A decade of progress in documentation of the Holocaust

While allegations of misconduct at the Arolsen Archives are investigated, we should not lose sight of the great work that continues to be done there


The Arolsen Archives in Germany enjoy international renown as an institution dedicated to preserving and providing access to Holocaust-related records.

As has recently been reported in the JC (“Probe into ‘culture of fear’ at Nazi archive”, by Dan Stone, July 14), it has also been subject to negative press regarding allegations from former and current employees.

The allegations are currently being investigated. As the UK’s expert representative to the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS), Arolsen’s predecessor organisation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on this ongoing process.

I will, however, offer some observations on the achievements of Arolsen Archives over the past decade. As “the largest archive of Nazi persecution”, Professor Stone has called attention to Arolsen as “a breathtaking monument in its own right” that has fallen under a cloud.

Professor Stone is undoubtedly correct to point out that the history of this archive “remains bound up with the UK” and that caring for its contents is of the utmost importance.

As the Director of The Wiener Holocaust Library (WHL), I have been proud to observe the sensitive and skilful work of colleagues who render the digital copy of millions of records meaningful to hundreds of families each year.

The WHL actively reaches out to Jewish communities across Britain through our project Recovery & Repair, which helps family researchers looking for information on relatives persecuted in the Holocaust.

Professor Stone raises understandable concerns about the need to strike a balance between public relations and deep research work.

Yet relevant and engaging outreach programmes, like the pioneering and phenomenally popular #everynamecounts crowdsourcing project, need not contradict or come at the expense of serious scholarship.

As Stone himself points out in the conclusion of his book Fate Unknown, a huge amount of positive change has occurred at Bad Arolsen over the years.

Take the institution’s commitment to indexing, cataloguing and digitising historical documents.

In 2016, it had approximately 8.7 million records catalogued and indexed. By 2022, that number has grown to an impressive 26 million records.

This expansion signifies a momentous leap in the availability of Holocaust-related information for researchers and historians, as well as the public.

Another significant milestone has been the establishment of an extensive online archive. Initially, the archive featured a selection of collections, totalling 50,000 images.

However, over time, the database has grown exponentially. Today the Arolsen Archives have surpassed 35 million documents, providing invaluable resources for research.

Furthermore, from May 2020 to July 2023, 268 remote-access authorisations were granted, supporting full access to digitised material in multiple locations worldwide.

The Arolsen Archives’ achievements in indexing and cataloguing, the establishment of an online archive, the provision of remote access, and their work with copyholders have all contributed to solidifying the institution’s position as a vital player in the field of Holocaust documentation and remembrance.

Given the sheer amount of work that this transformation has involved from countless individuals, it is important to avoid jumping to conclusions about its present difficulties, not only to allow a fair process for the benefit of all Arolsen employees, but also so that the progress of the past decade can be consolidated.

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