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Spotlight on Memory of the World heritage: The Holocaust

© AFF Basel, CH / AFS Amsterdam, NL
Diaries of Anne Frank

UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register includes different testimonies of the Holocaust in which some six million Jews and millions of others died during the Nazi regime. Pages of Testimony Collection, Archives of the International Tracing Service, Diaries of Anne Frank, and Warsaw Ghetto Archives are the Memory of the World collections related to Holocaust.

On 27 January 1945, as the end of World War II drew closer, advancing Soviet troops liberated the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, freeing the remaining prisoners. This date now serves as the United Nations International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.

Pages of Testimony Collection, Yad Vashem Jerusalem, 1954-2004

© Yad Vashem - The Pages of Testimony Collection, housed in the Hall of Names, within the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.

Quick facts:

  • Year of submission: 2012
  • Year of inscription: 2013
  • Country: Israel
  • Heritage item: Link

Six Million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, their names transformed to numbers. Most have no graves, no marked tombstones. The Pages of Testimony Collection represents a large-scale collective memorial to Holocaust victims, which endeavours to give them back their names and faces.

It is unprecedented in human history in both its dimensions and its intent to preserve from oblivion all victims' names and identities. Comprised of invaluable personal hand-signed testimonies, it is unique in the world, distinctive in comparison with later attempts that tried to emulate the model in order to commemorate victims of other genocides such as in Rwanda and Cambodia.

Archives of the International Tracing Service

Quick facts:

  • Year of submission: 2012
  • Year of inscription: 2013
  • Organization: International Commission for the International Tracing Service (ITS)
  • Heritage item: Link

Between 1933 and 1945 the world went through an unprecedented period of destruction and persecution caused by the National Socialist regime in Germany. The Second World War represents the widest conflict humanity ever experienced, resulting in internments, displacements and deaths.

The collection contains material from concentration and extermination camps, ghettos and Gestapo prisons, as well as documentation on the displacement and exploitation of forced labour and the fates of displaced people including survivors searching to emigrate out of a destroyed Europe. Since 1946, the archives of the ITS in Bad Arolsen (Germany) have been testimony to the persecution of minorities and political opponents of all kinds, the extreme exploitation of forced labour and a vast uprooting of people from their homes. The sheer volume of the ITS archives illustrates the extent of Nazi crimes. As witnesses will soon no longer be around to tell their stories, the documents become of even greater relevance.

Diaries of Anne Frank

© AFF Basel, CH / AFS Amsterdam, NL
Anne Frank's first diary

Quick facts:

  • Year of submission: 2008
  • Year of inscription: 2009
  • Country: Netherlands
  • Heritage item: Link

Innocent children are often the victims of the many wars and disasters our world has faced, and most poignantly illustrate these tragic events, as in the case of Anne Frank. Her story contrasts the sweetness of youth with the ruthlessness of the Nazi system which set out to destroy those who did not fit into its social order.

Anne was 13 when her family was forced into hiding in secret rooms behind her father’s office in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands which was under German occupation where, together with four other people, they lived for over two years. Their betrayal by an unknown informant led to their arrest by the German secret police on 4 August 1944.

Anne started a diary on her 13th birthday on 12 June 1942 and continued to write until three days before their capture. Her entries not only record life in the secret annexe but also reveal much about the restrictions on Jews at the time.

Her father was the only member of the family to survive the war. On his return to Amsterdam, the couple, who were part of the group of six people that had helped them during their years in hiding, handed over Anne’s papers to him.

When he read his daughter’s writing and her often expressed desire to be an author or journalist, he decided to have them published and in 1947 “Het Achterhuis” or secret annexe came out. Today it has been translated into some 65 languages. 

The original red and white chequered diary and other papers are inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World register and can be seen at the Anne Frank House in Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, where the family hid.

Audio fragment of Otto Frank in which he talks about his daughter's diary.

Warsaw Ghetto Archives (Emanuel Ringelblum Archives)

© Jewish Historical Research Institute
Dr Emanuel Ringelblum (Warsaw Ghetto Archives)

Quick facts:

  • Year of submission: 1999
  • Year of inscription: 1999
  • Country: Poland
  • Heritage item: Link

From this personal account, the Register also includes one about an entire community, the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland.

Starting in October 1940, all Jews in and around Warsaw were relocated to the ghetto, which was then enclosed with a wall topped with barbed wire and policed by armed guards. Some 500,000 people lived in this confined space where unemployment, disease and starvation were rife. Despite the difficult living conditions, people organized everything from schools and soup kitchens to local newspapers.

A secret group, led by historian Emanuel Ringelblum, decided to document daily life, initially intending to write a book about their experience after the war. It included information from personal diaries, to government documents and private correspondence. It also contained information about Jewish communities elsewhere in Poland.

From mid-1942, when it became clear that the Nazis were transporting people to extermination camps, many of the remaining residents decided to fight. However, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of early 1943 was crushed when the Germans sent in thousands of troops and destroyed the ghetto.

When all hope seemed lost, the group buried the documents, today collectively known as the Ringelblum Archives, in milk cans and other metal containers in cellars around the ghetto. After the war, Hersz Wasser, a member who had survived the camps, help researchers locate two of the sites. The third collection has never been found.

Today the archives are regarded as the most important collection of firsthand accounts and documentation about the Holocaust, as seen by its victims.

Memory of the World Register

Listing of items such as these on the Memory of the World Register is intended to generate interest and help with the conservation of documentary heritage which helps us to understand our society in all its complexities.

However war, social upheaval, looting, illegal trading, destruction, inadequate conservation and lack of funding have all had a disastrous effect on the conservation of our documentary heritage.

A growing awareness of this, together with UNESCO’s belief that the world's documentary heritage belongs to all and should be preserved and protected, led to the establishment of its Memory of the World programme in 1992.

The programme works to identify and facilitate the preservation of valuable archive holdings and library collections worldwide, and assists with their dissemination. Inscription of a collection in the Memory of the World register, created in 1995, is part of the process.

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