Most noteworthy of all are our plans to publish the documents from concentration camps and ghettoes in a new online portal, which is being developed in partnership with Yad Vashem. About 10 million documents will be accessible online and will serve to facilitate remembrance and research worldwide.
In fact, “going digital” was an important focus for us in 2018 in other areas too. The entire Tracing department, consisting of almost 100 employees, reorganized their processes and abolished analog routines. As a result, inquiries are now handled digitally and systematically from start to finish, with new procedures for incoming mail, filing and outgoing mail. After just six months, the simple, unbureaucratic procedures that are now in place had already delivered two improvements: faster response times for the people who submit inquiries and more clarity for the employees who deal with them.
I would also like to make particular mention of the publication of our e-Guide – an online tool which provides explanatory information on the documents from concentration camps. We received a very positive response from experts and the media alike, including the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung (FAZ), an influential German newspaper. We have succeeded in creating a standard work which is scholarly, yet easy to understand at the same time; it is well illustrated, interactive and extremely interesting.
Of course, we did not lose sight of the importance of preserving our unique “paper monument” either. Various partners and financial grants supported us in this task, which is absolutely fundamental to our work. The de-acidification of the care and maintenance files of Displaced Persons is just one of the urgent projects which have now been brought to a successful conclusion. This is all the more important because the archive remains at the heart of everything we do and its authenticity is especially significant as a counterweight to misinformation and ignorance in the digital age.
Unfortunately, we have seen the plans to build a new archive come to a complete standstill. External circumstances have thrown us back to the year 2016 as far as the construction of a new archive building is concerned: the political will is there, but all plans have been put on hold. This is particularly worrying because documents which have been recognized as part of the world’s documentary heritage should not be housed in a temporary storage facility for any length of time. On the other hand, I also see new opportunities arising from the delay. The original idea was to erect a building which would meet functional requirements only, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the new building will need to do justice both to the role we currently play in society and to the role we will play in the future. It is not enough for us to present ourselves as a world-renowned center on Nazi persecution in the virtual world only.
The existence of a place of remembrance and of truth is becoming more and more important for Europe as populist leaders gain support and memories of historical events fade. European unity should not be taken for granted – we must work actively to preserve it. Our own history is closely linked to European development and the peaceful coexistence of nations. This connection was highlighted by the conference on tracing and documenting the victims of Nazi persecution which we held in October last year: 120 experts from 12 different countries came to Bad Arolsen to attend the event. The conference was a milestone in the preparation of our first permanent exhibition, which is to open in 2019 in a former department store in Bad Arolsen – another temporary solution.
I would like to close by mentioning a new beginning: 2018 was the institution’s last full year under the name ITS. By the time this annual report is published, we will already be known as the Arolsen Archives. The former tracing service has long been engaged in tackling new tasks which fall to us in a changing world. As we make more and more parts of the world’s documentary heritage available online and proceed with other new projects, we are inspiring public discourse and activating new target groups. Hence the new name – short and to the point, and accompanied by a new image. I am confident that it will help us position ourselves effectively to stand up for tolerance and democratic values. And I am looking forward to facing the new challenges this brings.