The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Collections of the Arolsen Archives

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Elizabeth Anthony, Ph.D., is the Director of Visiting Scholar Programs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. From 2013-2019, Anthony served as the Mandel Center’s International Tracing Service and Partnerships Program Manager and was responsible for the promotion of the scholarly use of the ITS Digital Archive, ITS-related academic programming and outreach, and partner programs with other institutions. She received her Ph.D. in history at Clark University in 2016.

By Elizabeth Anthony

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (the Museum, or USHMM) is a living memorial to the Holocaust and strives to inspire citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Since opening its doors in 1993, the USHMM has hosted more than 43 million visitors. The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies serves as the Museum’s scholarly division and works to support the growth of Holocaust studies at universities in the United States, to foster relationships between international organizations and individuals, and to ensure the ongoing training of future generations of scholars. Over the past 10 years and among its many activities, the Mandel Center has promoted the use of the collections of the Arolsen Archives (formerly the International Tracing Service, or ITS) as a largely untapped source of immense scholarly potential through academic programming related to the ITS Digital Archive. 

The Allied powers established the ITS in Arolsen (today: Bad Arolsen), Germany, after World War II as a resource to help reunite families separated during the war and to trace missing relatives. Millions of pages of captured Nazi documentation were repurposed for tracing needs, and the ITS archive then grew as new records, both originals and copies, were deposited within its collections. For decades, the ITS worked on behalf of survivors and victims’ families to clarify the fates of individuals under Nazi oppression, as well as to provide survivors and victims’ families with documentation necessary for indemnification claims. The archive finally opened and became available to scholars and other researchers in November 2007, both onsite in Bad Arolsen and around the world at seven digital copyholder locations. The ITS was renamed “Arolsen Archives - International Center on Nazi Persecution” in May 2019. 

The USHMM – one of the copyholders of the ITS Digital Archive – utilizes the archive in a number of ways. The staff of the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center assists survivors and their relatives to learn more about their paths of persecution under the Nazis, as well as the fates of their loved ones. Museum staff in the Collections division uses Arolsen Archives holdings to document the histories of acquired artifacts and paper collections. And the Mandel Center’s academic programming activities related to the ITS Digital Archive include the convening of research seminars, workshops, and conferences. Fellows-in-residence have access to the digital archive and staff expertise for utilizing its resources, and staff researchers use the Arolsen Archives to compile information to document the more than 42,000 Nazi sites of incarceration, forced and slave labor, and mass murder for the Mandel Center’s Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos. Periodically the Mandel Center publishes source volumes in the series “Documenting Life and Destruction: Holocaust Sources in Context,” most recently Nazi Persecution and Postwar Repercussions: The International Tracing Service Archive and Holocaust Research (2016) by Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming (Director, International Academic Programs). 

The Mandel Center also works closely with the Arolsen Archives and digital copyholders around the world on partner projects to enable better access to the archive, to explore the archive’s potential for Digital Humanities projects, and to promote its use through cohosted seminars, workshops, and conferences. In addition, a new educational initiative of the Mandel Center, the Arolsen Archives, and the London-based Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide (another of the seven copyholders of the ITS Digital Archive) seeks to provide resources for undergraduate classes studying the Holocaust in the form of a primary source supplement series based on documentation from the Arolsen Archives. Each supplement includes an introductory essay on the dedicated topic and presents an assortment of original documents from the Arolsen Archives related to that theme. Descriptions, translations (as necessary), and questions for pedagogical work are included, as well as a list of suggested reading and historical photographs from the collections of the USHMM and The Wiener Library. The first two supplements – Women under Nazi Persecution and The Camp System– are available for free download on each of the partners’ websites. At least two additional supplements are planned and will cover topics including the Nazi persecution of Roma and Sinti, and Displaced Persons.


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