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International Commission of the International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen: Annual Plenary London 17-19 May 2009

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Press release issued by ITS 20 May 2009:

Debate on the future of ITS is well underway

Press Release

During its two-day annual meeting in London, the UK-chaired International Commission for the International Tracing Service (ITS) dealt with the question of the future organisational structure and administration of the ITS. Past humanitarian work done by the Tracing Service, the clarification of the fates of victims of the Nazi regime and the reunification of families, is to be continued as long as there is a need for such expressed by the victims and their descendants. “Apart from this, we are also discussing taking on an active role in the area of education, commemoration and research”, said Daniel Bethlehem, President of the International Commission. “In any case, the international character of the institution shall remain.”

The International Commission, whose eleven member states control the work of the ITS in Bad Arolsen, will continue its debate on the future of the institution in the coming twelve months under the Presidency of the United States. The Commission agreed that a new international agreement stipulating the tasks of the ITS should be drawn up in the near future. This agreement would replace the Bonn Agreements of 1955 and its amending protocols from 2006. “We made good progress during the discussions over the last year”, added Bethlehem. “The International Commission and ITS are trustees of an archive of special significance for the whole of humanity.”

The mandate of the strategic study group, created by the Commission last year to work out proposals on the future structure and management of ITS, was extended for another twelve months. The group will be chaired by the Netherlands. Negotiations on the focus of ITS were initiated in May last year, as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) indicated its wish to withdraw from running the archives now that they will have an increased focus on research. The International Committee of the Red Cross will continue to be an observer in the Commission after its withdrawal from the management of the archives.

The International Commission welcomed the ongoing process of opening up the archives for historical research. It gives high priority to the digitization and accessing of the documents in the ITS archives. On the occasion of the annual meeting, ITS handed over additional data copies of documents to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw. These are documents from German camps for displaced persons, 180,000 so-called CM1 questionnaires (care and maintenance). They provide information on the fate of those who were rescued from concentration camps, forced labour and, in some cases, war captivity.

ITS also handed over copies of lists of Holocaust survivors, which are referred to as F18 lists (ITS classification). These lists were compiled after WWII mostly by Jewish organisations from different countries. The 55,000 documents helped the Tracing Service clarify individual fates and reunite families. Based on a resolution from the International Commission, all eleven member states are entitled to a digital copy of the documents archived in Bad Arolsen. The remaining documents from DP camps in other European countries and emigration lists will follow at the end of the year once digitisation of this part of the archive’s inventory has been completed.

Link to FCO:

UK Press Release

International Commission for the International Tracing Service (18/05/2009)

Lord Malloch-Brown, Crown Copyright

The UK hosted the Annual Plenary Meeting of the International Commission for the International Tracing Service (ITS) in London on 18 May. The Tracing Service clarifies the fate of victims of Nazi persecution and their families.
Foreign Office Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown, gave a short speech at the meeting held at Lancaster House welcoming news that the archive will be opened up to the public and digitised.
He said:

"In this room only a couple of months ago [in February] we had the London Conference on Anti-Semitism, for parliamentarians and obviously so much of that activity rests, the foundations for it on the archives, the archives have been developing and the role they play in keeping the memory alive of the horrific event of the genocide.

Therefore while the purposes of the organisation may be moving towards research and preservation of the archive, its role remains, I think, as critical as ever. I know there’s an active debate about where copies of that archive should be placed and obviously we will look at it, as will others and see whether it is practical or possible to get a copy here. The beginning of that.. thinking through that process with our colleagues across government who’ll be responsible for that.

One can never talk about this subject without acknowledging the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which continues to manage the demanding programme of reforms at Bad Arolsen. We are truly grateful for the ICRC's commitment and expertise.

I know it’s been a busy year for the ITS. I would like particularly to thank the delegation of The Netherlands for chairing the Strategic Study Group to consider the future management structure and role of the ITS. I hope that we can continue to transform the ITS into an even more effective organisation.

ITS and the International Commission has also been focused on opening up this historical resource to the public. The digitalisation of the archive is a major challenge - but I think you’ve already managed to scan two thirds of the documents. I’m sure this admirable work will continue in to the next year of the ITS.

Tracing will of course continue to be a function of the ITS but this archive will allow new generations to benefit in new ways. The fifty million reference cards and three million correspondence files will become  a source of genealogical information for those whose family members suffered, and a valuable resource for a wider range of historians and other scholars.  

I hope that the International Commission will approach the challenges ahead with commitment and in the knowledge that preserving and safeguarding the archive is a duty we all share. Not just because we owe it to the millions of victims whose names are preserved in there, but because it’s the first crucial step towards ensuring that future generations avoid a similar fate."

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