Holocaust Archives Series

The Holocaust Archives Series consists of photographs taken of the records of the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Germany. ITS archive contains more than 16 miles of records and artifacts that reveal, with excruciating exactitude, the Nazi campaign to murder millions and eradicate European Jewry.

Richard Ehrlich is the first and only photographer to gain permission to photograph these archives. The series was shown at the Craig Krull Gallery in Los Angeles in 2008, University at Buffalo, New York in 2009, and UCLA in 2010, and was the subject of an LA Times article.

These photographs document the obsessive mentality of the Nazi regime. At a time of resurging Holocaust denial, these folders, storage boxes, stacks of papers, and ledgers—normally mundane paraphernalia of record keeping—provide painful and irrefutable evidence of history’s most unimaginable crime. 

Holocaust Archives book by Steidl will be published in 2020



The Yellow Badge


Following a decree in September 1941 by Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Main Office, which included the Gestapo, all Jews living under the Nazi regime were required to wear the distinctive yellow Star of David with the word for Jew printed in German (Jude), or another language. While the Nazis had differentiated Jews with badges for several years, the decree standardized the approach. It extended into the 20th century the practice, dating at least from the Middle Ages, of requiring Jews to wear distinguishing symbols or articles of clothing to visually segregate and alienate them from the general population. The star pictured here was photographed at the Anne Frank Zentrum, Berlin. 



The International Tracing Service Headquarters


The Allies moved their bureau for finding missing persons to Bad Arolsen, Germany, in January 1946. Eventually named the International Tracing Service (ITS), the organization began to collect records from the occupation forces and from predecessor authorities, such as the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the International Refugee Organization (IRO). Since 1955, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has administered the Bad Arolsen archive, with supervisory oversight supplied by an international commission comprised of nine European nations, along with Israel and the United States.

Today, ITS occupies six buildings, including a former SS barracks. ITS divides its enormous holdings of records and artifacts into three collections: incarceration, forced labor, and migration. Incarceration includes concentration camps, labor camps run by the SS, Gestapo records, and materials related to executions and medical experiments. Forced labor includes information about individuals, mostly foreign nationals, who were spared the brutality of concentration camps but subjected to the extreme physical demands of forced labor. Migration includes the postwar records of survivors of the persecution, persons displaced from their homes and separated from their families.

Wannsee Invitation Follow-Up


In this follow-up letter, Reinhard Heydrich invites Martin Luther to a meeting at Am Grossen Wannsee, January 20, 1942. He obliquely mentions that the original meeting, set for December 9, 1941, was canceled on short notice. Two days earlier the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and, on December 8, America declared war on Japan. Three days later, on December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States.

These letters are part of The Wannsee Conference and the Genocide of the European Jews exhibit at the villa of the Wannsee Conference and were photographed there.  Having adopted as policy the annihilation of the Jewish people in Europe, the Nazis immediately implemented the remarkably perverse and terribly efficient campaign documented at Bad Arolsen.

Wannsee Conference Invitation



In this letter, Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Gestapo and Nazi police agencies, invites Martin Luther, undersecretary in the German Foreign Ministry, to a meeting at a villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on December 9, 1941, to discuss “a total solution to the Jewish question in Europe.”

Identical letters were sent to other high-ranking members of the SS, police, and national ministries, in an attempt by Heydrich to forge a consensus about deporting Jews to the east and systematically murdering them. Among the 14 participants was Adolf Eichmann, who ultimately coordinated the transports. In only 90 minutes, the officials reached an agreement on all points, except for the fate of Mischlinge, individuals of mixed background, before adjourning to enjoy a brunch buffet.

Map of Concentration Camps & evacuation routes


The Central Name Index



The Central Name Index is the point of entry for researching the Bad Arolsen archive.  The ITS equivalent of a library card catalogue, the index contains 17.5 million name cards arranged alphabetically in 21,408 boxes. The cards record the 50 million documents and other items that reveal the fate of individuals during the Holocaust and the postwar period.

