23 May 2011
A list of thousands of personal effects taken from former Nazi concentration camp inmates – including wallets, photos and documents – has been posted online for claiming by survivors or their heirs. These items have been stored for decades at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Germany. "Our goal is to return as many items as possible to survivors of the Nazi persecution, and to their families," its director Jean-Luc Blondel said. The items were mostly taken from inmates upon their arrival in concentration camps or prison. The German authorities removed valuables and stored the rest.
According to the ITS, out of some 3,400 items in storage, there are names attached to about 2,900. In all, some 2,400 items come from the former concentration camp Neuengamme and 330 from Dachau. About 50 items come from the Gestapo prison in Hamburg, and a few from the concentration camps Natzweiler and Bergen-Belsen as well as the transfer camps Amersfoort, in the Netherlands, and Compiègne, in France. Access to the online list is restricted to survivors or their family members, but historians, journalists and survivor associations have helped in the search for survivor owners. "These personal effects do not have any material value, but a great sentimental value," Blondel said.
In 2009, the tracing service began checking the origins of about 900 items, and was able to identify the owners of 476 of them by matching prisoner numbers with names, and by reading letters included among the items. Susanne Urban, head of the research department, said it is difficult to determine ownership of items from certain groups of prisoners. Most items apparently belonged to political prisoners from eastern Europe and very few to Jews or Roma, she said.
The process of returning personal effects began in 2008, when children and grandchildren of eight men from the Dutch town of Putten who died at Neuengamme arrived at Bad Arolsen to retrieve little envelopes containing mostly ID cards and photos. For most of the visitors, the envelopes contained the only items they had ever received from their lost relative.
At the end of 2009, the ITS started an extensive project for reviewing 900 items from the Neuengamme concentration camp that had heretofore been declared untraceable. In 476 cases the owners could be identified for the very first time, primarily by prisoner numbers. But letters, invoices or sick notes also served as a basis for identification.
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