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How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust

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How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust
by Gary Mokotoff
Copyright ©1995 by Gary Mokotoff
ISBN Number 0–9626373-8-6

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Documentation after the Holocaust
After World War II, with hundreds of thousands of Jews scattered throughout Europe and millions having been murdered, attempts were made to identify the living and the dead so that survivors could locate relatives and friends and know the fate of those who perished. Lists of displaced persons were developed as early as 1943, but the burden of collecting information about both survivors and victims fell upon the International Tracing Service of the International Committee of the Red Cross. This organization still is active and receives thousands of inquiries each year. It is estimated that they hold more than 40 million index cards that record information about specific individuals.

After World War II, the remnant of European Jewry published yizkor books--memorial books--to document and remember the towns and townspeople destroyed in the Holocaust. To date, more than one thousand such works have been published. They include articles written by survivors and often provide a great deal of information about specific individuals from the town.

Yad Vashem, the principal repository in the world of Holocaust documentation, in 1955 started a global effort to document each individual murdered in the Holocaust. They asked people with knowledge of these victims to provide Pages of Testimony vouching that the named person was a Holocaust victim. To date, some three million Pages of Testimony are on file at the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Consequently, half of the six million victims have been documented individually through this manuscript collection. The Hall of Names is their cemetery and the Pages of Testimony are their tombstones.

Lists of victims by country, region or camp have been compiled since the war. Best known is the
Gedenkbuch, a list of 128,000 German Jews murdered in the Holocaust. It was compiled by the German government from surviving records of the war. A comparable book exists for all Dutch Jews. Some compiled lists are for regions (for example, Hajdu County, Hungary), cities (for example, Frankfurt am Main) and camps (for example, Theresienstadt).

Locating Survivors Today
Historically, Jews have banded together for mutual benefit and protection. International and national Jewish social service organizations, such as the Jewish Agency and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), helped Holocaust survivors relocate in countries that accepted refugees after World War II. Most of these organizations kept records of the individuals they helped, and some records are accessible to the public. When Jews emigrated from Europe around the turn of the century, they formed landsmanshaftn societies in their new lands that centered around their towns of origin. When Holocaust survivors left Europe, they joined existing societies or created their own new societies. Many of these groups still exist today. Even if they do not, their records have survived and may provide clues to help locate survivors.

Writing to Holocaust Resource Sites
Most facilities do not have the human resources to accommodate requests to do research. You may get them to do the research for you if your request is so specific that it will take them little time to accommodate you. For example, a request to the Yad Vashem archives that you are "looking for information about a Tobias Mokotowski, born about 1900, who lived in Otwock, Poland, before the Holocaust" probably will illicit a polite response that the archives' holdings for the town of Otwock are so extensive, and their human resources are so limited, that it is impossible for them to do the research. However, the following request was processed: "According to the
Guide to Unpublished Materials of the Holocaust Period, your record group M-1/DN-28/2 contains a list of Jews who lived in Otwock, Poland. Could you please check if there are any persons named Mokotowski on the list." Note that this second request is very specific, identifying where they must go within the archives to locate the information requested.

What if you do not know the exact name of the person? Some facilities will do generic searches, but only on unusual names. Examples are "all persons named Mokotow" or "all persons named Szare from Kalisz." If you are searching for Cohen, you must be more specific. If you are searching for Jacob Cohen, the name is so common that you may have to provide more specific information than just the name.

It is acceptable to write to foreign facilities in your native language. The response may be in their native language. We are now an international community. It is always possible to find someone in your area who can translate the response to your inquiry no matter in which language it is written.

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