Khue Tran

For the past three days, the maintainers of the two largest collections of testimonies of survivors of Nazi persecution met in New Haven to discuss plans to make a large data collaboration combining the archives.

Staff from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale — a collection of 4,400 video testimonies of Nazi persecution witnesses — joined with those from the Arolsen Archives – International Center on Nazi Persecution, which is housed in Bad Arolsen, Germany and serves as a center for research and documentation on the victims of Nazi persecution. The two groups are looking to create a data service that brings the two libraries together. They said they hope to create a virtual interactive lab that adds to records found in the Arolsen Archives.

“One of the things we’re discussing is a virtual authority file that can be fleshed out,” said Stephen Naron, director of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. “We want persistent links to different records. There’s a way to approach collections with big data that we are taking which is what are the questions we want to answer and how do we maintain ethical approach that doesn’t reduce victims to numbers. We are excited to be in collaboration.”

Deputy Head of the Research and Education Department of the Arolsen Archives Christian Höschler, Arolsen’s Head of Archives Christian Groh and staff member Nicole Tödtli gave a presentation about the history of the Arolsen Archives on Wednesday. The three outlined the history of the archives. Höschler traced the archive from its origins as the International Tracing Service — an Ally project to document survivors’ stories and enable a large-scale search — to its current role as a data search engine maintained by historians.

“We still are a tracing service and we still answer over 20,000 inquiries per year, but we also consider ourselves a professional archive in addition to a professional tracing service,” Höschler said. “Today, only a few of the inquiries are from former victims themselves and the majority are submitted by second and third generation [descendants of Holocaust survivors]. This is often about reconstructing family history and understanding past familial persecution.”

The collection holds over 14.5 million records of about 17.5 million victims of the Nazi regime, providing families and researchers information about the fate and care of survivors.

Event attendee Jessica Tai said she thought about the event through her work at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Her family was able to use the Arolsen Archives to gain Germany citizenship through the German Citizenship Project, which encourages descendants of Germans deprived of their citizenship by Nazi Germany to reclaim that citizenship.

“My grandfather fled Nazi Germany during the War and was stripped of his German citizenship,” Tai said. “We needed records of when he left and found through the archives other records of his parents’, brothers’ and sisters’ death in concentration. By searching the archives, we were able to find the records needed and now have German citizenship.”

Eighty-five percent of the documents in the Arolsen Archives has been scanned, and most are accessible through the computer database.

“It’s not a classical archive but rather a collection that has been brought together,” Groh said. “Cataloguing is subjected to the needs of personal service so collections are dispersed in archives. You can find information about [a] specific person [and] family, but it can be hard to reconstruct where the document comes from, where it’s been made, that historians, journalists, now need to discuss.”

The event was sponsored by the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies.

Khue Tran | khue.tran@yale.edu

Clarification, Jan. 17: The headline and first two paragraphs of this article have been updated to more accurately represent the contents of the Fortunoff Video Archive, the Arolsen Archive and the staff that maintains them.