Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Holocaust Geographic “How to” for Genealogists (Part 2 of 2)


In this two-part series, Peter Landé highlights three major geographic online Holocaust focused sources, which will be helpful in leading the researcher to extremely valuable sources of information.

This is part 2 of 2. (Click here to read Part 1).

Yad Vashem: Shoah-Related Lists Database
Click here to reach Yad Vashem’s Shoah-Related Lists Database. Somewhat different from the USHMM list, the material is organized by the current name of the locality, but you will get there even if you type in the old name (for example, Breslau will take you to Wroclaw). 

Whether you type in Nürnberg, Nuremberg or Nuernberg you will end up with the same information. As is the case with the USHMM finding aid, one can search by name of camp, e.g. Flossenbürg. There is provision to comment on/add to existing listings.

As is the case with USHMM, Yad Vashem includes references both to its own holdings and those of other institutions. Yad Vashem offers a unique advantage in that in many cases when one clicks a document reference the actual text appears. As is the case for the USHMM, the fact that a document/source has been identified does not mean that any or all of the names in the relevant documents have been added to the Hall of Names/Name Search. 

There is also a significant difference in that the Hall of Names is intended to identify Jews who perished in the Holocaust, while Name Search lists all those who perished or survived, regardless of religion. The Yad Vashem approach has the disadvantage that if a list/individual listing does not indicate religion, the names are not included.

International Tracing Service (ITS) Inventar 

ITS holdings of documents are undoubtedly larger than those of the USHMM or Yad Vashem and the number of unique persons identified in the documents held there are far more numerous. The ITS estimates that it has roughly 50 million name citations, identifying about 17 million persons, Jews and non-Jews, survivors and victims. For reasons which would take too long to describe here, one can generalize that the collection is rich in Western European and postwar documents, but weak in Eastern European holdings.

The Inventar (inventory or finding aid) is much less useful than those of either the USHMM or Yad Vashem. The purpose of the ITS throughout its history was never to collect the history of the Holocaust but rather to identify the fate of all those who had perished or survived. As a result, the ITS until recently did not have a historian or archivist, but rather simply collected documents in order to extract the names which appeared in them. Accordingly, the description of the documents was primitive. In addition to its home location in Bad Arolsen, Germany, copies of this massive collection are being shared with the USHMM, Yad Vashem, the Institute of National Memory in Warsaw, the National Archives of Belgium and the Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Résistance in Luxembourg. The transfer process is gradual and may not be completed until 2011.

The Inventar can be accessed either through the ITS website, by clicking hereclicking here. Originally in German, thanks to the efforts of the USHMM, it is now also available in English. A fundamental difference exists when entering location searches in the Inventar. When one types in the name of a locality (not possible on a country level) all Inventar descriptions where that place name has been entered appear.  or through the USHMM website by

There is no linkage between different spellings of a town’s name so that, for example, there are 237 “hits” for Warsaw and 429 for Warschau, and 75 “hits” for Cologne and 104 for Köln and no way to meld these different sources. Moreover, if a place name appears anywhere in the description; i.e. if a book about Warsaw was published in or was acquired from Berlin, it is indexed under both place names. 

The information in each citation is limited, usually consisting of a very brief description, the number of pages in the document and number of names which are included. There is, of course, also a reference citation but no visible link to the document itself. The names which were extracted from these sources have been collected in various databases such as the Central Names Index but, at this time, neither the documents nor the names are available on the web. (Speaking from personal experience I must stress that these databases are extremely complex, or even convoluted, and locating an individual name often requires expert help.) If one finds any citation which might be of interest, one would have to visit one of the institutions where the material is held or write to these institutions and request copies, without knowing whether they are of real interest.

Unfortunately, there has been considerable confusion as to the “rules” governing access to ITS material. Under the international agreement which “opened” ITS and made copies available to a single institution in each member country, there are neither restrictions on third party access to ITS documents at these institutions nor limitations on how a researcher may utilize copies of such material he/she has acquired.

Finally, the above is not an attempt to rank the three sources. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and a patient researcher should examine all three. It is my hope that the above information will prove useful for all researchers.

About Peter Landé
Peter Landé was born in Germany of German parents but came to the United States as a young child. He studied at Haverford College and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He also spent a year at Hamburg University under a Fulbright grant.

Mr. Landé joined the Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in 1956. He served in diplomatic and consular positions in New Zealand, India, Japan, Egypt, Germany and Canada as well as in senior positions in the Department of State. He retired as United States Economic Minister in Cairo in 1988.

Since his retirement, Mr. Landé has been active in genealogy research, writing and lecturing, with special emphasis on Holocaust records. He has traveled widely in Europe collecting lists of victims and survivors and speaking to various groups. He has also written numerous articles identifying sources of information for Holocaust name lists in North America, Europe and Israel, which are available to researchers.

As a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) he has been involved in a major project to identify and collect in a single computerized database the names of all Holocaust victims and survivors, whether Jewish or non-Jewish (currently about 3 million names), as well as to develop a "list of lists", i.e. an inventory of thousands of sources of information which include the names of Holocaust victims and survivors. This list serves both as a guide to later efforts to digitize names and as a reference tool to assist USHMM personnel to reply to inquiries.

Mr. Landé has also been active in the work of Jewishgen, which has its own on-line Holocaust database, currently with over 2 million records.

In July 2001 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies for his work in identifying sources of information on Holocaust victims and survivors.



1 comment:

  1. Footnote.com has all of it's Holocaust collections free this month. There is also an interactive part of the site with pictures,stories and statistics concerning Holocaust deaths and those who survived. You can add your own information concerning these individuals and this becomes a permanent part of the collection. Here is a Holocaust Page leading to the free collections. After reading your blog I thought you might want to know that this information is available.

    The History Man

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