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Researching names of Auschwitz prisoners thanks to remote access to International Tracing Service Archives


Thanks to the two-year research project implemented by the Auschwitz Museum and the International Tracing Service (ITS), a research shall be conducted for sets of documents from different concentration camps, including Buchenwald and Mauthausen, stored in the ITS archive in Germany.


The ITS archive enabled employees of the Auschwitz Memorial to remotely access its resources and copy documents of vital importance to the history of Auschwitz.

"It is crucial for us. To date, the only digital Polish copy of this archive is located in the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), and as a consequence, access to these documents for our researchers for many years, has not been as easy and direct as for employees of the Holocaust Museum in Washington or the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Thus, for over a decade, we have been in a weaker cognitive and research position than our colleagues from some international institutions. Today’s cooperation with Bad Arolsen compensates for this inequality," said the director of the Museum, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński. 

ITS director Floriane Azoulay sees the remote access to the database as an important signal: "The joint project is a manifestation of the ITS’s new openness. We want to empower other memorials, archives and research institutions by offering them an easy way of accessing and interpreting the information available in our archives. Ultimately, this project will lead to better service for users of both institutions, to more knowledge and certainty for family members of persecuted persons, and hopefully to a better understanding of the individual persecution histories."

Through the analysis of documents created by the SS administration in other concentration camps, containing information on imprisonment in KL Auschwitz or those that were sent to other camps along with the transferred prisoner, it will be possible to learn and supplement our database of about people imprisoned in Auschwitz.

"Obtaining permission to access a portion of the most extensive collection of documents in the world, is of historical significance. It opens up opportunities for the Museum to continue work related to the further completion of a name list of KL Auschwitz prisoners; to enrich the Archive with new documents, and within the historical context bring about new facts related, among others to employment or the movement of prisoners between particular camps. It is extremely important because the Auschwitz Museum Archive only possesses 3-5% of the documentation on KL Auschwitz prisoners created by the offices of this German Nazi concentration and extermination camp," said Wojciech Płosa PhD, head of the Museum Archive.

The Archive shall use documents and information obtained about KL Auschwitz prisoners in preliminary surveys conducted for the families of former prisoners, for academic purposes, for publications commemorating prisoners, for educational purposes for guides and school educators.

The preliminary research will cover the files of the employment department, personal files, cash deposit files, list of prisoners’ personal belongings, death certificates and reports on the death of prisoners, as well as number files. In total, it is more than 2 million documents.

"We hope to obtain about 90 thousand documents. Selected documents shall be copied and transferred to the Auschwitz Museum Archive. The entire project will end with a joint scientific conference, and all data obtained on Auschwitz prisoners shall complement the database available on our website," - said the project coordinator at the Auschwitz Museum, Ewa Bazan.

It is estimated that approx. 250,000 prisoners were transferred from the KL Auschwitz in the entire period of its existence - most to KL Mauthausen (nearly 35 thousand prisoners) and KL Buchenwald (over 25 thousand).

"The existing digital database of the Museum was created based on original documents from the period of the camp’s operation. Currently, the Digital Repository contains over 1.2 million personal records, though, it is worth noting that the names of many people are repeated in several different sets of archival documents. Based on this incomplete documentation, we were able to establish the identity of about 60% of the 400,000 registered prisoners. Thanks to the cooperation with ITS we will be able to establish the identity, as well as the fate of many other people," said Krzysztof Antończyk, head of the Digital Repository.

As part of this project it is planned to conduct preliminary surveys of ITS Arolsen documents from KL Buchenwald, KL Mauthausen, KL Flossenbürg, KL Bergen-Belsen, KL Neuengamme, KL Natzweiler, KL Sachsenhausen, KL Gross-Rosen.

The ITS will via the cooperation project receive better (high-res and coloured) scans and some new material for its database and thus be able to give improved access to its users and copy holders.