TRAC­ING HOLO­CAUST VIC­TIMS

Jeanette R Rosen­berg re­veals the key ref­er­ence sources for any­one in­ves­ti­gat­ing the fate of their Jewish fam­ily mem­bers dur­ing the Sec­ond World War

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

The roots of the Holo­caust or Shoah, as it is also known, are long and deep. Mas­sacres and pogroms were fa­mil­iar themes across the cen­turies but the Holo­caust was an en­tirely dif­fer­ent level of per­se­cu­tion. It was also dif­fer­ent in the de­gree to which the per­pe­tra­tors doc­u­mented their own ac­tions. The ex­tent of the Holo­caust can be seen clearly in the maps you can find at bit.ly/Holo­caustmaps and bit.ly/Yivo­pe­dia.

The elec­tion of Adolf Hitler and the Na­tional So­cial­ists in 1933 was the first main step in the process that led to the Holo­caust. Ini­tially, many laws and acts were in­tro­duced that af­fected the liveli­hoods of Ger­man Jews, such as their re­moval from the Ger­man Civil Ser­vice as well as other ar­eas of pub­lic life and cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing or­ches­tras and film mak­ing. More de­tails can be found on www.the­holo­caust ex­plained.org. Pro­fes­sional di­rec­to­ries can be used to iden­tify peo­ple who might have been Jewish by look­ing for any­one that sud­denly left their pro­fes­sion in the early Nazi pe­riod. In Ger­many and Aus­tria the mid­dle names Sara and Is­rael were legally added to birth records of all Jews in the late 1930s.

The Nazi’s ini­tial ap­proach was to en­cour­age Jews to em­i­grate and, in­deed, many left for other coun­tries in Europe or else­where. De­spite mov­ing, some were later en­gulfed in the Holo­caust. Many reached the UK, USA and Canada but oth­ers could not gain en­try to these des­ti­na­tions due to im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies, so ended up in un­ex­pected places such as the Caribbean, South Amer­ica, Shang­hai and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. Or­di­nary pas­sen­ger lists and doc­u­men­ta­tion from refugee or­gan­i­sa­tions can help with trac­ing these refugees.

It wasn’t only Jewish peo­ple that were vic­tims of the Holo­caust, many other groups were also tar­geted on both racial and po­lit­i­cal grounds. Other per­se­cuted groups in­cluded black Ger­mans, LGBTQ in­di­vid­u­als, phys­i­cally and men­tally dis­abled peo­ple, Roma and Sinti peo­ple (gyp­sies), Poles and other Slavic peo­ples, Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses and mem­bers of po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion groups. Hitler didn’t per­mit in­ter­ra­cial re­la­tion­ships and many hus­bands and wives of Ger­man Jews were forced to choose be­tween di­vorce or con­cen­tra­tion camps. Many of those im­pris­oned died, as you can see on the Jewish Vir­tual Li­brary bit.ly/JVLHolo­caust

It wasn’t only Jewish peo­ple that were the vic­tims of the Holo­caust, many other groups were also tar­geted

Trac­ing vic­tims

Trac­ing Holo­caust vic­tims has al­ways been dif­fi­cult be­cause, his­tor­i­cally, the Holo­caust ar­chives were only opened to re­searchers for the pur­poses of find­ing miss­ing peo­ple or to doc­u­ment atroc­i­ties for com­pen­sa­tion claims. In 2008 a land­mark agree­ment was reached to open the In­ter­na­tional Trac­ing Ser­vice (ITS) ar­chives at Bad Arolsen in Ger­many ( www.its-arolsen.org/en.)

The ITS ar­chives were cre­ated to help trace Holo­caust vic­tims and sur­vivors, and to re­unite fam­i­lies frag­mented dur­ing the war. Source ma­te­ri­als were ini­tially col­lected from within post-war West Ger­many and later pro­vided from other coun­tries, in­sti­tu­tions, mu­se­ums and col­lec­tions.

The ar­chives hold 100 mil­lion pages of Holo­caust-era doc­u­men­ta­tion re­lat­ing to the fates of more than 17.5 mil­lion peo­ple dur­ing and af­ter the Sec­ond World War. Among them you’ll find camp records, trans­porta­tion lists, forced labour doc­u­ments and records of deaths and post-war dis­placed per­sons. Ini­tially man­aged by the Red Cross, the ar­chives are still gov­erned by an in­ter­na­tional com­mis­sion of 11 na­tions, in­clud­ing the UK. Each mem­ber of the in­ter­na­tional com­mis­sion holds a sin­gle dig­i­tal copy of the ar­chives, which is kept at one des­ig­nated lo­ca­tion.

