What are Effects?

Effects used to mean baggage or movable property in general.

But in the context of World War II, effects were the personal items that prisoners had to hand over when they arrived at a prison or concentration camp. Sometimes the items were returned when the prisoners were released.

Wallets, identity papers, photos, letters, certificates … as well as jewelry, cigarette cases, wedding rings, pocket watches, wristwatches and fountain pens tell the story of these people’s lives before they were arrested. They are also a moving testament to their loss.

The concentration camps had personal effects storage rooms for holding the clothing and other items confiscated from prisoners.

Effects storage rooms, Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation de Besançon, France

If prisoners were transferred to another camp, which happened often, the SS sent on their personal effects after them.

Arolsen Archives, Doc-ID 2532993

This was not the case in the extermination camps. There, the perpetrators simply collected their victims’ property and carried it away. The Nazis turned their loot from the camps into money to fill their war coffers.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,
courtesy of Philip Vock, photo number: 14877

Most of the personal effects in the Arolsen Archives come from the Neuengamme concentration camp, though there are some from Dachau as well.

There are smaller collections of personal effects from Bergen-Belsen, the Hamburg Gestapo and elsewhere. The former owners were mostly political prisoners or forced laborers held in concentration camps. They came from over 30 countries, mainly in Central and Eastern Europe. The collection from Dachau in particular also includes many personal effects from German prisoners.

In April 1945 in Neuengamme, SS-Sturmbannführer Christoph-Heinz Gehring, head of the camp administration, ordered his subordinate Franz Wulf to find storage space for the property of prisoners held in Neuengamme and its satellite camps.

BArch, R9361III-51781

Wulf went to his home town of Lunden and arranged for everything to be stowed in the bowling alley of an inn there.

Soon after the liberation, the British Army secured the prisoners’ property.

In 1948, the British handed over the objects to the Central Claims Registry in Stadthagen (known as the Office for Internal Restitution from 1955) and ordered that they be returned to their owners.

The personal effects from Bergen-Belsen were found in a terrible state in a branch of the Reichsbank in Lüneburg. They had been looted and intentionally destroyed. These items could only be attributed to individuals in around 100 cases.

In Dachau, former prisoners themselves took responsibility for managing the personal effects. Many items were returned directly to the survivors.

But this was not always possible, particularly for prisoners in the satellite camps.

As a result, personal effects were passed from institution to institution before finally arriving in Arolsen in 1963.

Walter Cieślik in Prisoner Clothing at his Desk at the IIO, Dachau, June 5, 1945
DaA F 1832/33281/KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau

The Arolsen Archives began searching for the rightful owners, survivors or their families.

In 1963, more than 4,700 envelopes with personal items from former prisoners were held in the archive waiting to be returned.

Many hundreds of personal effects have now been given back to their former owners or their descendants. What remains in the archive are items whose owners have not yet been located even after decades of searching.

In recent years, new online research options and an international network of volunteers have made it possible to return many more personal effects. But as of April 2020, the Arolsen Archives still had around 2,800 envelopes with the personal effects of former prisoners whose rightful owners have not yet been found.

Help us with our search! Join in!

School and education projects

The “effects” and the fates of their owners are tangible and offer exciting opportunities for research-based learning about Nazi persecution in lessons and projects. Those who want to go deeper can help to find families.

About us

Our website can tell you more about the work we do. And about how you can help us to keep memories and keep history alive.

Arolsen Archives

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