From The Associated Press, Published: July 31, 2008
BERLIN: A major archive in Germany has purchased 15 custom-made scanners to digitize and catalog a huge collection of virtually untapped Holocaust records.
The archive at the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen contains testimony from Holocaust survivors as dictated to humanitarian workers in displaced persons camps after World War II. Survivors detailed the horrors they endured in concentration camps and spoke of their plans for the future while workers recorded the testimony on tabloid-sized sheets of paper.
Kathrin Flor, a spokeswoman for the tracing service, said the archive has never been systematically researched, and could fill important historical holes about the fate of survivors after the war.
“How many survivors were there, which countries did these people emigrate to — these are interesting questions that historians will want to ask,” Flor said.
The new digital scanners cost €180,000 (US$280,800) in total and are large enough to photograph the odd-sized papers, she said.
“You can use them for any size that you want to scan, so we will certainly use them later for other projects,” Flor said.
Three people will staff each machine — feeding in the source documents, photographing them for the digital archive and then returning them to their envelopes.
Digital scanning began three weeks ago, and the project will be at full capacity on all 15 machines by next week, Flor said. Some 100 employees and volunteers will work through 2009 to digitize the whole collection.
The papers — some 50 million pages — have been stored on gray metal shelves in Bad Arolsen since the mid-1950s. They were used by Red Cross staff to respond to inquiries about missing persons or the fate of family members, and later to document compensation claims. But they were not open to the public, or organized in a way that allowed for extensive research.
Even after the collection is digitized it will not be published publicly on the Internet.
“You will have to ask for it, because it’s very personal data — Medical records and so on,” Flor said. She said that Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Warsaw-based National Institute of Remembrance will each receive a digital copy of the archive.
The archive was opened for families of victims and for historical research late last year. Files that had been kept confidential since World War II were digitally copied and sent to Holocaust centers in the United States, Israel and Poland. About 30 percent of the papers, which occupy 16 miles (26 kilometers) of shelf space, remain to be copied.
About 17.5 million victims of Nazi persecution have been cataloged in the archive. Over the decades, the Tracing Service has responded to nearly 12 million requests for information from survivors or their relatives, and requests are still pouring in — 61,000 of them in 2007.