Introduction

This online course aims to give readers an in-depth introduction to working with German official documents relating to the Holocaust. It is particularly geared towards archivists, researchers and students working with German archival material who want to expand their general understanding of their sources.

Most historians of the Holocaust are accustomed to only examining the text and content of the historical documents they find. At best, they may also include in their analysis contextual information about the documents’ provenance, the backgrounds of their authors or the other correspondents. This means that these scholars often miss an entire dimension of additional information and meaning which could be revealed by a closer examination and precise analysis of the documents’ generic and diplomatic properties. This online course was created to remedy this situation and to provide researchers with tools which will enable them to read and understand all the different levels of meaning and information contained in a document.

The online course Modern Diplomatics of the Holocaust was developed by staff members of the Bundesarchiv, the German Federal Archives, within the framework of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) project. It is based on a seminar with the same title which was held at the Bundesarchiv in August 2016.

The course consists of five modules which in turn comprise several sub-modules:

1)      German administrative traditions, organisation and history

2)      Diplomatics, divided into analytical and formal, systematic and genetic diplomatics, workflow (Geschäftsgang), methods and tools in diplomatics, and examples of workflow analyses

3)      Resources including an introduction to the different kinds of source material like ministry documents, personal records, military files, patient files from the Nazi “euthanasia” programme as well as post-war judicial files relating to the prosecution of Nazi crimes as illustrated by files from the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National-Socialist Crimes (Zentrale Stelle) in Ludwigsburg and one exemplary case

4)      An overview of the Federal Archives’ holdings relating to the Holocaust

5)      A glossary of archival and diplomatic terms

The module on diplomatics forms the core of this course. It presents the different methods and approaches used in historical diplomatics, particularly the different steps of document processing analysis, and it gives an overview of the tools needed for this analysis. This section of the course is preceded by an overview of German administrative history and traditions and followed by introductions to the different genres of resources available to researchers. The course also offers an overview of the holdings of the German Federal Archives’ holdings relating to the Holocaust and an explanatory glossary of the most important technical terms. 

This online course does not only consist of texts, links and embedded documents, but also contains presentation slides which include the recorded, playable presentation as an added soundtrack. In one instance, we included an audio file without any accompanying slides. We hope these formats will appeal to you and help to create an inspiring learning environment.

In contrast to the other EHRI online courses, Modern Diplomatics of the Holocaust is available in both German and English. On the one hand, we do believe that a workable knowledge of German is a prerequisite for in-depth research and analysis of German-language documents, and that certain aspects of history can best be described and understood in German because of the amount of specialised vocabulary that crops up in these documents. On the other hand, we want this course to reach as many interested researchers as possible and would like to lend support to those who are only starting out in their academic careers and are still improving their command of German. We hope that making the course available in both languages will help us to achieve these aims.

We would like this course, Modern Diplomatics of the Holocaust, to provide you with the tools you need to transcend the exclusive interpretation of a document’s text and to conduct more in-depth analysis of your source material. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at the German Federal Archives. You can find contact information for members of staff at the end of each module.

We hope your research will be crowned by success! 

Project team: Nicolai M. Zimmermann (project manager), Olga Goleta and Tobias Herrmann

Translation: Laura Radosh