Gary Mokotoff, Editor
Volume 8, Number 24 | December 23, 2007
Trip to Bad Arolsen
This past week, Sallyann Sack and I made a site visit to the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany. On a scale of 1 to 10, my impression of the facility and the people operating ITS is a 9.5. I went there as a pessimist expecting to see an organization that is reluctantly acquiescing to the demands of the Jewish community. Instead I found a group that is totally accommodating, dedicated and competent. Without digging up the past too much, I think the problems were caused by one man; he is no longer associated with ITS.
Below is my interpretation of the findings. More detailed information will be published in the Winter issue of AVOTAYNU by Sallyann Sack.
In its simplistic sense, ITS is an archives of 12 million documents (20,000 meters of files) regarding the fate of people during World War II (persecuted people only, not perpetrators) and after the War (refugees). An index card with summarized information was created for every person identified on a document. These cards comprise the Central Names Index which now contains 52 million index cards. If the person was a married woman and the maiden name was given, two index cards were created, one for each name. The third component of their holdings is case files (called T/D files.) In the beginning, there were only documents and the index. When an inquiry was received, they created a case file for the person being inquired about. Using the index, ITS collected all the relevant information from the documents and placed it into the case (T/D) file.
For the family historian, the Central Names Index is valuable, because it places a family member in a certain place at a certain time. The T/D files are potentially more valuable, because they may contain genealogical information provided by the inquirer. For example, if the inquirer was a family member, there might be additional information about the family.
How to Do Research
The entire Central Names Index has been digitized. Most of the records have been digitized. The T/D files have not been digitized and that process is not expected to be completed until 2010. Software was developed to search the Central Names Index by name. Provisions have been made in the search engine for name variants and alternate spellings. When a name is found, the software allows you to bring up all the index cards for the person. Its design is similar to a telephone book lookup in that you can browse up and down the index. The index was designed for internal use only and, therefore, is not user friendly. It is in German although there are plans to have an English-language version. This consideration is not really an obstacle; you learn rather quickly that “Drucken” means “Print.” As to the first problem, it means you must be trained on how to search the Index and how to retrieve results. This merely delays the time to do serious research. Sallyann Sack considers herself computer challenged, yet she learned rather rapidly how to use the search engine.
The principal problem is the contents of the index cards. They are often in German, frequently have abbreviations, and sometimes even have information that is encoded. When Sallyann and I did searches, we were assisted by a staff member who too often had to interpret the contents of the index card in ways that only an expert in using the system could glean its contents. Both the front and back of the index cards were digitized. This is because there often are notations on the back of the card made by persons at ITS about the document or in reference to other documents. They are often written in what might be called “ITS jargon”—only a trained ITS staff member would know what they mean.
Doing Research at Yad Vashem or USHMM
Anyone who has done research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City knows there is a world of difference between doing research at the Library and doing it at a local Family History Center. The same is going to be true for years to come when comparing doing research in Israel or the U.S. to doing research at Bad Arolsen, Germany.
The most serious obstacle at this time is the lack of the T/D files at Yad Vashem (YV) and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). The best you can do is write to ITS for a copy, but if the T/D files contain information that leads you back to the Central Names Index, you must revisit YV or USHMM at some future time.
There is a short-term problem created by the procedures ITS followed over the years. There are an estimated 500,000 index cards not in the Central Names Index. This is because when a T/D file was opened, the index cards sometimes were removed from the card index and placed in the T/D file and a new index card was created indicating a T/D file existed. This primarily affected spouses and children of the family. If a document contains the names of all family members, an index card was created for each. If an inquiry was made for any of the individuals, all the cards were placed in a T/D file. This means, at present, you cannot search for a child if an inquiry had been made in the past unless you know the name of the parents. ITS is aware of this problem and has given high priority to retrieving the index cards from the T/D files and adding them back to the Central Names Index. This project should take about a year.
Finally, you do not have the expertise of the ITS researchers to interpret the Index cards. This problem may be short term if YV and/or USHMM are willing to assign staff members or volunteers to the ITS project and train them in the use and interpretation of the system.
I was amazed at the quality of the staff. I expected the management to be good. All the workers with whom we interacted—all local people—seem very dedicated to their jobs. There are few positions at ITS that are mechanical; most require judgement and evaluation and you sense the staff is up to the task.
Bad Arolsen is a beautiful Baroque town with an ugly Holocaust-related past. It included an SS training camp, and the head of the royal Waldeck family, whose palace is in Bad Arolsen, was one of the principal SS officers in the Nazi regime. For his efforts, he was sent to prison for four years and his property was confiscated. The descendants of the duke are still permitted to live there even though they do not own the property.
