The International Tracing Service and the ‘Legacies of Political Humanitarianism’

Last night I attended a fascinating talk at London’s Wiener Library on the International Tracing Service (ITS), an agency established by the Western Allies during World War II to locate and reunite persons missing as a course of the hostilities. Historian Dr. Jennifer Rodgers described how and why anxieties about the possession of and access to the archives by various state and non-state actors defined the ITS and its mandate. The ITS was one of the most contested humanitarian services of the post-war world, and Dr Rodgers’ research shows how the agency was exploited by various parties to steer post-war agendas, win hearts and minds and to negotiate the history of Third Reich crimes.

I was interested to learn how humanitarianism was used as a soft power tool and a means of cultural diplomacy, and to discover the ways in which the management of the archive reinforced Cold War borders to the detriment of Nazi victims.

In tandem, Dr Rodgers addressed how archives have long influenced politics and social memory. It is worth remembering that those who control the archive control the past, as well as aspects of the future.

You can follow the ITS archive on Twitter here and learn more about Dr. Rodgers’ work here. There is also an excellent (free) exhibition that tells the little-known history of the ITS and the search for Holocaust survivors called ‘Fate Unknown: The Search for the Missing after the Holocaust’ now on display at the Wiener Library.

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