The index was assembled over time from a variety of sources. A digitized version has been provided to Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the National Institute for Remembrance in Poland. It is estimated that these institutions will have a digital version of Bad Arolsen’s entire collection by 2011.

Original documents of prisoners




The Processing Unit




Of the 17.5 million names in the Central Name Index, nearly 3 million are of individuals who have made inquiries about themselves or others during the past 63 years. These are the files generated by the 3 million inquiries. They are stored 100 files per shelf, 1,000 shelves per aisle, in 2,300 aisles. Another 700,000 files are stored elsewhere in boxes.

The inquiries come from people seeking information about themselves or relatives.  Historically, the archive was able to respond positively with information about 54 percent of the time. With the passage of time, the positive response rate has declined to 50 percent.

During 2007, Bad Arolsen received 61,272 inquiries from 70 countries for information about particular individuals. Most requests come from Germany, Israel, Poland, the United States, Russia, and Ukraine. The full- and part-time staff of 326 normally responds within two months.

The backlog of inquiries waiting to be processed swelled during periods of Holocaust compensation payments, as individuals depended on the archive for reliable documentation to substantiate their claims, and with requests from Eastern Europe following the demise of the Soviet Union. By assigning the backlog higher priority, Bad Arolsen has reduced it from about 400,000 requests in 2006 to 23,000 currently.

Incarceration Camp Documents Unit


The Incarceration Camp Documents Unit includes material from the Gestapo, ghettos, prisons, and concentration camps, all run by the SS. About 500 ring binders of documents are stored in each of 16 shelving units, like this one marked Auschwitz. The units slide along tracks to make the most efficient use of limited space.

Russian Section documents in French


Buchenwald documentation


Ravensbruck documents — A Woman’s and Children’s Camp




Gross-Rosen documents


Original handwritten documents of prisoners




Russian Section document



Gestapo Records



Lithuanian Section documents


Records of Theresienstadt


Dachau Entry Books



ITS has 18 of these entry books from the Dachau concentration camp.  Each Zug Buch records the date that an individual arrived in Dachau and the point of origin of the transporting train.  The books list the new arrivals by their prisoner number—1 to 162,053.  Other personal information includes name, date of birth, and nationality.

Heinrich Himmler established Dachau, in 1933, near Munich, where the future head of the SS was consolidating his power.  The first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau was intended for incarcerating political prisoners and other perceived enemies of the regime.  The Dachau entry books identified new arrivals according to their alleged offense.  Among the categories were political, professional criminal, homosexual, Gypsy, and Jewish.

The number of Jewish prisoners at Dachau expanded as persecution of Jews intensified, especially after Kristallnacht in 1938.  Although Dachau was not considered a death camp, its administrators subjected inmates to sadistic medical experiments and cruel forced labor.

Photos and Personal Possessions



ITS received these photos and personal possessions from authorities in the British occupation zone after the war. The items came from the Neuengamme concentration camp, near Hamburg; from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, near Hanover; and from the Gestapo. Of 4,300 sets of personal possessions, 1,600 have been returned to their owners.

Several packages of possessions were returned recently on January 14, 2008, when a small delegation from the Dutch village of Putten visited Bad Arolsen to reclaim the personal items of relatives and friends. On the night of September 30, 1944, members of the Dutch underground ambushed a German convoy near the village, killing two officers. In retaliation, Germans troops rounded up 660 men from Putten and sent them to Neuengamme. Only 48 survived. The village was burned.

The Children Tracing Archive Unit


The Kindersucharchiv consists of 350 storage boxes with files pertaining to 250,000 children below age 18, who were separated from their parents during World War II. The tracing files divide into two categories: parents searching for their children and children found without their parents. The files were compiled originally by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the International Refugee Organization (IRO).

Individuals who survived the Holocaust as children regularly contact ITS seeking information about their parents or their adoptive parents. The children of survivors inquire about their grandparents and adoptive grandparents, sometimes discovering family connections that have been hidden for more than 60 years.

