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“We’re sitting on a treasure trove of documents. We want people to know what we have. Our material can change our perspective on big topics related to the war and the Holocaust.”
Boehling is the first archive director who is not affiliated with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which had managed Bad Arolsen since 1955 with a narrow remit to trace people.
The ICRC handed over the reins to an international commission of 11 countries in January, a step that could help unleash the full potential of the archive for academic study.
Boehling plans to hold international conferences, get foreign students to use the ITS, publish more research and host national teachers’ workshops, although she doubts the 14 million euro budget from the German government will stretch that far.
Personal stories about victims, which the ITS can provide in abundance, are a powerful tool in educating young generations, she said. Currently, events hosted by the archive are attended only by townspeople and groups of pupils from nearby.
Located next to a site where Hitler’s SS officers once had barracks, Bad Arolsen was chosen for the archive after the war because of its central location between Germany’s four occupation zones.
But now its location is a disadvantage. There are no big cities nearby and connections to Berlin and Frankfurt are slow. The town itself, on the northern edge of the state of Hesse, has a population of just 16,000.
The archive is housed in an inconspicuous white building containing clues to the fates of 17.5 million people.
The 25 kilometres of yellowing papers include typed lists of Jews, homosexuals and other persecuted groups, files on children born in the Nazi Lebensborn programme to breed a master race, and registers of arrivals and departures from concentration camps.