I have worked with archivists for a little time now and think they manage incredibly important repositories of state government, cultural and scientific knowledge. It is our collective memory and we trust the archivists and the system to keep it as objective as possible. They are so important in fact that they are often the first information targets of war.
My first emotional connection to an archive happened when I was a the opening of the Centre of Information as Evidence and heard a post modernist paper given by Professor Sue McKemmish entitled Evidence of Us … Always in a Process of Becoming and then read her ground breaking paper entitled Evidence of Me (scroll down). It was then that i realized how these institutions speak of and to us across time. My story, your story, our story can be re-woven and re-told, re-woven and re-told again and again from the records.
This summer I watched the film, The Lives of Others. In the film, I discovered the second reference to the scent archives. I had read references about them while doing scent research and heard that there were massive repositories somewhere but that was it. The Germans found a very clever way to ensure they could find you again. They would interrogate people by making them sit on their hands to capture beads of sweat and scent traces in the cloth they were sitting on. This cloth would then be removed from the chair, sealed in air tight jars, labelled and archived, should they need to get a sniffer dog to track you down again. But that is not what struct me most about the film. Towards the end, the lead actor goes to the newly opened East German archive to access documents about himself and his wife as he believes he was under observation by the regime before the fall of the wall. While doing so he makes a most profound and astonishing discovery of absolute human compassion. The stories, stories and stories in the transcripts. The words, the missing words, and the memories associated with the transcripts he reads spoke of a respect and love I have never witnessed or experienced from watching a film before. The film and the story help me believe in the beauty of the human condition. The possibility of it. The importance of poets, writers and artists. That film also helped me understand why the East German Engineers and free communication infrastructure people are so dedicated to their work.
Now, the International Tracing Service Archives will open to the public. The
11 countries that oversee a vast archive in Germany of Nazi documents and concentration camp records have completed ratification of an accord to open its doors to the public, ending more than 60 years of secrecy, the Red Cross said Wednesday.
The archive in Bad Arolsen, Germany, is administered by the International Tracing Service, an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and has been used exclusively to trace missing persons, reunite families and provide documentation to victims of Nazi persecution to support compensation claims.
Mr. Meister said a long list of academics and research organizations already have applied to begin work in the archive, which includes untapped documents of communications among Nazi officials, camp registrations, transportation lists, slave labour files and death lists that detail the mechanics of the Nazi torment. (Globe And Mail)
There will be more stories and many pasts to trace. Lets not forget what we have done and what we can become.