Gary Mokotoff, Editor
Volume 8, Number 22 | November 11, 2007
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The Tragedy of Access to Bad Arolsen Records
They say the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman nor an empire. It can equally be said that Hitler’s Secret Archives (the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany-ITS) was neither Hitler’s, nor secret, nor an archives. It was created by the Allied Forces, and recent reports state ITS never had a professional archivist on their staff.
What about it being secret? That is the great tragedy surrounding the recent change of policy by ITS that permits public access to these records. In reality, there has been public access for nearly 52 years. Apparently not many people, other than the Jewish genealogy community, have been aware of it. In 1955, Yad Vashem microfilmed a major portion of the ITS collection as it existed at that time. I have heard reports that the microfilming was done with the understanding that there would not be public access to the documents at Yad Vashem’s archives in Jerusalem. But it is inconceivable that Yad Vashem would tell a Holocaust survivor or family that they could not have access to this valuable collection if it might show the fate of family. So, quietly, Yad Vashem allowed access to the record collection.
The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, recently ran an article about the discovery of Mauthausen death lists at the ITS facilities in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The Haaretz reporter only needed to have gone to Jerusalem anytime in the past 52 years to make the discovery; these documents are on microfilm at the Yad Vashem archives. American Holocaust survivors recently berated the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for taking too much time to get its copy of the ITS collection. Time was running out for the aging Holocaust survivor generation. Survivors have had the past 52 years to visit Yad Vashem, or have someone do it for them, to gain access to much of the information held by ITS.
There is a possibility that my trip to Bad Arolsen next month with Sallyann Sack will be of no value to my personal research of the Mokotow family, but it still will be valuable to report to the Jewish genealogical community what we find. This is because in 1984, while attending the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy held in Jerusalem, I went to Yad Vashem and copied 55 index cards of Mokotows from the Central Names Index of the ITS collection. In 1984 I learned from these ITS cards that one relative who lived in Frankfurt (his exact address shown on the card) was transferred from Sachsenhausen to Dachau on 3 September 1940 and died at Dachau on 3 September 1940 reportedly of heart failure (he was 48 years old). Another index card told me his wife committed suicide (“tod durch Erhängen”) in Frankfurt on 25 September 1942. Another card was an inquiry from their daughter on 19 April 1948 trying to find out the fate of her mother. Her given address was a place in Brooklyn, New York.
Another set of ITS index cards started me on the quest to locate Holocaust survivor relatives who fled Poland after the war and immigrated to Australia. Another set documented the tragic death of a Mokotow who died at Bergen Belsen 30 days after it was liberated. She was 21 years old.
Many of these cards provide duplicate information about individuals, because the information was derived from the same root source. But often, each adds another bit of information about the person. For the 21-year old who died in Bergen Belsen, one card says merely that she was born on 1 December 1923 and died in Belsen camp on 23 May 1945. Source: American Joint Distribution Committee, Paris. Another gives her home address in Paris. Source: Records of C.C. Bergen-Belsen. Another card includes her occupation as couturuere (dressmaker). Source: Persons liberated in Belsen camp, Nominal role of French Nationals on 6 May 1945. Yet another lists her burial as einzelgrab (single grave) Source: Liste ayant trait aux deportes francais du camp de Belsen (List related to French deported to Belsen Camp). All told there are 11 index cards for her; from her deportation from Paris (Drancy) to Auschwitz to Bergen Belsen to her death.
All this information was gathered 23 years ago from records that have been at Yad Vashem for 52 years.
Today we have two great tools to enhance the utility of this vital Holocaust-related database: computers and the Internet. At a minimum, finding aids and better search engines can be created to locate records. At a maximum, the entire Central Names Index—and, perhaps, the entire collection—could be placed on the Internet. There are reports that the agreement to allow public access specifically excluded placing the data on the Internet. But then, in 1955, Yad Vashem agreed to exclude public access to the ITS microfilms; in 1995, the Mormon Church agreed not to baptize Jews; and in 1939 Hitler agreed not to invade Russia.
Paul Shapiro Explains ITS Holdings on Tracing Your Roots
There is an excellent Washington-based television program called Tracing Your Roots that is hosted by Arlene Sachs and Sallyann Amdur Sack. Recently they interviewed Paul Shapiro, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. Shapiro is credited with leading the effort to make the International Tracing Service records accessible to the public.
The interview is available at http://tracingroots.nova.org. In the interview, Shapiro describes the vast collection found at ITS which includes more than 50 million pages of documentation of people persecuted by the Nazis—mostly Jews. The collection includes
* Concentration camp records - 10 million
* Forced labor camp records - 8 million
* Post-war documentation- 1.5 million
* Central Names Index - 17.5 million
The balance is in various categories.
