Online collection Wiedergutmachung for
National Socialist Injustice

The Project

The Online Collection "Wiedergutmachung for National Socialist Injustice" was initiated by the German Federal Ministry of Finance and is hosted by the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. Wiedergutmachung is the overarching term used by the German government to describe its efforts to take responsibility and make amends for crimes committed by the National Socialist regime. The online collection’s purpose is to provide centralised, global access to the “documentary legacy” of Wiedergutmachung policy, and thereby to facilitate academic research and educational projects of all kinds. The online collection also aims to be a meaningful resource for the families and descendants of people persecuted by the Nazi regime, who will be able to use the website to find valuable and sometimes previously unknown information about their family history and identity.

The project will take years and decades to realise. As a first step, it will provide access to the most important records from German federal and Land archives. These records will be supplemented with background information explaining the historical context of German Wiedergutmachung policy. In the coming years, many more data sets and digitised archival material – including records from local and independent archives, and focusing on specific topics as well as individuals – will be integrated into the collection, along with a variety of historical education projects.

The Federal Ministry of Finance

Since the early 1950s, the Federal Ministry of Finance has been in charge of Wiedergutmachung, the Federal Republic of Germany’s efforts to make amends for Nazi crimes.

Up to now, this task has primarily consisted of material compensation. Now, we are sadly approaching a time when there will no longer be any living survivors of the Shoah, the Porajmos and Nazi terror. However, the significance of Wiedergutmachung has always transcended its material dimension. As a symbol of Germany’s willingness to take responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed under the Nazi regime, Wiedergutmachung has a firm place in the history of German democracy and identity. We cannot simply draw a line under the past. Even when material benefits can no longer be provided to specific individuals, it is essential that we continue to meet the moral obligations of Wiedergutmachung. These obligations will never end. At the official launch of the Online Collection on June 1, 2022, Federal Minister of Finance Christian Lindner emphasized: "The past must be a constant reminder that what happened must never repeat itself" (video link).

The emerging follow-up tasks for Wiedergutmachung are not set in stone. Rather, they will evolve within the context of the question of how the “moral values” and experiences of Wiedergutmachung should feed into the trajectory of German democracy and identity and how they should be communicated, while simultaneously protecting the interests of the victims and commemorating their lives.

We are committed to the ongoing dialogue that this requires. The new Wiedergutmachung logo illustrates this approach: talk about it, never forget.

The Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek

The Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (German Digital Library) offers free access to the cultural and scientific heritage of Germany. It cooperates with hundreds of cultural and knowledge institutions – archives, libraries, museums, institutions for the preservation of historical monuments, and research institutions.

A competence network of fifteen cultural and knowledge institutions represented by a General Meeting, an Executive Board and a Board of Trustees contributes to the work of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. An administrative office located at the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) in Berlin supports the Executive Board and the Board of Trustees in the areas of finance, law, communication and marketing. The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library) in Frankfurt am Main coordinates the technology, development and the service sectors of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. The technical operator and software developer of the digital infrastructure of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek is FIZ Karlsruhe - Leibniz Institute for Information Infrastructure. Aside from the main online collection, the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek operates a number of sub-collections. These include Archivportal-D that offers targeted access to archival objects of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. It enables users to search for archival materials throughout Germany and to retrieve digitized items. The State Archives of Baden-Württemberg is responsible for the maintenance and further development of the Archivportal-D. It also houses the Archives Service Desk of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, which advises and supports archives in their participation in the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek and Archivportal-D.

State Archives of Baden-Württemberg

The State Archives of Baden-Württemberg keeps all documents of lasting value from the authorities, courts and other agencies of the State of Baden-Württemberg and its predecessor territories since the Middle Ages.

It describes and contextualizes this material and makes it accessible for general use. With its expertise in regional studies, the State Archives of Baden-Württemberg is actively involved in cultural and historical-political education. All six archival departments offer a wide variety of user services both online and on site. As a non-university scientific public authority, the State Archives of Baden-Württemberg also realizes research projects in the field of archival and information science. The State Archives of Baden-Württemberg is a member of the competence network and of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. Following up to its coordinating role for Archivportal-D and representing the Archives Service Desk, the State Archives of Baden-Württemberg is responsible for the development, provision and implementation of tools for data preparation and data ingest for the purpose of the Online Collection Wiedergutmachung. In doing so, it brings the further development of the Archivportal-D in line with the requirements of Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. In addition, the State Archives of Baden-Württemberg contributes its expertise and user experiences to the support and information structures of the Online Collection Wiedergutmachung. It is involved in testing new technologies based on artificial intelligence in the areas of digitisation, indexing and accessibility.

FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz-Institute for Information Infrastructure

FIZ Karlsruhe is in charge of the operation of the entire Archivportal-D and the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. It is hence responsible for the technical implementation and maintenance of the Online Collection Wiedergutmachung.

FIZ Karlsruhe is one of the large infrastructure institutions in Germany. Publicly funded, it provides scientific information to science and research worldwide, develops products and services for this purpose and conducts applied research.

The Federal Archives

The Federal Archives is in charge of the conceptual and content design of the online collection and of the "Further Information" section. It outlines and supervises the technical implementation within the Archivportal-D and sets the agenda for the further development of the online collection in exchange with national and international partners. Within the portfolio of the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Federal Archives has the legal mandate to preserve the archive material of the federal government permanently and to make them available for use.

The majority of these documents originate from the central authorities of the German Reich (1867/71-1945), from the occupation zones (1945-1949), the German Democratic Republic (1949-1990) and the Federal Republic of Germany (since 1949).

