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  • Roots and Branches: Holocaust Records from Soviet Archives Now Available

    Miriam Weiner

    Published Date : October-November 1990
     For many years thousands of family historians with Russian roots have been frustrated by the inaccessibility of Soviet archives, where we would hope to find such documents as birth, marriage and death records for our ancestors.  Although we assumed that much more information existed, we never anticipated the wealth of Holocaust-period material now available.

    In a gesture of cooperation unprecedented in the 45 years since World War II, the Soviet Union has opened its archives and shared with the Red Cross material recovered by the Soviet Army during the liberation of the camps at the close of World War II.  The recently microfilmed data indude 46 Sterbebücher (Death Books) containing 70,000 death certificates from Auschwitz.  These hooks represent victims of “natural causes,” not those who perished in the gas chambers.  In addition, there are lists of 130,000 prisoners who were used for forced labor by various German firms, and 200,000 sufferers in other camps, such as Sachsenhausen, Gross Rosen and Buchenwald.

    The documents are housed in Arolsen, Germany, at the International Tracing Service (ITS), which is working together with the International Committee of the Red Cross.  Forty-six million documents pertaining to 13 million persons are already on file.

    The Central Maryland chapter of the American Red Cross announced the opening on 24 September 1990 of the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and information Service, whereby individuals can contact their local chapter of the American Red Cross for the appropriate inquiry forms.  All requests will then be sent to the Baltimore Center for translation into German, and forwarded to the ITS in Germany. There is no charge for a search request.

    The ITS records cover people in displaced-persons camps, survivors and victims of concentration camps, and names of children separated from their parents or close relatives during or immediately after the War.  ITS records also include deportation lists and files of search requests. These last arrive from throughout the world, at a rate of close to 100,000 per year.

    As years pass, the likelihood of matching a search with a surviving relative becomes less and less. Therefore, it becomes more probable that a successful match between a search request and FFS files will end with a notice that a lost family member died on/in such a date and place.  Many younger prisoners, however, may still be living.

    If you can imagine 46 million file cards in one place, you can understand why it is important that as much information as possible be included in a search request.  It is not possible to process a request for information about “everyone named Goldberg from Minsk” or “Abraham Shapiro from Warsaw.”  Many more details - such as date and place of birth, parents’ names, last known address, and your relationship to the person sought -may be necessary.

    The ITS records are not complete.  Many documents were destroyed by the SS before liberation or during evacuation of the camps, or were lost because of wartime conditions.  As the 400,000 names newly released by Soviet archives are incorporated into the 46 million documents at ITS in Germany, attempts will be made to match these names with outstanding search requests.

    Should the ITS obtain new or additional information long after an inquiry has been made, it will -even years later - inform the inquirer.  If you made an inquiry in the past and have since moved, a new request is recommended.

    In addition to the tracing service, the ITS also processes requests for proof of internment in labor camps (to determine eligibility for compensation), and will issue a certificate documenting dates and places of incarceration.  A search of these newly-released documents from the Soviet archives, and of the millions of documents already on file at the ITS, is an unprecedented opportunity for Jews all over the world to learn the fate of family members lost in the Holocaust.

    Miriam Weiner, C.G., author and lecturer, specializes in Jewish and Eastern European ancestry and Holocaust research.  Her syndicated column “Roots and Branches” appears in over 85 publications nationwide, and she is co-editor of the forthcoming two-volume Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy.  She has prepared a beginner’s guide (55 pages, $12.50) on how to research family history that includes charts, a list of archives and libraries, bibliography, maps, family group sheets and more.  Information about this and other publications can he obtained by writing to her at 136 Sandpiper Key, Secaucus, NJ 07094.

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