United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Director of International Affairs Paul A. Shapiro spoke passionately about the struggle to open the archives and subsequent digitization of the nearly 200 million historical documents from the Holocaust by the International Tracing Service, and its importance at a symposium in Jerusalem last night.
“These archives and their growing accessibility are a potent weapon against rising Holocaust denial,” Shapiro said. “It is also an important lesson for today about resurgent Antisemitism. In the Holocaust, when hatred was unleashed it wasn’t limited to Jews. Just as today when Antisemitism is on the rise, its dangers extend beyond the Jewish community.”
Shapiro gave a historical overview of the Holocaust archives at the International Tracing Service based in Bad Arolsen, Germany. For decades, the International Red Cross and governments around the world, including the US and Israel, did not allow the archives to be opened for public use.
“One can’t celebrate because far too many passed away before finding truth and justice,” Shapiro continued, speaking about how difficult it was to see information about the fate and whereabouts of families caught up in the Holocaust suppressed for so many decades. “We had a moral obligation to Holocaust survivors and families to provide assurances that what happened was not being swept under the rug.”
Elizabeth Anthony, International Tracing Service and Partnerships Program Manager, Visiting Scholar Programs, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, spoke about the academic potential of the digitization of the archives and how our understanding of central parts of the Holocaust is being expanded as a result.
Anthony also spoke about how the primary sources found in the archives are now being published and taught in educational resources in the US and the UK, and other English-speaking countries, showing examples of handwritten letters from a search of a mother for her daughter.
Elana Heideman, Executive Director of The Israel Forever Foundation, and Holocaust scholar, moderated the event. “It is our hope that this digitization process will revive interest in the Holocaust, especially among the descendants of Holocaust victims,” Heideman said. “This process will make the facts and reality of the Holocaust accessible for future generations, especially as survivors are dwindling in number.”
The symposium was titled “Seeking Justice: Holocaust History and the Archives of the International Tracing Service”, held at the Van Leer Institute and made possible by Phyllis Greenberg Heideman and Richard D. Heideman. The B’nai B’rith World Center – Jerusalem and the Israel Forever Foundation have co-sponsored this event.