November 01, 2011
By Manya Friedman
For decades we survivors have been waiting for the release by the International Tracing Service (ITS) of the millions of records kept in Germany. The Nazis were very meticulous in keeping records of the countries they occupied and of the people whose fates they determined. They kept strict records of every person and event, of dates, and of the destinations of the people involved. We were anxious to get access to those documents to learn about the final fates of our lost dear ones.
After the Allied forces liberated the camps, the records from the camps were collected and deposited for safekeeping in a small, quiet town, Bad Arolsen, in Germany. The place was chosen as safe because it was not destroyed by the bombings during liberation. After the war, even the records of people in the displaced persons camps were added to the collection. After some years, the International Committee of Management of Bad Arolsen was taken over by the International Committee of the Red Cross and controlled by a governing board of 11 nations.
While I was in Sweden, after being liberated by the Swedish Red Cross, I started writing to the International Red Cross inquiring about my parents and two younger brothers. At first I inquired about the entire family as a unit. Then I thought it would be better if I inquired about each person individually, in case they had been separated. Both times waiting for a reply was agonizing. A typical family request took years of frustrated efforts to get a reply. The reply I finally received was: “There is no record.” I was still holding on to an illusion that maybe the International Red Cross did not search well enough.
After a half a century passed I gave up hope of ever finding any answers. Several years ago a staff member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum—after having been urged by survivors to have those records released during their lifetime—became determined to get involved to solve this problem. It was an uphill battle. At every step he encountered opposition. Every request was refused, every proposition rejected. For seven difficult years the Museum fought to get those archives opened. Finally, after years of perseverance some of the records were released, though not all of the 11 countries have yet agreed to release the records.
In the meantime many of the survivors have already passed away, never knowing what happened to their families. Some survivors finally learned the fates of their families, and one of them is among our group. His parents sent him away on a Kindertransport to save his life, and he had no contact with them after that. Through the records he learned what happened to them. Though the outcome is sad, now he has some record of what happened to them.
Occasionally there was a heartwarming story related by another staff member working in the Museum’s Survivors Registry. After hard work and determination, he managed to unite two childhood sweethearts after 64 years of separation. Neither one knew that the other had survived. They had met in a concentration camp but were later sent to separate camps. When the war ended, one found relatives in Australia and the other in Canada. Now, through the archives in Germany and the help of the Museum, they have found each other. They are both too old to travel, but have renewed their friendship by phone.
As for me, I was not expecting a miracle. I did get my own file with the dates and concentration camps where I spent my teenage years. But this I very well remembered. I hoped at least to get a date when my entire family was murdered so I would know when to say Kaddish and light a candle in their memory. However, of the transports that went directly to the gas chambers, there are no records.
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