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The e-Guide to the Arolsen Archives

The Arolsen Archives are an international documentation center on Nazi persecution and the liberated survivors. The world’s most comprehensive archive on the victims and survivors of National Socialism preserves documents about concentration camp prisoners, foreign forced laborers and the postwar registration of Displaced Persons (DPs). There are now over 30 million documents in the Arolsen Archives which provide information about more than 17.5 million people. However, many of the file cards and forms are not self-explanatory. Background knowledge is needed to understand them – and this knowledge is provided by the e-Guide.

The e-Guide is available in five languages: there are full versions in English and German and selected document descriptions in Russian, Polish, and French. Please note that the e-Guide is designed for use on PCs, laptops, and tablets. It can also be accessed on a smartphone, but we recommend exploring the e-Guide on a PC.

The e-Guide explains the context in which the documents of the Arolsen Archives were created. It focuses on what are known as individual documents, which are file cards and forms that were produced for a single person. Unlike most lists, these documents are often not easy to understand by themselves. On the basis of five key questions, the e-Guide describes who used the respective cards and forms when, why and how. Interactive elements on the example documents explain individual sections, abbreviations and symbols. Links to a variety of other background information are also provided. Users can therefore decide for themselves how deep they want to go and which parts of the documents they want to have explained.

Although the collections in the Arolsen Archives are very extensive, by far not all documents for all people persecuted by the Nazis have been preserved. Many documents were destroyed by bombing or fire during the war, and at the end of the war they were often deliberately destroyed or suppressed. There are always gaps in the records that have been preserved, which makes it all the more important to understand the existing documents as thoroughly as possible. Unfortunately, some documents include notes, abbreviations and stamps that even long-term ITS employees and experts from other archives and memorials have not yet been able to decrypt. But the e-Guide should grow as new insights are gained. Therefore, if you think a document description is missing or have any other comments, please contact us at – your knowledge can help enrich the e-Guide.

Unfortunately, it was not possible to translate every single German term in the documents for the English version of the e-Guide. The document explanations may still be of use, though, since they offer a basic overview of what kind of information was included on the cards. The German documents from the Arolsen Archives that describe the context in which a card was created are also explained in English.