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Museum helps survivors to track down Holocaust clues

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has begun helping survivors of the Holocaust navigate a vast Nazi archive that promises to document their persecution and provide clues to the fate of family members killed.

After months of work on more than 100 million digital images from the files, the museum was announcing Thursday that it would begin answering requests from survivors and their families for information.

In August, the International Tracing Service of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which administers the archive, began transferring the documents from their depository in Bad Arolsen, Germany, to the Washington museum and to two others — Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem’s outskirts, and the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw, Poland.

The Washington museum will be the first of the three museums to begin answering large numbers of requests that researchers hope will help survivors and their families get long-sought answers to bitter questions. They believe even small details could prove invaluable to aging survivors.

The reason that we got into this in the first place is that we heard from so many survivors and families that it was important for them psychologically, said Paul Shapiro, director of the museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. Having a copy of a real document in your hand, perhaps seeing the signature of someone who you lost — that may be the only connection to a moment when that person was alive that you have got.

The museum has been accepting requests for information from survivors and their families since last month. It also has provided information to a small number of people as part of its efforts to learn how to search the immense archive and to train its researchers. Now it will begin responding on a larger scale.

Survivors and their families can make requests online on the museum’s Web site (http://www.ushmm.org/). The museum also will provide request forms by mail or through a toll-free number, 866-912-4385.

The museum is warning that while the documents — transportation lists, Gestapo orders, camp registers, slave labor booklets, death books — refer to about 17.5 million people, they are not a comprehensive documentation of the fates of the millions of victims and survivors.

Most of the documents in the archive are written by hand, sometimes in old German script. They also contain variations in the spelling of names, many of which are recorded phonetically. That makes it impossible, for now, to convert large numbers of files to a digitally searchable form.

Shapiro says survivors who hope the files will contain important information on lost life insurance policies also may be frustrated, as researchers have not found evidence that the files contain that information.

Those hopes have been reflected in legal action by survivors. In a multimillion-dollar settlement between victims and the Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali, a federal judge ruled last year that a deadline for victims to file claims, now expired, could be extended until August if the Arolsen files turned up relevant information.

Despite the archive’s limitations, historians believe the files’ data on the 17.5 million individuals will add texture to the narrative of misery in the camps, where millions of people were worked to death or were simply exterminated with industrial efficiency. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, one of every three Jews on Earth at the time.

Allied forces began collecting the documents even before the end of World War II and eventually entrusted them to the Red Cross. The archive has been governed since 1955 by a commission of 11 nations that ratified an accord in November that unsealed the archive.

The International Tracing Service has completed digitizing some 50 million index cards from shelves that would stretch 16 miles and fill a half-dozen buildings in Bad Arolsen. The remainder of the collection, relating to slave labor and displaced persons camps, will be transferred to the museums in installments between 2008 and 2010. E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Museum helps survivors to track down Holocaust clues – found here.


January 18, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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