The digitalization of concentration camp documents has changed the way the archives at memorial sites work. Research no longer takes place in depots these days, but is usually conducted by searching databases. Some prisoners’ fates could be clarified using these searches, something that previously was almost impossible.
The Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial began building a digital research platform on victims of the Nazi regime back in 2012: the Memorial Archives. The online database shows all the documents and information available about a prisoner at a glance, making it easier to trace a person’s pathway of imprisonment. The Memorial Archives are a huge help to staff of the memorial in dealing with inquiries from relatives and researchers. Since 2020, there has been a joint cooperation project with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum to create a new database for the Auschwitz concentration camp holdings based on the Memorial Archives.
To show how digitalization of the archives helps in finding out what happened during the Nazi era, decades after the camp’s liberation, the project team from the two memorials worked with Zoff, a collective for visual communications, to develop Research Stories, a digital platform for historical research and personal stories. Using specific cases, archival staff explain the sometimes detective-like methods they apply every day when trying to clarify what happened to prisoners. However, their research stories also illustrate the fragmentary nature of possible findings since many documents were destroyed by the SS when the camps were cleared and liquidated.
“Research Stories” allows people to participate in research and thus responds to an interest expressed in many inquiries to the archives. Online databases have changed the way information is obtained and many people who contact memorial sites have often done some research themselves beforehand. Therefore, the inquiries often have scans of documents attached. Relatives sometimes also have a portrait of the person or information about the circumstances of their arrest. They thereby contribute their knowledge to the research and help give a face to the people behind the names in the databases.
Research into those persecuted by the Nazi regime has become possible for everyone thanks to the information available online. However, those who do their own research often come up short in finding answers. That’s because the databases of the museums, archives, and memorial sites are usually not fully accessible to private individuals for privacy and data-protection reasons. Furthermore, special knowledge is required to fully understand the documents found such as registry office cards, transport lists, or prisoner registration forms.
The research stories therefore deal with topics that regularly recur in inquiries to the archives at memorial sites: How can a relative’s grave be found? Is it possible to find out how a prisoner died? Why are there hardly any documents? The website additionally provides a guide for doing your own research with useful links, addresses, and suggestions.
“Research Stories. Tracing the Stories of Concentration Camp Prisoners” is a digital offering of the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum available in three languages: Polish, English, and German. The website will gradually be supplemented with additional research stories.