Fonds - League of Nations External Fonds

Identity area

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League of Nations External Fonds


  • 1920-1937 (Creation)

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Administrative history

A distinction must be made in the archives between two basic categories: on the one hand, the Secretariat archive group (greater in volume than all the rest put together), and on the other the various archive groups of external origin. The Secretariat constituted files and kept registers. At the same time, the institutions set up by the League of Nations or under its auspices in various parts of the world were also day-by-day drafting and storing documents of every kind, the "Commission files".

Therefore are considered as archive groups "of external origin" all the groups of files constituted outside the Secretariat (whose headquarters, it must be recalled, never left Geneva) by more or less autonomous bodies established by the League of Nations, such as the Administrative Commissions or units directly responsible to the Secretariat such as the branch offices to fulfill some administration or arbitrary obligations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.

Archival history

Among the documents of external origin are files coming from administrative commissions and courts of law, (e.g. the Saar Plebiscite Supreme Court, the Upper Silesia Arbitral Tribunal, the Administrative Commissions for the Financial Reconstruction of Austria or Hungary, the Saar Basin Governing Commission, the Mixed Greco-Bulgarian Emigration Commission, etc.). This material also consists of archives produced by administrative units directly reporting to the Secretariat such as the branch offices including normal external offices, (Berlin or London offices, for example), or offices detached for the duration of the war (Princeton Office or mission, and Washington Office for example). Furthermore, Institutes such as the International Educational Cinematographic Institute in Rome or the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law also in Rome, etc., also produced documents of external origin but the fate of these archives is unfortunately so far unknown.

It has not yet been possible to list all the external units, which in their day produced files. Furthermore, no mention is made of certain bodies, which were very loosely linked with the League of Nations (e.g. the International Bureaux) nor, of course, of ILO which has its own archives.

If about 90 per cent of the Secretariat archive group has remained in the original state, with scarcely any confusion, the situation regarding the archive groups of external origin is less satisfactory.

It has to be noted that:

  • Certain small archive groups (for example, the records of a mission) have, because of their small volume, been incorporated into the Secretariat archive group, either in the Registry files, or in the section files (e.g. the papers of the Mosul Commission) or even into larger archive groups of external origin.

  • Many archive groups of external origin, before being sent to Geneva, were divided up among various Governments in view of the territorial relevance of some of the material.

  • External archive groups are also kept elsewhere than in Geneva because they were allocated (for various reasons) to local or national depositories. In Paris, UNESCO keeps the archives of the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation; the French "Archives Nationales" keep, among the papers of the IRO (International Refugee Organization, 1946-1952, replaced in 1951 by the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees), some files of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees set up in London in 1939; the archives of the Bombay Office, then, from 1937, New Delhi Office are said to have been "handed over to the Indian authorities to be kept at the disposal of the services of the United Nations", etc.

  • Certain archive groups of external origin, such as the Danzig archives of the Office of the High Commissioner in Danzig (1920-1939) did exist, but regarding their "survival" or repository there is no knowledge or certainty in the present state of research, and their destruction is even probable or certain.

  • Finally, many external archive groups have been lost (e.g. the papers of the High Commissioner in Danzig), or systematically destroyed (e.g. the records of the Tokyo Office, deliberately destroyed in 1940). It is, in fact, impossible to draw up a list of all those which are missing.

Each archive group of external origin has its own history and special characteristics, depending on the institution, which created it and its geographical location.

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      Protection period to: 1977-12-31

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          Archivist's note

          Protection period duration: 40

          Archivist's note

          Protection period note:

          Archivist's note

          Permission: No permission necessary.

          Archivist's note

          Physical usability: Without limits

          Archivist's note

          Term of protection: None

          Accession area