The International Tracing Service – 50 years on


The International Tracing Service came into being in its present form through the Bonn Agreements of 6 June 1955. It has the mammoth task of gathering, filing, preserving and processing the personal records of civilians who were persecuted under the Third Reich.

Files at Arolsen's International Tracing Service.    

  ©ICRC/T. Gassmann/2004/UA-E-00059H    
A tracing request addressed to the Ukrainian Red Cross concerning a woman deported during the Second World War.    

It searches for missing persons and issues certificates to civilians deported, interned or subjected to forced labour and to family members eligible for financial compensation.

The ITS archive now contains over 50 million reference files relating to 17.5 million people. The documents take up 25,000 metres of shelf space. There are almost 225,000 metres of microfilm and more than 100,000 micro files. Impressive as these statistics are, the documentary materials are far from complete and many requests for information cannot be met.

Digitalization is making it possible to process a greater quantity of data more rapidly and avoid further deterioration of the paper files through continual handling. Conservation and restoration work is also carried out on the documents themselves to preserve for future generations this precious historical archive.

Throughout its 50 years, the demands on the ITC, based in Bad Arolsen, Germany, have been heavy. Since 2000 there has been a particular surge in requests resulting from the German government's creation of a foundation to provide financial compensation to people persecuted under the Nazi regime.

In 2004, the ITC received over 203,000 requests for information, provided over 264,000 replies, but still faced a backlog of over 440,000 requests. The total number of replies since its creation now tops 11 million.

The staff that has to deal with this huge workload number just 376. The director is appointed by the ICRC, which is responsible for the administration of the ITS.

Policy and overall supervision is the responsibility of an international co mmission composed of representatives of the governments of Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States. The German government covers the costs of running the service.

See also the website of the International Tracing Service Bad Arolsen