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Concentration Camp Records

Concentration Camp Records

One unfortunate fact of life about World War II is that virtually every Jewish family suffered the loss of loved ones during the Holocaust. In some cases, the victims were distant family members and, as such, may have made the pain less severe. The victims were the cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles who remained behind in the "old country" and had children, many of whom would become one of the six million Jewish victims.

While there are numerous published and computerized sources for documenting perpetrators, victims, and survivors, the actual records maintained in the various concentration camps and ghetto administrative centers continue to be an under utilized source for research. These records consist of documents, photographs, and detailed lists compiled from transport data. The lists, mostly in card format, will include the full name of the victim, date and place of birth, nationality and occupation, date of death (disposal), and source of reference. Copies of actual documents can be requested by family members. Many of the victims shown in the photographs at the various archives are still unidentified. Their main purpose has been to show the horror of the holocaust at various trials, televised documentaries, and exhibitions throughout the world. The Nazi government of Germany required extremely detailed reports and those who can tolerate the heartbreak of reading the narratives will find the information incredibly specific.

Upon receipt of a completed inquiry form, archive personnel will search their records and send copies of any records found. There is usually no charge for the search or the documents, though many researchers have later made donations to help maintain the quality of service. One of the largest museums and archives is located in Poland at the infamous Auschwitz camp. Inquires for this camp can be addressed to Panstwowe Museum, 32-603 Oswiecim, POLAND.

For thousands of researchers with Russian roots, a major stumbling block has been their lack of access to Soviet Archives, where one would normally find such documents as birth, marriage, and death records for their ancestors. Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, this situation is changing. One additional and unanticipated benefit has been the discovery of materials related to the Holocaust in Russia. Several years ago, the Tass news Agency announced the discovery of over 70,000 identity cards for Auschwitz prisoners. The names of prisoners were neatly recorded, day after day, hour by hour, in more than 40 volumes. Most of this material was uncovered by the Red Army as it liberated the camp near the end of World War II.

The "death books", as they are called, contain detailed data of prisoners who perished at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, with a full page devoted to each victim listed, including the circumstances of death and various biographical details, their complete name, birth date, and names of parents. This discovery provides another source to learn the fate of family members -- a source previously buried in the Soviet National Archives. Prior to the collapse of the former Soviet Union, access to these materials was restricted to a few authorized researchers, primarily government agencies and selected individuals. Access was generally restricted to agencies and individuals for the sole purpose of prosecuting Nazi war criminals. Since some Nazi war criminals found employment with the communists after the war, even this access depended on the identity of the war criminal in question.

While researchers were combing through these new materials in the Soviet Archives, they discovered more references to other individuals who ended up in the various concentrations in eastern Europe, although Auschwitz was still the main location. Much of this new material was uncovered during the microfilming by the International Tracing Service (ITS) located in Aroslen, Germany. This project was completed in the early 1990's. The ITS is part of the International Committee of the Red Cross headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The microfilmed records included the 46 volumes of Sterbebucher (death books) containing over 70,000 death certificates from Auschwitz inmates., as well as deaths from "natural causes" as opposed to those who perished in the gas chambers and ovens. In addition, there are lists of names for 130,000 prisoners used for forced labor in various German firms and 200,000 names of victims in other concentration camps, including Sachsenhausen, Gross Rosen, and Buchenwald. Within the archives, note headings lead the researchers directly to the sections dealing with Dachau, Mauthausen, and Buchenwald camps.

These documents are being housed at the International Tracing Services Archives in Arolsen, Germany where 46 million documents pertaining to 13 million individuals are on file. In 1990, the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross announced the opening of the Holocaust and war Victims Tracing and Information Service through which individuals can contact their local chapter of the American Red Cross where the appropriate inquiry forms may be completed. All requests will then be sent to the Baltimore center where they will be translated into German and forwarded to the ITS in Germany.

The ITS records include names of people in displaced persons' camps, survivors and victims of concentration camps, deportation lists, name lists of children who were separated from their parents or close relatives during or immediately after the war, and search requests from throughout the world, which continue to arrive at the rate of over 100,000 per year. As years pass, the likelihood of matching a search query with a surviving relative becomes less and less. Therefore, the probable result of a successful match between search request and ITS files will be a reply indicating the individual's date and place of death. In spite of the odds, people continue to search. It is important to be as specific as possible with your query. If one can picture 46 million file cards, one can understand why it is critical to provide as much detailed information as possible for your queries. It simply is not feasible to process a request for information concerning "all the people named Goldberg from Leningrad, or Shapiro from Berlin or Warsaw". Many more details are necessary, such as the date and place of birth, names of parents, last known address, and your relationship to the person sought.

The records of the ITS are not complete. Thousands of documents were destroyed by the SS as the Red Army advanced eastward towards Berlin, and it became apparent that the Allies intended to prosecute German leaders in the government, and military, for war crimes at the conclusion of World War II. As the 400,000 newly released names are incorporated into the 46 million documents currently on file, attempts to match these names with outstanding search requests will be made and hopefully result in some answers for those who are still waiting for information and closure to the tragedy of the Holocaust.

In addition to the tracing service, the ITS also processes requests for proof of interment in labor camps to determine eligibility for payments, and it will issue a certificate to the inquirer documenting the dates and location of incarceration.


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Compiled by Bryan L. Mulcahy, Reference Librarian, Fort Myers-Lee County Library, 10/19/98

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