inventories could be published on the Internet (for the time being in the German language only). The documents were indexed according to their origin and content. Altogether nearly 3,000 archive units from ITS’s inventory have been catalogued. This corresponds to roughly five percent of the archive’s entire stock. In view of the volume of the documents to be described, this process will take some years’ time.


The ITS has been criticized in recent years for refusing to open its archives to the public. The ITS, backed by the German government, have cited German archival law to support their position. The laws mandate a 100-year-gap between releasing records in order to protect privacy. However, their critics argue that the ITS was created by the ICRC and remains under its authority, and as such is not subject to German law. One accusation raised against Germany and the ITS by critics is that they continue to keep the archive closed out of a desire to repress information about the Holocaust.

Critics cite the fact that all eleven governments sitting on the International Commission of the ITS endorsed the Stockholm International Forum Declaration of January 2000, which included a call for the opening of various Holocaust-era archives. However, since the Declaration was made, there has been little practical change in the operations of the ITS, despite repeated negotiations between the ITS, ICRC, and various Jewish and Holocaust survivor advocacy groups. A critical press release from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the United States' official memorial to the Holocaust. Adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the USHMM provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history...

 written in March 2006 charged that "'In practice, however, the ITS and the ICRC have consistently refused to cooperate with the International Commission board and have kept the archive closed.'" In early 2006, several newspaper articles also raised questions about the quality of the ITS' management and the underlying reasons for the existing backlog.

In May 2006, the International Commission for the ITS decided to open the archives and documents for researchers use, and to transfer, upon request, one copy of the ITS archives and documents to each one of its member states. This took place once all 11 countries ratified the new ITS Protocol. On November, 28th, 2007 it was announced that Greece, as the last of the member countries, filed its ratification papers with the German Foreign Ministry. It has now been announced that the documents in the archive are open to public access.

Copies made available

The International Commission at its May 2007 meeting approved the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s proposal to permit advance distribution of the material, as it is digitized, to the designated repository institutions prior to the completion of the agreement ratification process officially opening the material. In August 2007, the USHMM received the first installment of records and in November 2007, received the Central Name Index. Materials will continue to be received as they are digitized.

One Institution is designated for each of the 11 countries to receive a copy of the archive. The following locations have been designated by their country.
  • United States - United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the United States' official memorial to the Holocaust. Adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the USHMM provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history...

  • Israel - Yad Vashem
    Yad Vashem
    Yad Vashem is Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, established in 1953 through the Yad Vashem Law passed by the Knesset, Israel's parliament....

  • Poland - Institute of National Remembrance
    Institute of National Remembrance
    Institute of National Remembrance — Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation is a Polish government-affiliated research institute with lustration prerogatives and prosecution powers founded by specific legislation. It specialises in the legal and historical sciences and...

  • Luxembourg - Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Resistance
  • Belgium - National Archives of Belgium
  • France - French National Archives (Archives Nationales)

Covert role in Cold War

Associated Press
Associated Press
The Associated Press is an American news agency. The AP is a cooperative owned by its contributing newspapers, radio and television stations in the United States, which both contribute stories to the AP and use material written by its staff journalists...

 (AP) reporters who were given access to ITS files found a carton of documents related to an escapee program run by the Truman Administration. The AP reporters used these files and declassified US documents to describe how the United States asked the ITS to run background checks on escapees from Eastern Europe. The Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

reviewed their histories and then recruited some of them to return to their countries of origin, to spy for the United States. The program did not return very much useful intelligence, because these recruits, motivated to impress their handlers, supplied information that was not reliable, and because by 1952, the Soviets had largely exposed these efforts. Many recruits disappeared, presumed dead.

External links