Following an initiative in 2008 of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe which discovered that the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen was in possession of roughly 2,800 personal effects, of which the former owners were known, but that no efforts were being made to return them to their owners, in 2009 the items were inventoried, photographed and a list drawn up of the former owners. The list was then published on the ITS website and former owners and their families are now encouraged to come forward and recover their property .
The personal effects are mainly from the concentration camps of Neuengamme (2,300) and Dachau (330). In addition there are some personal belongings from prisoners of the Hamburg Gestapo (50), the concentration camps of Natzweiler and Bergen-Belsen, as well as the transit camps of Amersfoort and Compiègne.
The items include effects taken from prisoners as they arrived at concentration camps. The effects include wallets, identification papers, photos, letters and in a few cases also fashion jewellery, cigarette cases, wedding rings, watches or fountain pens from the personal possession of former concentration camp inmates. The personal belongings have generally little material value but a high sentimental value for family members. Sometimes they are the last memento of a prisoner.The effects came to the ITS in 1963. Most had been recovered by the British Army shortly after the liberation of the concentration camp Neuengamme. A small portion of them originally had come from the Gestapo Hamburg and the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Some effects from the Dachau concentration camp arrived from the Red Cross in Hamburg
It is difficult to make a connection between the effects and specific prisoners’ groups, although it can be said that among the former owners of the personal belongings many were persecuted for political reasons. Their numbers are likely to include members of all nations whose territories were occupied by the Nazis, most of them being Eastern Europeans although there are also a considerable number of Dutch effects.
The ITS´s goal now is to return the personal belongings to the former prisoners and their family members. Although the ITS states that it will lend out some of the effects that cannot be returned to the families to memorial centres and museums for exhibition purposes
The list made available on the ITS website can be researched using first and last names or date of birth.
To search the list, click here.
Detailed background information is available here.