International Commission of the International Tracing Service Annual Meeting

Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State

Washington, DC


I’m pleased to welcome you all to the 84th meeting of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service.


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” the philosopher George Santayana once wrote.


For decades, the International Tracing Service and now the Arolsen Archives have ensured that each generation remembers the history of the Holocaust and of Nazi persecution—and never, never repeats it.


From the earliest days after World War II, as the International Tracing Service brought families back together… to the rise of the internet, which has connected this “paper monument” with people all over the world… the Archives have grown and changed with the times.


Over the last year, the Arolsen Archives have faced unique challenges, as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted programs and made research even more difficult.


I want to recognize the leadership of Cherrie Daniels, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in chairing the International Commission this year. And I want to thank every nation represented on the International Commission for your commitment to preserving and teaching this history.


You have found innovative ways to tell the stories of the Holocaust, even in the depths of the pandemic.


More than 18,000 volunteers—many of them young people from Germany, the United States, and other countries—have joined the “Every Name Counts” project. They have transcribed more than 3.6 million handwritten documents with the names of people victimized or murdered by the Nazis.


This crowdsourced initiative lets people “put their hands on history,” even from their own homes. It helps expand the reach of the Arolsen Archives. And it keeps each individual victim’s memory alive.


And as travel restrictions are lifted, the “Stolen Memory” project will once again travel to towns and cities across Germany, and also expand to Spain and Russia. This pop-up, interactive exhibit helps make the Holocaust tangible to people, by using personal items to tell the stories of concentration camp inmates and their surviving relatives.


Soon, the United States and Germany will be joining together to fund additional traveling exhibits, telling the stories of millions of Holocaust victims and forced laborers from Eastern Europe.


In recent years, we have seen a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the United States, in Europe, and elsewhere.


We have seen anti-Semitic tropes and rhetoric spread unchecked via social media and the internet.


And we have seen concerted efforts to try to cast doubt on the very facts of the Holocaust.

All of these trends remind us that the work of the Arolsen Archives is as urgent and important as it has ever been.


And they also remind us that authoritarian actors always try to gain power by sowing division, bigotry, and hatred—and by spreading misinformation and lies.


It is up to all of us to resist those forces—including by preserving, understanding, and speaking the truth about the Holocaust and Nazi atrocities.


Thank you again for all the work that you do, and for your tireless efforts to connect the histories contained in the Arolsen Archives with people all around the world.


I send you my very best wishes for a successful annual meeting.


Thank you.