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The Bad Arolsen Conflict

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USHMM Bad Arolsen program does not go far enough

January 28th 2008

Washington Jewish Week logo

For more than five decades, the International Committee for the Red Cross maintained millions of Holocaust records—detailed information that would allow people to find out what happened to family members during that dark period of history. In some cases, it would help them verify memories of their own horrific stories. But, those records were in Bad Arolsen, Germany, inaccessible to both historians and individuals. The backlog plaguing the Red Cross' International Tracing Service was unbearable for those seeking information.


Finally, documents 68 million digital images of invaluable material, with nearly another 40 million images expected have been released to the 11 nations that run the ITC, with each nation entitled to a single repository. In the United States, that repository is the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  The museum recently announced that it has dedicated 20 on-site computer terminals to the tracing service, and has trained 25 researchers to do searches. It is a remarkable and welcome step, but does go not far enough.

 As anyone who has even done cursory research on family roots knows, spellings of family names, and even the names themselves, change; the name of a town that your grandmother told you about may not be the same one used during the Nazi era; and the great-uncle called Dovid may have been Shmuel Dovid. Research into records can be a matter of trial and error; conversations may elicit new information.


Simply filling out a form, as now exists, may not provide enough information for researchers. Locally, most of those seeking information will be able to go to the museum and sit down with a researcher. Outside this area, that's not possible.


Twenty computers in Washington is not good enough when the vast majority of survivors and their families do not live in this area. The Holocaust museum needs, as soon as possible, to set up satellite research locations in areas with high concentrations of Holocaust survivors, such as New York and Miami.

Additionally, the museum must do what it can to get the best of computer programmers together, the Sergei Brins and Larry Pages of the world, to make these documents easily searchable and widely available through a home computer.


We owe it to the victims. We owe it to the survivors and their families. We owe it to history.

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