The hotel we stayed at was excellent with a friendly English-speaking staff. It is a short walk from ITS. We ate dinner in three restaurants, all serving delicious food at reasonable prices (under $25). It short, Bad Arolsen makes a fine tourist town.
As noted above, see the article in the forthcoming Winter issue of AVOTAYNU for further information. You can subscribe to AVOTAYNU at http://www.avotaynu.com/journal.htm.
Additional information about the International Tracing Service can be found at http://its-arolsen.org/en/homepage/index.html.
USHMM Form Now on Internet
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is now accepting requests for searches of the ITS records. A form is available on the Internet at http://itsrequest.ushmm.org/its/getting_started.php. The site notes that priority will be given to Holocaust survivors and their immediate families.
Unclaimed Assets in Israel Online
The Company for Restitution of Holocaust Victims Assets has placed a list of assets in Israel, “previously owned by Holocaust victims,” on the Internet at http://www.hashava.org.il/eng/. Persons claiming to be heirs should submit applications for restitution of assets using a special form that is available at the web site. A list of persons owning the assets can be found at http://www.hashava.org.il/eng/assetList/. There are currently 60,000 entries. Assets include bank deposits, real estate and securities.
If there are spelling variants of the surname, use only the initial letters of the name when searching the database. Searching for “Moko” resulting in one person name Gecel Mokoton from Warsaw. This is almost certainly a misspelling of “Mokotow,” although the person is unknown to me. My maternal grandfather’s name was Tartasky (Tartacki in Polish). Searching for “Tarta” resulted in three men named Tartatzky. All are known to the family. The search engine has the flexibility of looking for any name that includes the sequence of letters in the search parameter. For example, the results of searching for “otow” included Bolotowski, Nachtowitz and others.
Call for Papers for 2008 Conference on Jewish Genealogy
There is now a web site for the 28th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy to be held in Chicago from August 17–22, 2008. It is located at http://www.chicago2008.org. The conference planners have issued a Call for Papers to be presented at the conference. Information can be found at the web site. All proposals must be submitted via an on-line process. The deadline for receipt of proposals is January 15, 2008.
The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies is co-sponsoring the event with the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois and the Illiana Jewish Genealogical Society. Conference and hotel registration will begin on January 1, 2008.
Ancestry.com Adds U.S. Passports 1795–1925 to Its Collection
Ancestry.com has added U.S. passport applications 1795–1925 to its collection. Sampling 20th century applications shows that the information on the application includes name; date and place of birth; place of residence; occupation; physical characteristics; and for persons not born in the U.S., name and arrival date of ship; and date and place of naturalization. This information is provided for all members of the family. The database is located at http://content.ancestry.com/iexec/?htx=List&dbid=1174&offerid=0%3a7858%3a0. Ancestry.com is a fee-for-service site.
Access to Ancestry.com at Family History Library Restored
For a number of months, free access to the Ancestry.com databases was suspended at the Mormon Church Family History Centers and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, because the two parties could not come to terms. It has been announced that an agreement has now been made that will provide free access to Ancestry.com to patrons of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and only the 13 largest regional Family History Centers. The regional centers are located in Mesa, Arizona; Los Angeles, California; Oakland, California; Orange, California; Sacramento, California; San Diego, California; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Pocatello, Idaho; Las Vegas, Nevada; Logan, Utah; Ogden, Utah; St. George, Utah; Hyde Park, London, England.
Genealogists/Historians Scuttle Plans to Limit Access to New Zealand Vital Records
A bill introduced into the New Zealand Parliament to limit access to birth, marriage and death records has been amended to the point where, for the most part, public access to these records will continue. The bill drew opposition from historians, genealogists, researchers, biographers and the news media, all of whom find the records an invaluable tool of their trade. Further information can be found at http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0711/S00459.htm and http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/466/story.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10479671
Jewish Genealogy Databases Reach Milestones
The JewishGen ViewMate function has now processed more than 11,000 images since it inception in 2000. ViewMate is the JewishGen tool that allows you to upload images such as photos, letters, documents, etc., and get volunteers to translate or comment on the images. ViewMate is located at http://data.jewishgen.org/ViewMate/.
Jewish Records Indexing-Poland (http://www.jri-poland.org) has now indexed more than three million Jewish birth, marriage and death records from more than 350 Polish towns, as well as indices from other sources, such as census records, legal notices, passports and newspaper announcements.
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