Tag Archives: holocaust

JDC archives with over 500,000 names now online

Today is Yom HaShoah in Israel, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance day. Coinciding with this fact, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (usually just called the JDC or the Joint) has released a new section of their website called Our Shared Legacy which contains two large databases of interest to Jewish genealogists.

Child Refugees in Bolivia helped by the JDC

The first database is their Photo Galleries, which contains photographs from all the countries where the Joint operated when helping Jewish refugees from the Nazis to flee, and to resettle after the war. The Joint also assisted Jews to flee Eastern European countries affected by the Communist takeover in the post-war years. Countries which have photo galleries include, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay.

If you spot someone in one of the photos that you know the identity of, you can click on a link to submit their identity.

The second, and much larger, database is their Names Index. The Names Index contains 500,000 names from a series of files which document the JDC’s assistance programs worldwide. For every name in the database, they have a scanned version of the original document which you can view online in high resolution. This is truly an amazing resource.

Two of the larger card files which have been scanned and indexed on the site include what they called the Jewish Displaced Persons and Refugee Cards, 1943-1959, and the Transmigration Bureau. On site they describe these two resources as follows:

Jewish Displaced Persons and Refugee Cards, 1943-1959

After the fall of France, tens of thousands of Jewish refugees seeking to flee Nazi Europe streamed into Spain from France. JDC set up an office in Barcelona and provided support, housing and emigration assistance to these refugees. JDC also assisted refugees waiting for emigration papers and passage on transatlantic vessels. This collection contains index cards from 1943-1945 for 8220 refugees supported by JDC.

and

This is a collection of registration cards of Jewish survivors who registered with the Emigration Department of JDC in Munich and Vienna after World War II for help in emigrating to countries other than Israel. The database includes individual cards from 1945-mid 1950s for 51,554 Displaced Persons in Munich and 25,374 Displaced Persons in Vienna.

Transmigration Bureau

The Transmigration Bureau was established by JDC in New York to help refugees emigrate from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, primarily to the U.S. Its primary role was to accept deposits from friends or family overseas towards the travel costs of Jews emigrating from Europe. Included are deposit cards for 37,732 individuals who emigrated from 1940-1956, with the bulk from 1940-1942.

In addition to these large card files which make up the bulk of the entries in the database, there are many smaller lists. Interestingly, in addition to viewing the single page that your database hit shows up on, they also allow you to download the entire list from which your hit came from (only for the lists, not for the large card files), even though these files can be hundreds of megabytes.

Some of the lists I’ve come across include:

  • Aid to Rabbis in the Russian Empire and Palestine, 1916
  • Beneficiaries of JDC’s Free Parcel Service in the Soviet Union, 1943-1945
  • CARE Packages to DP (Displaced Persons) Camps I, 1946-1948
  • European Jewish Refugee Arrivals from Havana to Miami, 1944-1945
  • Ezras Torah Fund, 1948
  • JDC Shanghai Refugee Client List, 1950
  • Jewish Refugees in Italy Receiving Aid, 1946
  • Polish Jewish Repatriates Following World War II, 1948
  • Rabbinical Students in Shanghai II, 1947
  • Refugees in Zbaszyn, Poland, 1938-1939
  • Shanghai Clients Registering for Emigration to Canada, 1948
  • Vilna Refugees, 1940

I haven’t seen a way to jump directly these lists, but if you search for someone and they show up on one of the lists, you will be able to view the page they show up on, or download the whole list. In some cases they also have explanatory documents connected to the lists, such as letters written at the time related to the lists. For example, in the case of the CARE package sent to DP camps after the war, they have scanned the original brochure they used to raise money to send those packages.

Another interesting thing about the lists is that some of them list relatives in the US when they were known. This is presumably to help the JDC contact the relative to work out their immigration to the US. For example, in the Refugees in Zbaszyn list, there are different sections of the list, including a section listing the addresses of US relatives which lists the following information on each refugee:

  • Given Name
  • Surname
  • Date Born
  • Town Born
  • Occupation
  • Last Town Lived in Germany (since these were refugees from Germany)
  • Present Address in Zbaszyn (street address)
  • Address of Relatives (in US)
  • Degree of Relationship (i.e. cousin, sister, brother, aunt, etc.)

Obviously this is a treasure trove of information for people who find their relatives on this list, but there are some other interesting aspects to this list. For example, I’ve noticed that when listing the name of a brother as the relative in the US, the surname is not always the same. This means this list can be used to find out name changes between Europe and the US. Some quick examples include:

  • Grobulska, brother’s surname is Godwin
  • Fuhrman, brother’s surname is Blatter
  • Loszak, brother’s surname is Wachtel
  • Mazur, brother’s surname is Maltzer
  • Glaser, brother’s surname is Glass
  • Schueterman, brother’s surname is Brand

Some of might be predictable (somewhat) but in general the ones I’ve listed are not logical where you could easily guess such a name change.

Also, you might actually want to search this list not for the refugees but for your relatives from the US, as it can show you relatives you may not have known about in Europe (especially if you didn’t know what the surname was in Europe).

For the Zabaszyn list in particular, I should add that there are actually several lists, mostly from Zabaszyn, but there is also a list of refugees in Kolomyja (Stanislawow) from 1939. Looking at the date stamped on this list, it was created just weeks before the Nazis invaded Poland.