The program runs for a half hour and provides a valuable overview of the ITS holdings and the Holocaust Museum’s plans to make the information available at its facility.
While at the website, be sure to check other past programs of Tracing Your Roots. There are other topics of interest such as soundex systems, use of DNA testing, Library of Congress Online Catalogs, and many others.
ITS Accepting Online Requests
The International Tracing Service is now accepting online inquiries. There are three potential application forms: (1) tracing inquiry for reuniting persons, (2) information on detention/employment/stay and (3) historical research request. Access to these forms can be initiated at http://www.its-arolsen.org/en/key_activities/index.html.
The complete news announcement can be found at http://www.its-arolsen.org/en/press/press_releases/index.html?expand=632&cHash=93edaa5738
Biographies of Rabbis Who Perished in the Holocaust
Some 2400 biographies of rabbis who perished in the Holocaust are now available at http://horabis.blogspot.com/. The site is in Hebrew.
IAJGS Conference in 2009 To Be In Philadelphia
The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies has announced the 29th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy will be held in Philadelphia, from August 2–7, 2009, at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel. The conference will be co-hosted by the IAJGS and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia.
The 2008 Conference on Jewish Genealogy will be in Chicago, August 17–22, 2008, at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile and is co-hosted by the IAJGS, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois and the Illiana Jewish Genealogical Society.
Information about the conferences can be found at http://www.iajgs.org.
New Book: Grin-ealogy
We all have our favorite stories of humorous encounters while doing our family history research. George I. Sackheim has been researching his family’s history for more than 60 years, and he has accumulated enough stories to create a book. It is called Grin-ealogy and it contains the best of Sackheim’s humourous tales.
For example, the telephone call Sackheim once received from a family member: She said, “Take my uncle’s name off the family tree.” When Sackheim asked why, she replied, “Because he died!”
Or the incident that occurred when he wanted to get the hospital records of a child that was stillborn. The worker at the hospital stated , “I can only release that information to the next of kin. Are you the son of that baby who died at birth?” When Sackheim said, “Yes,” he was given the information needed.
Some of items are clearly Sackheim’s creation or the creation of others: “My family came to the United States a month after the Pilgrims. They arrived on the Juneflower.”
Interspersed with the humorous stories are serious ones, such as the story of the martyrdom of his 15-greats grandfather, Rabbi Israel of Ruzhany from whom all Sackheims (and variants) descend.
All together, there are more than 100 such items all of which make delightful, quick reading and make an ideal gift to a genealogy friend...such as yourself! Treat yourself to a bit of genealogy humor. The price is only $12 plus shipping. Ordering information for Grin-ealogy can be found at http://www.avotaynu.com/books/grinealogy.htm.
Guardian and Observer Place Back Issues Online
Two British newspapers, the Guardian and the Observer have placed more than 212 years of their back editions on the Internet. They are offering free access during November. Thereafter it is available free of charge at any library or institution that subscribes to the ProQuest Historical Newspapers Service, or, for the nominal cost of £7.95, you can purchase access for 24 hours. There are rates for longer term access.
The site is located at http://archive.guardian.co.uk/. Caution: After an initial search, the results page displays the ability to search again. Note that it says “Search within results,” that is, it will not initiate a new search but will only search within the results found.
Using this online database, I was able to find a legal notice of a Mokotow relative living in Manchester who applied for citizenship in 1947.
Are You Descended from the Vilna Goan?
In 1997, Avotaynu published Eliyahu’s Branches: The Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family. It identifies up to 20,000 descendants of this great scholar in a series of descendant charts. Equally important, the author, Chaim Freedman, describes his research into the early years of the Gaon’s family resolving certain questions as to who were his children and in what order they were born. We have now placed the index to the 20,000 names on the web. It can be found at http://www.avotaynu.com/books/gaon.htm. If you have a family legend that claims you are descended from the Vilna Gaon, you can now check the index in the book. The author has a blog that features a number of articles about the Vilna Gaon and his descendants. It is located at http://chfreedman.blogspot.com/.
Famillion Schedule Slips
In the June 17, 2007, (Volume 8, Number 12) edition of Nu? What’s New? I reported that a startup company called Famillion plans to create a family tree database that will contain the entire Jewish population of the world by the end of this year, according to their news release. The company has now informed at least one president of a Jewish Genealogical Society that the project has slipped until the end of 2008. I have only one question: If they plan to have all Jews on family trees by the end of the 2008, why do they need the help of Jewish Genealogical Societies?
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