2018-04-11 / Voice at the Shore

U.S. Holocaust Museum Tracing Service helps survivors find family and gain compensation

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER Voice shore editor

“This evening is devoted to remembrance,” said Mona Trocki Ozlek, an executive committee member for Stockton’s Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, as she welcomed a roomful of first-, second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors to a “Dine and Learn” program at Beth El Synagogue, roughly a month before Yom HaShoah.

The evening’s featured speaker was Dr. Betsy Anthony, International Tracing Service and Partnerships Program manager at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.

“I am your point person at the International Tracing Service,” Anthony said, noting that the service helps people seek out information about loved ones who were victims of the Holocaust. Several hundred attended the event.

“People from all over the world contact us to find lost relatives,” she noted. “Perhaps you’ve heard of Holocaust survivors writing to the Red Cross inquiring about a loved one. The International Tracing Service was previously run by the Red Cross.”

In addition to connecting families torn apart by the Holocaust, the International Tracing Service “can provide official documentation necessary for compensation programs,” noted Anthony, who passed out the forms required to gain information through the International Tracing Service Archive. The Research Request Form can also be obtained or completed online, through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website, www.ushmm.org.

As Anthony explained, the museum’s Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center will perform a search (free of charge to survivors, their families and families of Holocaust victims) that sifts through the records of the International Tracing Service as well as other digitized collections of the museum. Survivors who require documentation to file for compensation are given the highest priority.

(Notably, as the museum website explains, the tracing service has certain limitations: It does not include the names of many of those murdered upon arrest or arrival at killing centers, those who perished on death marches, and of many individuals who were hidden. Among its limitations, there is more information available about victims in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe.)

Tracing service documents, which include information on 17.5 million people, exist in physical form in Germany, said Anthony. “They are mainly Nazi documents from concentration camps and Nazi offices,” including lists, reports, and correspondence.

Those documents were digitized and made available to researchers at places like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Survivors’ and Victims’ Resource Center in 2007. Prior to that time, only researchers in Germany could respond to research requests, she explained.

In addition to her work with the International Tracing Service, Anthony has also worked extensively with survivors and their families, both in the U.S. and abroad. Her experience working with survivors in Vienna led Anthony, who recently received her Ph.D. in history from Clark University, to do her doctoral dissertation exploring why Jewish Holocaust survivors returned to postwar Vienna and how these survivors were received.

Of the roughly 200,000 Jews living in Austria prior to World War II, 65,000 were murdered in the Holocaust, said Anthony. Nevertheless, a small percentage of the survivors returned to Vienna after the war.

“Despite their traumatic experiences, often at the hands of neighbors and fellow Austrians, a small percentage of the prewar Viennese population returned to reestablish their lives and families in their former home; by December 1946 community membership totaled almost 6,500,” according to an article by Anthony based on her dissertation research in Jewish History Quarterly, which was distributed to Dine and Learn attendees.

Why did survivors return? The answer that Anthony discovered was simple: “They wanted to go home.”

Some came in search of family members, some returned in hopes of being able to reshape Vienna into a communist or socialist society. Those who returned in hopes of being welcomed back with open arms, and regaining their former homes and jobs, were largely disappointed.

Anthony’s research found that the Austrians, who had been welcoming of their German “invaders” and quick to adopt the Nazis’ anti-Semitic behaviors and policies, adopted a “myth of victimhood,” after the Nazis were defeated.

Austrians essentially told the returning survivors: “’You were so lucky not to be here!’” she said. They also complained to the returning survivors about the Allied bombings.

By claiming to be Nazi victims rather than acknowledging themselves as collaborators, Austrians also sought to shirk responsibility for making restitution and reparations to Holocaust victims. “Austrians finally started paying reparations in the 1990s, but shirked that responsibility for 50 years,” said Anthony.

Viennese survivors told Anthony they did not talk to neighbors who had been Nazi sympathizers about “what happened during the war.” Most insisted they experienced no anti-Semitism in Vienna, “’at least not to my face,’” they told Anthony, who described this attitude as a “coping mechanism.”

Anthony expressed a great degree of compassion and understanding for the survivors she studied. “I was very fortunate to mix with survivors and their families in Vienna,” she said.

The Viennese survivors “are very specifically Viennese. They speak of the city like a family member; they know its faults but defend it.”

She also added that while the second generation stayed in Vienna, third and fourth generation survivors are “starting to go elsewhere, mostly Israel and the U.S.” 

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