Tracing the fates of the millions of victims who lived during the Holocaust is a daunting task. But this is the work of the International Tracing Service (ITS), whose new campaign #StolenMemory hopes to return confiscated wartime items, like wallets, photos, and jewelry, to family members.
They help people like Martine van Dam, writes The Times of Israel’s Renee Ghert-Zand. Dam’s grandfather perished in 1986 after surviving the Holocaust. She never knew what he looked like, as she was born seven years after he died and the family didn’t have any photographs:
This changed in 2012, when van Dam unexpectedly saw for the first time not only a photo of her grandfather as a young man, but also ones of his parents, siblings, and first wife — all of whom were murdered by the Nazis.
The family photos weren’t discovered online, or in a book. Van Dam, a social worker living in Leusden in the Netherlands, held the precious images in her hands, after discovering them in her grandfather’s wartime wallet, which was returned to her family by the International Tracing Service (ITS).
ITS is a massive archive containing a staggering amount of material, most of it collected by Allied forces as they liberated Europe, beginning in 1943. Located in Bad Arolsen, Germany, it is a complex of six buildings filled from floor to ceiling with 30 million original documents relating to the fates of 17.5 million victims of Nazi persecution. Since the war — and especially in its immediate aftermath — the institution’s primary purpose has been to trace the fates of these people.