The purpose of this Archival Guide to the Collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is to provide the researcher with a general overview of the textual record collections of the Museum and to facilitate the first stage of the research process. Users will be able to determine whether or not to proceed to the second stage, which is a more detailed consideration of specific collections of interest. Detailed catalog records, often on the folder or file level, are available for some collections at the Museum and on its web site; and additional information from the Museum’s reference desk.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is a relatively new institution, having opened to the public in April 1993. But the Museum can justifiably claim to have amassed the world’s largest concentration of Holocaust-related textual and other records outside Israel. Most of the Museum’s textual collections are microform reproductions of materials held by state and private archival institutions in every European country (except Albania), including the countries of the former Soviet Union occupied by the German armed forces, as well as materials from the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Israel, Australia, China, Japan, Cuba, and the United States.
Additionally, hundreds of smaller and larger paper collections have been acquired by the Museum since 1980, when the United States Congress unanimously passed legislation authorizing the creation of the institution. By mid-2002, the Museum has obtained over eighteen million pages of records. The International Archival Acquisitions Program of the Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies continues to identify, evaluate, and bring to the Museum tens of thousands of pages of documentation each month.
The task of locating the records, arranging permission to reproduce them, implementing the reproduction process, shipping the reproductions to Washington, and accessioning and cataloging them has been and continues to be a massive one. In 1986 the United States Holocaust Memorial Council made the decision to create, at the Museum that was then on the drawing boards, a central location for primary source research on the Holocaust and its historical context. The Museum, often working in cooperation with Israel’s national Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Authority, Yad Vashem, embarked upon an exhaustive search for the historical records of the Holocaust, documents that were known to be scattered across Europe and much of the rest of the world.
The Museum began its search in those places that had been least accessible to American and Western scholars, and where the paper records were most in danger of deterioration and destruction—that is, in the then-communist countries of Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. The ongoing search continues to expose the Museum’s staff to the extremes of archival experience.
On one end of the spectrum are modern archives with elaborately detailed finding aids, some of which actually may be in published or electronic form; and on the other end are archives in provincial cities and towns in regions where much of the Holocaust took place, where records have been stored in the most primitive of circumstances, sometimes wrapped in newspaper in the late 1940s and forgotten, left essentially untouched and unexplored, preserved only by liberal doses of DDT powder applied to whole shelves, rooms, and sections of the repository. The materials retrieved by this effort from more than a hundred institutions in dozens of countries and in many languages are the subject of this Archival Guide.
Typically for such an effort, which is being carried out in a race against the physical deterioration process that is daily making some paper records irretrievable, the Museum is collecting materials much faster than it can catalog them. Nonetheless, there is some form of finding aid for all collections. These range from complete detailed catalog entries on the folder level to handwritten field notes by USHMM staff and consultants who surveyed the records to determine whether or not they should be collected at all. Occasionally detailed finding aids produced by the institutions holding the original records are available in the language of the country in question, or in the language of the records themselves. For each entry in this Guide, there is a note describing the type of finding aid available for that collection, unless such a finding aid currently does not exist.
All the collections in a record group are listed by designator and title. Collections that are described in the full standard format were selected based on the subject content, the size of the collection and, most important, immediacy, that is, the closeness of the documents to the actual events they describe. Space considerations also played a role, with the result, for instance, that not all of the hundreds of survivor and liberator testimonies and memoirs could be given full entries, although the titles provided give the researcher an indication of the content and the type of records in such collections.
Most of the collections for which only designators (call numbers) and titles are provided in the Guide are described in fuller detail on the Museum’s archives catalog file at the USHMM web site (www.ushmm.org). The Guide is meant to be an overview, not an exhaustively detailed catalog.
This Archival Guide will be available and searchable on the Museum’s web site soon after the appearance of the printed version. Given the on-going nature of the Museum’s International Archival Acquisition Program, it is intended that the web site version will be revised and updated at regular intervals. It is possible that the paper version, too, will be revised and reissued from time to time as the need arises.