Combating Evil: Arolsen Archives


(Image courtesy of Arolsen Archives)


In March 2021, I published a piece about Modern Holocaust education discussing how social media has given rise to a new generation of Holocaust Denial. Previous forms of Holocaust Denial were protests on campus or misappropriating images of the Holocaust to discuss current political issues such as Immigration or Aboration. Social media has allowed new Holocaust denial in the forms of "Trauma Porn" and The "Yolocaust" to enter into mainstream society. This Holocaust Denial allows for the mass dissemination of misleading or false information to millions.



(Image depicts Auschwitz survivor Leon Greenman, prison number 98288, displays his number tattoo on Dec. 9, 2004, at the Jewish Museum in London. (Ian Waldie / Getty Images) Image courtesy of https://ktla.com/news/nationworld/survey-nearly-two-thirds-of-u-s-young-adults-arent-aware-6-million-jews-were-killed-in-the-holocaust/ )



The Arolsen Archives has taken up the mantle to combat Holocaust Denial. It created a campaign called #everynamecounts. This campaign gives each victim of Nazi terror a piece of their humanity back. These victims will no longer be identified by the numbers tattooed across their forearms; rather the Arolsen Archives is giving victims their names back. The #everynamecounts campaign combines data analysis and strategic communication strategies to address this increasingly common and under-discussed injustice. I had the chance to speak with the Arolsen Archives to learn more about this campaign.



(Image courtesy of Arolsen Archives)




1. What are Arolsen Archives? 

The Arolsen Archives are the world's most comprehensive archive on the victims and survivors of National Socialism. They hold original documents on concentration camp prisoners, deportations, and forced labor, and statements from survivors. The collection has information on about 17.5 million people and belongs to UNESCO's Memory of the World. It contains documents on the various victim groups targeted by the Nazi regime and is an important source of knowledge for society today. Soon there will be no survivors and no witnesses still alive to tell their stories. That is why it is important to let the original documents speak to coming generations in their stead. In order to bring the documents out of the archive and into our lives today, the Arolsen Archives are putting their important collection online. Our online archive gives people all over the world access to the documents.



(Image courtesy of Arolsen Archives)




2. What is the #everynamecounts initiative?

In #everynamecounts, the Arolsen Archives are building the largest digital memorial to the victims of Nazi persecution together with thousands of volunteers from all over the world. A living memorial with a strong presence in today´s society. Not only because it is our responsibility to remember the victims, but also because their stories are relevant now. It is important that future generations remember the names and identities of these victims, because by looking back at the past, we can see where discrimination, racism, and antisemitism can take us. The #everynamecounts initiative enables people to relate their own lives to the fates of the victims on both a personal and an emotional level. This offers a new and very direct way of actively engaging with the past – not only to remember the victims of Nazi persecution, but also to promote respect, diversity, and democracy.


In essence, #everynamecounts aims to collect and present victims’ names and other relevant data contained in our documents in a way that creates a space for public remembrance. We are making thousands of documents from various concentration camps available for the crowdsourcing project. They include a large number of prisoner registration cards and prisoner registration forms that contain important data and biographical information such as prisoners’ places of birth. The first step is to index the data on the documents; the second is to make them available in our online archive. The project will continue until all the documents in the Arolsen Archives are available in the online archive.



(Video courtesy of Arolsen Archives)



3. How does the #everynamecounts initiative differ from other Holocaust education programs?


There are fewer and fewer people who can talk about National Socialism and its crimes from their own experience. That changes things, of course. It makes documents that bear witness to the fates of the persecuted and make them tangible all the more important – and the same goes for projects and initiatives that make history tangible and enable personal commitment. After all, remembrance must be accompanied by real feelings if it is not to become an empty gesture. Young people who have no personal connection to the Holocaust are grateful for this opportunity to make a personal and lasting contribution to a meaningful initiative whose aim is to ensure that the names of these victims will not be forgotten and that their stories will be told. Every piece of information that is digitized is an expression of solidarity with the victims of the crimes committed by the Nazis.



(Image courtesy of Arolsen Archives)




4. How can someone get involved with the #everynamecounts project?


#everynamecounts is already the largest ever crowdsourcing project for documenting the fates of the victims and survivors of the Nazi regime. Many tens of thousands of people are involved and the project’s power lies in its community: Volunteers from all age groups and from all over the world are building the digital memorial together. The real beauty of the initiative is that everybody can become part of our #everynamecounts crowd and make a real contribution. All you need in order to take part in the initiative is a computer and an internet connection – no specialist knowledge is required. Different levels of difficulty ensure that anyone can take part, the layman is just as welcome as the professional historian.


To provide volunteers with further support, the Arolsen Archives developed a digital introduction to help them get started. In only 15 minutes, volunteers acquire background knowledge about the history of Nazi persecution and learn more about what our archival documents mean. They can also practice the process of data acquisition, i.e. “indexing,” on a trial document.


The volunteers put an incredible amount of time and effort into the project. We still have a lot of work to do, which is why we are developing #everynamecounts all the time and create events for our crowd. One example of what we are doing to achieve our goals is the “Long Night of the Digital Memorial.” This is an event that we are currently planning in collaboration with universities to mark the anniversary of the pogroms that took place on and after the night of November 9 in 1938. We hope students from many countries will take part.




(Image courtesy of Arolsen Archives)



You can join The Arolsen Archives’ Efforts by volunteering at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/arolsen-archives/every-name-counts




Me on my first day of graduate school

Rachel Huss

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