Archival Expert Group KLA

The Konferenz der Leiterinnen und Leiter der Archivverwaltungen des Bundes (KLA, Conference of Heads of the Federal and State Archives Administrations) has supported and accompanied the Federal Ministry of Finance and its partners in the follow-up tasks of Wiedergutmachung from the very beginning.

Since 2020, a KLA working group “Wiedergutmachung” has bundled the joint tasks of the state archive administrations with regard to the project. This includes professional advice from the archives’ perspective to the project task, its partners, and to the Federal Ministry of Finance, as well as promoting a network of user groups from science and the public. The members of the KLA working group are the Federal Archives and the State Archives of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate.

Chair of KLA working group: Dr Michael Unger (General Directorate of the State Archives of Bavaria)

Deputy Chair: Dr Martina Wiech (State Archives of North Rhine-Westphalia)

Further archival projects on Wiedergutmachung

The follow-up tasks of Wiedergutmachung mean to encourage and to stimulate the intense national and international debate of this controversial chapter of contemporary German history, and to facilitate access and use of the complex archival material. This mission needs more than a mere online collection. A framework agreement, concluded on June 1, 2022, between the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal and Land Archives Administrations (PDF), provides the basis for a whole series of further sub-projects on the digitisation, indexing and provision of relevant archival records, as well as on the use of artificial intelligence for simplified access. Three of these sub-projects have already started:

Project in the Bavarian State Archives

On May 1, 2023, the Bavarian State Archives broke ground with a first large-scale digitization project funded by the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF). The project will cover a period of 7.5 years (92 months). In the first sub-project, the Munich State Archive intends to digitize restitution records from the fonds Wiedergutmachungsbehörde I für Oberbayern (WBI I).

The digitization from microfilm ensures quick processing without having to use the original documents. Thanks to a prior project, a detailed archival description of the 20,000 records is already available.

A second sub-project marks the beginning of the systematic digitization and in-depth archival description of compensation files of the fonds Landesentschädigungsamt in the Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, that has been continuously growing over the years due to annual record acquisitions. The sub-project comprises almost 27,000 records to be described according to the accepted description standard a working group developed for the online collection’s purposes.

A third sub-project focuses on how the Länder contributed to the political design of Wiedergutmachung within the young Federal Republic of Germany and on how Wiedergutmachung was implemented on the regional level. Here, the archival description encompasses 2,000 relevant records kept in the Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv. The records originate from the highest executive bodies of the Bavarian state government and from a parliamentary body, the Bavarian Senate.

The digitization and in-depth archival description of the fonds Landesamt für Vermögensverwaltung und Wiedergutmachung (LAVW) is the aim of another sub-project. These records illustrate the wide variety in the scope of Wiedergutmachung in the early post-war period from the time of the US-American occupation until the introduction of the legal system of the Federal Republic of Germany.

In compliance with the prevailing legal regulations, the Online Collection Wiedergutmachung will provide access to all information about the archival documents and their digital copies resulting from this project.

Projects in the Federal Archives 

The Federal Archives intend to digitize and put online already evaluated and described documents on fundamental matters, laws and ordinances on compensation from the Federal Archives holdings B 126 (Federal Ministry of Finance) and B 136 (Federal Chancellery).

A second project comprises the detailed archival description and – as far as legally possible – online presentation of application and compensation files of the International Organization for Migration that originated in the context of the German Forced Labour Compensation Programme and the compensation of damage of property. This includes so-called cross-applications that concern both the Forced Labour Compensation Programme and the Holocaust Victim Assets Programme (Swiss Banks) (Holding B 439). The Federal Archives also want to grant public access to the databases acquired from the EVZ Foundation (Stiftung Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft).

Further sub-projects deal with the description and digitization of negative decisions on Burden Equalization cases (Lastenausgleich) concerning Jewish assets in the ZLA 3 holdings as well as with the digitization of the "persecutee files" in the ZLA 1 holdings. The "persecutee files" refer to cases of Burden Equalization that applied the 11th Ordinance on the Implementation of Benefits for Assets of Persecutees of the National Socialist Regime. One challenge is the identification of unrecognized Burden Equalization files of sellers and purchasers of Jewish property in the ZLA 1 holdings. The aim is to systematically identify archival material referring to Aryanisation by use of a cluster. For this purpose, the project will apply OCR and AI technologies next to trained personnel examining the files by autopsy in order to determine the efficiency of the technology usedy.

Pilot project of the State Archives of Baden-Württemberg

The State Archives of Baden-Württemberg broke first ground on June 1, 2020, with a 36-month pilot project funded by the Federal Ministry of Finance. 

The first project phase included the archival description of holdings of administrative files from the provenance of the Stuttgart State Office for Compensation, which existed until 1992. In addition, test samples of individual compensation case files were described at various levels of detail in order to gain empirical values for the description of compensation files for the inter-archival discussion.

In a second step, the State Archives digitized a total of 4000 compensation case files from the former State Offices for Compensation in Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Freiburg and Tübingen. In cooperation with FIZ Karlsruhe, the project used these digitized files to test automatic procedures for text and pattern recognition in order to explore the possibilities of AI-supported enrichment of indexing and norm data.

Third, the State Archives evaluated usage scenarios for the Wiedergutmachung documents and developed an online research guide with a bilingual file description and usage instructions. It also tried to address its users via new public educational offers, such as (online) seminars on the use of compensation files and a podcast presented during “Wiedergutmachung weeks” in autumn 2022