In addition to records of children separated from parents, the Children Tracing Archive Unit contains 220,000 original birth certificates of children born to mothers in forced labor camps during the war.

Gestapo Transit Order


This transit order, issued by the Geheime Staatspolizei, the Gestapo, lists Jews transported from Berlin to Auschwitz and Riga on November 29, 1942. The document reflects the impeccably organized Nazi system for recording human cargo. Transport manifests listed the names, ages, place of residence, and other information about the people displaced, and accompanied the shipment to its destination, with a copy kept at the SS headquarters in Oranienburg near Berlin.

Buchenwald Death Book


This open Totenbuch, or death book, is among the ledgers used to record inmate deaths at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Depending on the size of the book, 20 to 30 deaths were entered per page. The Nazis meticulously recorded each death with the first and last name of the victim, place of residence, and the time and cause of death.

The most frequent causes of death, as documented in the death books, were cardiac and circulatory failure, general physical decline, intestinal inflammation, and tuberculosis.  These causes of death indicate that prisoners were abused and overworked until they died from diseases that would not have been fatal with proper care.

Buchenwald, however, was not a death camp. Prisoners included members of the French Resistance and other political offenders, homosexuals, VIPs, and resisters from the German military. They were kept alive as long as they were productive.

Louse Control


This louse control record suggests the extreme, even bizarre, Nazi attention to detail.  Each prisoner is listed by number next to the accounting of lice discovered during examination. Inhumane sanitary conditions in concentration camps made the presence of lice unavoidable. By controlling lice, Nazis hoped to prevent severe infestation and typhus epidemics, which would threaten both the productivity of prisoners and the health of the guards. A stamp at the bottom right corner of this louse control page indicates that the information was added to the ITS Central Name Index on November 17, 1952.

Records of lice removed from prisoners to control typhus




The Incarceration Camp Documents Unit contains 14 ring binders with information collected at the Mauthausen concentration camp between 1939 and April 29, 1945. The records, photocopies of the originals, list about 30 deaths per page.

These pages list the deaths of 48 prisoners. They were shot one by one, every two minutes, from 11:20 AM to 12:55 PM on April 20, 1942, on the personal order of Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, who was present at Mauthausen that day and directed this execution regimen as a macabre celebration of Hitler’s fifty-third birthday.

Schindler’s List





These are the names of the 1,200 men and women whom Oskar Schindler recruited from Krakow to work in his armaments factory, which was a satellite of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. These pages are carbons of the lists made by Schindler worker Mieczyslaw Pemper, who served as a company clerk. Pemper took the lists with him when the camp was liberated in 1945. In 1958, he gave the lists to ITS in Bad Arolsen, along with an affidavit confirming their authenticity.

Westerbork Transit Camp- Anne Frank Document


This photo shows a section of a transport document prepared at the Westerbork transit camp in northeastern Netherlands. The names of Jewish inmates are listed alphabetically with their date of birth and last place of residence. The dates in the far right column indicate when the individual was deported. In some instances, an abbreviation indicates a concentration camp destination, such as Theresienstadt (Th) or Bergen-Belsen (BB).  The name Annelies M. Frank, from Merwedeplein 37, Amsterdam, appears toward the middle of the list. Born on June 12, 1929, Anne Frank was 15 when she was deported on September 3, 1944.

Anne Frank


This card documents the deportation and death of Anne Frank. It is a copy of the original, held by the Dutch Red Cross, and is part of the ITS Holland Wartime Index of 150,000 names. Typical of the cards documenting people detained at the Westerbork transit camp, it contains both biographical detail and notes about the individual’s wartime experience.

The card was created by the administrators at Westerbork, and the Dutch Red Cross probably added the handwritten notations after the war. They indicate that Annelies Marie Frank was transported from Westerbork to Auschwitz on September 3, 1944. The hand-drawn cross inside the open box signifies death. The abbreviation BB 45 refers to Anne Frank’s death at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, during a typhus epidemic, shortly before the end of the war.

