Saturday, August 20, 2011

Searching at the Holocaust Museum

The DC genealogy conference ended yesterday so I decided to head over to the Holocaust Museum library to check out the records from the International Tracing Service (ITS).  Several years ago I had joined the first group to do research in the Holocaust records of the ITS in Bad Arolsen, Germany.  I had gone there with a list of fifty relatives who had died in the Holocaust, all from Radom.  I soon discovered that as they went to Treblinka, a killing camp, there were no records of their deaths.  Only those who were in work camps such as Auschwitz were tracked.  They were viewed as part of the Nazi's inventory of workers, albeit temporary ones.

I had to revise my research strategy to make use of my time there and began to search for those who had given testimony on my family to Yad Vashem.  Through that I discovered cousins in Paris and Israel with whom I’ve since connected.  The records at Bad Arolsen were unwieldy to maneuver and located in several buildings.  Often one would find the original lists of Jews in various locations after the war.  I was struck by the wanderings of many across Europe after the war as they sought surviving family or anyone from their prior town. The files at Bad Arolsen also had original correspondence. I read the heart-breaking letters of a survivor who had gone to Sweden and was trying to find her husband. She had heard he survived, but no one knew where he was.

The records from Bad Arolsen have now been shared with a number of organizations around the world including the Holocaust Museum in DC and Yad Vashem.  The system at the Holocaust Museum library didn’t seem intuitive to me, but was easy enough to learn and pulled up scanned documents in alphabetical order around the name that was input.  While conference attendees were directed to the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center on the second floor, I found the database was also available in the fifth floor library with some assistance from one of the staff in logging in.  I pulled records on several people I had not previously explored and saved the images to my flash drive.

I then shifted my attention to lists of survivors from Radom that were on microfilm. The films which need to be ordered in advance of specific cutoffs can be viewed on scanners and easily saved to a flash drive.  I had worked in books on prior visits so this was my first experience in using the scanners. 

I was buried in microfilm when the alarms sounded and we were herded to a park across the way.  It turned out to be a fire drill, but it reminded me that the museum has to be prepared for a wide variety of threats.  The museum has this drill down to a science and a half hour later we were shepherded back by floors.  The one good thing about the drill was it allowed me to connect with a woman who I had met in Bad Arolsen who lives in Israel and had come in for the conference.  "When are you coming to visit me ?” she asked, and I filed that away as a future trip possibility.  With my websites, blog and genealogy trips to Utah, Germany and various conferences, I have had the good fortune to meet many people in genealogy circles who have become good friends. 

Conferences are a good opportunity to connect with both new and old friends, to research, to learn new information and to validate how much I already know.  And now it’s time to shift gears.  I’m off to the National Gallery.

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