Overall, this is a truly amazing new resource that the JDC has provided Jewish researchers, and I hope they will continue to add to this resource over time, making the rest of their archives accessible to the public in this fashion.

Yad Vashem teams up with Google

In advance of Holocaust Memorial Day tomorrow, Yad Vashem has announced a new partnership with Google to digitize and put online large portions of Yad Vashem’s archival holdings. As of today, they have made over 130,000 photographs from their archives available online and searchable using Google technology. Google says they are using experimental OCR technology to make all the information on the photos searchable.

I’ve tested out the site and it is a little buggy right now. When searching from the main page you sometimes get a blank page, but if you search again from the blank page, searching works. Also, when you search and get a list of results, they don’t tell you how many photos have been found. In addition, if you choose a photo you expect the previous and next buttons to take you to the previous and next photos within your result set, but instead they take you to the previous and next photos within the entire archive, which is irrelevant to your search results. Hopefully they’ll fix these issues quickly.

You can of course search for the names of relatives using the search engine, but keep in mind that you can also search for locations like your ancestral towns. Even if none of the photos are directly relevant to your family, you might still be able to see photographs from the town your family came from, and learn about how your family lived in Europe.

[Update 1/27/2011: A Google blog entry explaining the partnership.]

Jewish Genealogy Basics: Yizkor Books

It is a bit sad to have to include Yizkor Books under my ‘Jewish Genealogy Basics’ category on this blog, but unfortunately most Jewish people have relatives who perished in the Holocaust, and there is no getting past that fact. Yizkor Books are an important resource for those people whose relatives came from the towns and regions covered by these books, mainly because these towns don’t exist anymore or have no Jewish remnants in any case. These books are the last memories of the people who lived in these communities.

Yizkor Books were generally books put together by survivors of a specific community, usually a town or city, although sometimes books were put together for larger regions. These were Holocaust survivors who wanted to share what their community had been like before the Holocaust, and what happened to it during the Holocaust. In most cases the Jewish communities described in these books completely ceased to exist after the war, and the survivors made their way to different countries including the US, Israel and various South American countries. Thus these books were published in the years following the war, in the 50s, 60s and 70s mostly (although some were published even in the 80s and 90s), in a mix of languages that may include Hebrew, Yiddish, English and more. Many of the books list the names of those people from the town that were killed during the war (these are called necrologies).

It’s important to remember that Yizkor Books were put together by members of the destroyed community, usually only for members of that community. They were generally printed privately in small quantities, and thus most of these books are not widely available. Some libraries have made an effort to build collections of Yizkor books, to preserve them and to make them available to the public. JewishGen keeps a list of libraries with Yizkor Book collections, and lets you search for specific towns and see which libraries hold their Yizkor Books. I don’t know if any library has every Yizkor book published, although it’s a good bet that Yad Vashem (which lists 1040 Yizkor Books in their collection) is about as comprehensive a collection as you will find. I suspect the publishers of these books all donated copies to Yad Vashem to insure there was at least one copy available there.

In the US, one of the largest collections of Yizkor Books is at the NY Public Library, in their Dorot Jewish Division. The library has over 750 Yizkor Books available for viewing, but more interestingly for those who do not live in NY (or even for those who do), is that they have digitized some 650 of those books and made them available for viewing online. On the web site you can choose a book and browse through the pages of each book, but they are not searchable. Keep in mind most of these books are in either Hebrew (if published in Israel) or Yiddish (if published in the US). Some of the books have small English sections, but usually the majority of the books are in either Hebrew or Yiddish.

Some of the Yizkor books can be searched via the GenealogyIndexer.org web site, which indexes many books and makes them searchable online, including directories and Yizkor Books. Keep in mind that this search is based on computer software which tries to automatically transcribe each page, so it is not perfect, and although it indexes Hebrew and Yiddish, you will need to search in Hebrew or Yiddish to find those words in the index. If you’re searching for a last name, you can search in both English and Hebrew, for example, by including both the name in Hebrew and English and eparating them with the Boolean OR, for example:

Traurig OR טראוריג

Keep in mind that even if you know the spelling of a name in Hebrew, it may have been different in Yiddish.

In addition to the NYPL and GenealogyIndexer.org, JewishGen has an ongoing project to transcribe (English sections) and translate all (non-English sections) of Yizkor Books and place the text online. In addition, as books are transcribed and translated, all the names listed in the books are added to their Necrology Database which is searchable on their web site. Keep in mind that not all books have been fully translated, so even if your relative is mentioned in one of the books on their site, their name may not yet show up in the database. You can see which parts of each book have been translated so far, and which are still let to be translated. If you have a lot of family from a particular town that has a Yizkor Book, you might consider donating to the translation expenses for that Yizkor Book to help get it translated faster.

Lastly, I should mention that although many of the books are hard to find, it is possible to buy many of these books, either in used book stores or as reprints. Some specialist booksellers like Dan Wyman Books in Brooklyn, NY, Broder Books in Waterbury, CT, Henry Hollander Books in San Francisco, CA and Book Gallery in Jerusalem carry Yizkor Books, or can help you find them. The Yiddish Book Center, in Amherst, MA, which saves Yiddish books of all kinds has, with the help of Steven Spielberg, created on online library of 11,000 scanned Yiddish books, and also offers a specific service that sells reprints of the Yizkor Books in their collection for $48 each.