Buchenwald Prisoner Logs


These original records reveal that on March 29, 1945, 14 prisoners entered the Buchenwald concentration camp and 23 left. These ledger entries logged daily prisoner movement between the main camp and forced labor subcamps. This day’s record is particularly interesting because it was written only two weeks before the American forces liberated Buchenwald on April 11, 1944.

The Nazis used the term Abgang both in its literal meaning—departure—and as a euphemism for death. The meaning here is ambiguous. The Nazis may be conducting business as usual, relying on their fanatical paperwork routines to sustain the delusion of eventual victory. Or, confronted with imminent defeat, they may be destroying the human evidence of their crimes. Forced evacuations, or death marches, began about a week later.

Postwar displaced persons


Dachau Intake Chart


This chart hung in the central registration area of the Dachau concentration camp outside of Munich. It illustrates how the dehumanizing intake process reduced individuals into categories symbolized by a badge. The chart, titled “Badges for Prisoners in Protective Custody in Concentration Camps,” probably was created around 1933, during the earliest period of the Nazi regime.

The prisoner categories listed across the top are, from left: political, professional criminal, Jehovah’s Witness, homosexual, and antisocial/itinerant. Along the left side the categories listed from the top are: background color, communist, military deserter, Jew, and special categories.

Using combinations of shapes and colors, the Nazis created a matrix of possible—or impossible—identities. By applying their logic absolutely, the Nazis produced a combination in which a Star of David with an inverted purple triangle designates someone who is both a Jew and a Jehovah’s Witness.

Map of Poland documenting Nazi crimes


Occupation Zones


This original map, probably used by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) or other predecessor organizations to ITS, illustrates the division of Germany into four occupation zones following World War II. The French, British, American, and Soviet zones converged in central Germany, not far from Bad Arolsen.

Bad Arolsen’s convenient location, along with an extensive, intact communications infrastructure left by the SS, determined the town’s transformation from a quiet outpost founded during the Middle Ages to the center of the postwar effort to assemble records of Nazi crimes, reconnect victims with their families, and establish an exhaustive repository of documents and effects recording exactly what happened and to whom.

Bavarian map documenting deaths—Dachau and environs


The German Reich Under Hitler


This map is displayed in the main building of ITS as a reminder of the unprecedented dimensions of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. The Erläuterungen, or key, is divided into five columns that describe, from left: the geographical and political divisions of the Third Reich; administrative details of the regime; the network of concentration camps; the Final Solution; and the resistance.

In the second column from the left, the fourth icon down, which resembles a castle, denotes places of initiation into the cause for young Nazi party elite and SS members.  The second icon from the bottom in the middle column, a jagged line, marks the Westwall or Siegfried Line, Germany’s western fortifications. The first two icons in the far right column designate, respectively, areas of Catholic and Evangelical resistance.

In the column pertaining to the Final Solution, the icons, starting from the top, refer to: extermination camps in Poland; the introduction of the badge for Jews; the estimates of the number of Jews murdered; synagogues destroyed on Kristallnacht; other destruction of synagogues, ghettos, and forced labor camps for Jews.

Reinhard Heydrich


Reinhard Heydrich was 38 when he organized the Wannsee Conference and planned the Final Solution. Born into a cultured family near Leipzig, he joined the Nazi Party early in 1931, and rose quickly to the post of Obergruppenführer, or chief, of the Reich Security Main Office, with responsibility over the Gestapo, the intelligence services, and police agencies. Following Kristallnacht, in 1938, he headed efforts to deport Jews from the German Reich. Heydrich also served as the Reichsprotektor, or governor, of Bohemia and Moravia. Five months after the Wannsee Conference, in June 1942, he was assassinated by British-trained Czech resistance fighters. The Nazis retaliated brutally, liquidating the village of Lidice, Czechoslovakia. The book pictured is on display at the exhibit in Wannsee.

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin by Peter Eisenman





© Richard Ehrlich Photography 
No images on this site may be reproduced without the written permission of Richard Ehrlich Photography.