Between 1881 and 1914, millions of Jews left Eastern Europe to seek religious freedom or economic advancement. They bid farewell to parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. Through the late 1930s, many of these families exchanged cards, letters and pictures across the ocean. Then, as German occupation spread across Europe, contact ceased.
JewishGen’s vast, free collection of information makes it a great starting point. First, place your search in historical context with the Timeline of the Holocaust and Frequently Asked Questions. Forgotten Camps describes the 15,000 extermination, concentration and other camps that pockmarked Nazi-held Europe.
3. US Holocaust Memorial Museum
With Ancestry.com, the museum created the World Memory Project to encourage volunteers to index digitized Holocaust records including Jews’ ID cards, applications for postwar aid, lists of ghetto inhabitants and more. The resulting indexes are free to search at Ancestry.com; record images are available with an Ancestry.com subscription or from the USHMM.
4. Yad Vashem
Located in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem is the world center for Holocaust research and commemoration. Its Hall of Names, a memorial to those who died in the Shoah (Hebrew for “Holocaust”) contains nearly 3 million Pages of Testimony submitted by survivors, friends and family. These record individuals’ names, biographical details, sometimes photographs and submitters’ information. Today, these details are part of Yad Vashem’s searchable Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names (accessible under the Digital Collections menu), which memorializes an estimated 4.5 million of the 6 million Jewish Holocaust victims. The names include those from personal papers and documents such as deportation and ghetto records.
This March 24, 1942, list, held by Yad Vashem, names young women from Stropkov, Slovak Republic, to be transported to Poprad, a way station in the Slovak Republic. Those at the bottom noted dezertovala (“deserted” in Slovakian) did not appear as ordered. A second transport list originating in Poprad indicates these women were bound for Auschwitz.
5. International Tracing Service
6. Transport and camp records
Carefully study any transport lists you find, comparing them with camp arrival records. Not all “pieces,” as Jews were called, actually boarded the transports. Some failed to answer their summons or escaped, while others were added or spared at the last minute. Nor did all on board arrive at camps alive. Many en route succumbed to hunger, thirst, weather extremes, disease and despair.
- Auschwitz-Birkenau: Though nearly a million Jews died at this camp in Poland, no complete list of victims exists. Moreover, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum’s Auschwitz Prisoners database represents only a portion of the museum’s repository. Spellings of prisoners’ names often vary from one document set to another. Entries from transport lists, prisoner registration cards, infirmary records, morgue records and death books may reveal prisoner’s tattoo numbers, along with their dates of birth, professions and fate. You can request additional information from the Bureau for Former Prisoners through this site.
- Dachau: The archive at Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site in Germany has a registry of nearly all its 200,000-plus prisoners, as well as survivors’ eyewitness reports. The archive web page links to a form to request a search for an inmate.
- Majdanek: An estimated 150,000 people passed through this camp in Poland. The State Museum at Majdanek has select prisoner data from 1941 through 1944. You can request information following these instructions, stating the person’s name and any other known details.
7. Survivor Records
Though more than a million Jewish children perished during the Holocaust, a few survived ghettoes and concentration camps. Others hid in orphanages, convents, monasteries, or with non-Jews. Some, unaccountably, survived on their own.
Records of the Lost
- The recorded Holocaust testimonies cataloged in Yad Vashem’s Online Film Database aren’t viewable online, but you can watch them on the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation website.
- Use our Holocaust history timeline to get a sense of the social history surrounding your ancestors’ experiences.