The UK copy, com­pris­ing over 15 ter­abytes of elec­tronic data, was made avail­able for re­search with the sup­port of the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment and is held at The Wiener Li­brary in Lon­don. The Amer­i­can copy is held by the United States Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mu­seum ( www.ushmm.org) in down­town Washington DC and the Is­raeli copy is at Yad Vashem, The World Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Cen­ter in Is­rael ( www.yad­vashem.org).

Search­ing the ITS ar­chives is made eas­ier with the help of a spe­cial­ist re­searcher be­cause the records are in 25 lan­guages and most are en­tirely hand­writ­ten. Also, the digi­tised data­base was cre­ated from scanned im­ages and although find­ing aids are be­ing made and search­able in­for­ma­tion is be­ing added to the com­put­erised im­ages, it’s a slow but on­go­ing process. The full ar­chive isn’t avail­able on­line but some small col­lec­tions have be­come avail­able re­cently at bit.ly/digi­coll­sITS.

If you’re not a di­rect de­scen­dant of a Holo­caust sur­vivor, it’s best to send your query to the ITS ar­chives in Ger­many. The Wiener Li­brary, the UK holder of the ar­chives, pri­ori­tises per­sonal re­search for Holo­caust sur­vivors, refugees and their de­scen­dants. It also strongly pro­motes the ITS col­lec­tions for aca­demic re­search and Holo­caust ed­u­ca­tion through work­shops and sem­i­nars. If you’re go­ing to sub­mit a search re­quest, gather as much in­for­ma­tion about each in­di­vid­ual you’re search­ing for, but es­pe­cially their first and sur­names, dates of birth (even if ap­prox­i­mate) and their pos­si­ble where­abouts dur­ing and af­ter the War.

Ref­er­ence vol­umes

Given the shift­ing bor­ders be­tween coun­tries dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, it can be es­pe­cially hard to con­firm par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tions, es­pe­cially as the lan­guage used to name them of­ten changed along with the bor­ders. One book that’s a huge help when it comes to find­ing places is Where Once We Walked: A Guide to the Jewish Com­mu­ni­ties De­stroyed in the Holo­caust by Gary Mokotoff, Sallyann Sack and Alexan­der Sharon (Avotaynu Inc, 2002). It’s a gazetteer of towns and cities with Jewish pop­u­la­tions in the 19th and first half of the 20th cen­turies that were mostly or com­pletely de­stroyed dur­ing the Holo­caust. Cov­er­ing over 23,500 towns in Cen­tral and East­ern Europe, it pro­vides 17,500 al­ter­nate names of places be­fore the First World War and also gives their Yid­dish names.

Res­cued ar­chives and in­for­ma­tion for towns and cities that no longer have Jewish com­mu­ni­ties have tended to end up at the Cen­tral Ar­chives for the His­tory of the Jewish Peo­ple in Jerusalem, in Is­rael ( cahjp.nli.org.il). Cen­tral

Ar­chives staff can’t process ex­ter­nal re­search re­quests even for a fee, so they ad­vise vis­it­ing in per­son or send­ing a lo­cal re­searcher on your be­half.

Yizkor books are an­other very use­ful ref­er­ence source. They are me­mo­rial vol­umes writ­ten by sur­viv­ing mem­bers of Jewish com­mu­ni­ties (shtetls) de­stroyed dur­ing the Holo­caust that pro­vide com­mu­nity his­to­ries, names of Jewish lead­ers, events, sto­ries, pho­tos and rec­ol­lec­tions of the places. Many Yizkor books in­clude necrolo­gies – lists of peo­ple that died in the Holo­caust. Most are writ­ten in the lo­cal lan­guage, Yid­dish or He­brew. Large col­lec­tions of Yizkor books are held by both the Bri­tish Li­brary and in the Jewish Ge­nealog­i­cal So­ci­ety of Great Bri­tain li­brary

Jewish peo­ple are cor­ralled at gun­point by Nazi stormtroop­ers dur­ing the de­struc­tion of Warsaw in 1943

The en­trance to Auschwitz

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